Posted by: rogermitchell | January 12, 2014

Love that empowers the powerless

Not only does the authority of love undo empire and disarm the powers, it empowers the powerless.
What I have elsewhere described as the kenarchy manifesto, and kenarchy’s clear sense of direction, is even better described as the empowerment of the powerless. For it is more than a statement of intention or priority, it is an actual release of power that empties out empire by reversing its direction. It’s important to understand that this is certainly not about using the hierarchical power of sovereignty to do something good or make peace. That would be to repeat the old lie. Rather it is about ending hierarchy and inequality altogether. Those previously at the bottom don’t simply become the new ones at the top. The bottom and the top become the same place, and the practice of empowering the powerless is how we achieve it. In the Magnificat, Mary embodies her insight into the divine nature as the authority that empowers the powerless: “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble.” In so doing she is herself an example of the way this kind of empowerment works for she becomes the evidence of the first category for the empowerment of the powerless in the Jesus’ story.

God’s choice of Mary as the means to the full manifestation of the divine nature to humanity makes the instatement of women the first category of empowerment.
Her focus on the hungry marks the second category, the poor. Altogether, as I have already pointed out elsewhere, there are some seven main foci of empowerment in the gospel narrative, instating women, prioritizing children, advocating for the poor, advocating for the marginalised and strangers, caring for the creation, freeing prisoners and caring for the sick. An old friend of mine remarked to me recently that he could find nothing particularly new in kenarchy. As he put it “I am not sure… how it differs from our normal understanding of an incarnate God who is imminent in all He does, sustaining the whole universe by His very being.” From what I know of him, he is someone who tries hard to empower the powerless in his daily life and work as a pastor. But I believe that the authority of love means more than that. The good news of the kingdom of God that Jesus announced, proclaimed a completely new politics. It still does. It means using whatever power is at our disposal to empower the powerless. We call it kenarchy to distinguish it from theological terminology that so often connotes the domination system that the church has fallen foul to over the centuries and is all too often obvious in the way the church and the world system operate.

I not am denying that a great deal of work to meet the needs of the powerless among people and the rest of the creation has already been done and continues to be done.

But it is often violated by the intrusion of the overarching, controlling context of sovereign power. When this happens in the context of the life of the church, instead of the followers of Jesus being a prophetic servant community able to challenge, or where appropriate support, the prevailing political power, they become a tool for the contemporary government or its opponents, or subside into an ineffective and irresponsible sub-culture. William Cavanaugh unpacks the twentieth century implications of this in his analysis of the church in General Pinochet’s Chile, Torture and the Eucharist (Blackwell, 1998) where the priests of the Catholic church at first supported and then acquiesced in the gradual erosion of freedoms which then led to disappearances and murders of those who worked for justice and equality. Thank God for those who began to embrace Jesus’ example instead.

Right now in the contemporary West we face government policies that are the opposite of empowering the powerless.
Specific policies are currently going through parliament that threaten the freedom of the streets;, the freedom to lobby and protest, and the freedom of the courts The government austerity measures continue to disadvantage the poor and the vulnerable to the benefit of the rich and the powerful As I have said before, the sovereignty system underlying Western representative democracy is only different to fascism by degrees, but it is on the same spectrum of power, as the strong support Margaret Thatcher gave General Pinochet witnesses.

The authority of love squares the circle of need and powerlessness.
As the apostle Paul saw so clearly, reconciliation and empowerment together make up the fulness of divine authority. God shares his throne with us and that changes everything (Ephesians 2:6). God is all about power sharing. This kind of authority makes government and empowerment a single, synonymous initiative, not mere associates, let alone competitors. Government without empowerment is an abuse of power. The practice of empowering the powerless soon tells me who my friends and enemies are, for if these seven groups are the primary targets of kenotic love, those individuals and institutions that oppress them are identified as enemies whether they are so intentionally or not. How I then treat these will mark the extent of love that is required for peace to be achieved. For as Dyfedwyn underlines in his comment to the previous post on Undoing Empire “loving the enemy also means loving those within your own community who choose to stick with the empire.” I attempted to set out what this looks like in the post on how the authority of love disarms the powers, two posts back, based on Jesus’ temptations. But I recognise that this is not an easy call. My wife Sue pointed out that in my interaction with my friend Dave over my book The Fall of the Church, I specified by name a group of Christians among whom I encountered dominating behaviour. She rightly thought that this was less than loving towards them. I’ve removed the reference and changed what I said. Love does confront the issues, but it does so with the authority of love, otherwise we are hypocrites.



  1. […] 6. Look up the word ‘Kenarchy‘ mentioned by Paul Blakey, particularly ‘Love that empowers the powerless‘ […]

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