By Sebastian Hersey
A large part of a person’s worldview is made up of their religion (or lack thereof), or the religion of their family or community. I am a Christian, and I have grown up in a Christian family and attended a Christian school my entire life.
A topic that the Bible talks a lot about is power and influence. The Bible gives examples of how to use power well and it gives examples of power being abused. Jesus talked about power and was a model for what leadership should be. Through reading the Bible and being raised in a Christian environment, I have grown to see how the Bible’s views on power and influence often contradict how the rich and powerful commonly use their power, emphasizing the need to protect those without power and criticizing the wealthy and powerful.
Power is commonly viewed or used in reality as a commodity. Power is seen as something to be attained, and, often, people are not content with the amount of power that they have. As Lord Acton’s famous quote goes, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” In modern times, this often manifests in the form of wealth, as the richest continue to amass riches and increase their power. The Bible, however, has a very different view on how power should be treated. In the Bible, power and wealth are not things to be seized. In Luke 14:11, Jesus says, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” In Christianity, it is not the place of people to be ambitious and to grasp for power. The Bible also asserts that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” in 1 Timothy 6:10, and as power and influence today are largely predicated on wealth, the values of Christianity contradict worldly standards. I try not to be overly concerned with possessions in my own life, and I think that it is important to not make material goods your priority.
The early church also provides examples of the Christian view of power and influence. In James 2, there are warnings against favoritism and treating those with money and influence better than the poor and disenfranchised. James 2:1-6 says, “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there,’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” The early church lived in a way in which they were all equal, as outlined in Acts 4:34-35: “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” The early church preached equality and lived in a way that illustrated it. Jesus, the leader of Christianity, even washed the feet of his disciples. Christian ideas of power and influence have traditionally been that leadership should be expressed through service, people with power should not abuse it, and people should be treated equally. In my everyday life, I interact with people from different social standing than me. I try to mimic Jesus and to treat everybody equally, regardless of those things.
These are the views that I have on power and influence. They are based on the values that the Bible teaches and promotes. My views have also been shaped by the country that I live in: Haiti. Haiti is a country that struggles with wealth inequality and poverty, and it also deals with political unrest. Protests and riots often disrupt public life, including for a period of about four months in late 2019 when all schools were closed. Poverty is undoubtedly a critical catalyst for such unrest, as people are more likely to take action against those in power when they are personally suffering. The government is often unresponsive, and quality of life continues to remain stagnant. Seeing such unrest my whole life has enforced the beliefs that I have received from Christianity, as I have seen how people in power don’t use it correctly and don’t help those without power. Christianity has taught me that they should, and Christianity has taught me that people should be treated as equals. Those with power should use it to help those who don’t have it, rather than use it to enrich themselves. In everyday life, everybody should be given respect, regardless of their wealth or status.
Power and influence are issues that are dealt with differently across the world, from oligarchies where power is consolidated in the hands of the few, to democracies where people can make themselves heard, and there is a wide range of opinions on how power should be regulated and who should have access to it. I have learned from my religion and from what I have witnessed that those with power should be compassionate and treat those without power as equal to them, and I have learned that those without power should be granted greater freedom and greater ability to make themselves heard and make an impact on the world.
Sebastian Hersey is an 11th grader at Quisqueya Christian School in Port-au-Prince, Haiti who is interested in writing, sports, reading, and the world.