The Power Delusion
Anthony Campolo (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books Division of S P Publications, Inc., 1983)
Power is the enemy of love and this little book is finally a profound book about love. It is also a handbook about ways to eschew power and to replace power with love. Power and love are facets of humankind’s free choice and they are mutually exclusive: “…the coercive nature of power gives expression to its potential for evil. Coercion is the crux of why power is irreconcilable with Christianity.”
If God chose to retain power, he would be a coercive God. But God is a loving God, so people are free and uncoerced in their relationships to God and to each other. Campolo suggests that persuasion is a loving alternative to coercion, and often it is. But he fails to note that persuasion may also be an exercise of power, and not always to a good end.
Through several chapters Campolo anecdotally examines those who would exercise power and explores the love-centered alternatives to power in each case. He looks at exploitive husbands and at wives who would use power in their marriages; at children who take power and are victims of it; at clergy who try to retain power in their churches and at members who would deprive them of it; and at the alternatives to the political uses of power.
Unfortunately, Campolo equivocates when he comes to questions of governmental power and the participation of Christians in it. He sees political as proper in the restraint of evil, while recognizing the corrupting tendency of power. He concludes that civil disobedience is a proper response to abusive political power only if the disobedient Christian is willing to take the legal consequences of his or her disobedience.
Campolo is also somewhat equivocal about unilaterally forsaking nuclear disarmament even at the risk of exposure to military adventurism saying, “…those advocates of love and peace claim we are not supposed to ask whether the principles of Jesus are practical or will work; our obligation is to live them out – the only response to power is love.”In a late chapter, Campolo discusses the “sin of the powerless.” “Resentment,” he says, “is often the sin of those who feel powerless to change circumstances that leave them feeling trapped and cheated.” It is the sin, he says, that afflicts the exploited, such as women and blacks, and those who feel abandoned or ignored by God. He sees confession and forgiveness as the keys to exorcising resentment. But one feels that this is an oversimplification of both the problem and the solution. Resentment of the power trip is the reason that many blacks regard Christianity as strictly a white man’s trip. It is such resentment that lost to Christianity the likes of Mahatma Gandhi. Campolo asks with regard to Gandhi, “Can it be that a Hindu understood the teachings of Jesus on love and power better than the theologians and preachers of the church of Christ?” Well, yes.
Campolo’s last chapter is worth the book. Called “Living Without Power; The Triumph of Love,” it is an unequivocal statement: “The Christian alternative to power is love….Without love, people always die.” Love is a two-way street, “unless we show our need for others, we cannot be loved by them.” But he notes, “It is not only more blessed to give than to receive — it is easier too.”
The theme in the closing pages is a powerful testament that the living Christ is mystically present in every person that we meet. “I believe that every person is an agent through whom Jesus wants to express his love to me….I believe he is trying to love me through that person, even as he expects me to love him in that person….Sin takes place when the person refuses to allow the love of God to flow through his life into mine.”
One of Campolo’s final anecdotes is a personal one of a failure in love. He had realized only belatedly that the distraught mother holding a starving baby, left futilely appealing for his help on a remote Haitian airstrip, had been a special opportunity missed. “It wasn’t long,” Campolo wrote, “before I realized who I had left behind. It wasn’t just a dying Haitian child. I knew I had left Jesus.” What a searing, life-changing realization! Such a scene should haunt us all. One time or another, each in his or her own way, have we not all stood face to face with Jesus? And left him?
Glen Lloyd Foster, reviewer