This page is an Excerpt from Chapter 15, “The Triumph of God Over the Powers,” in Shaking the Gates of Hell: Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization by Sharon Delgado.
When activists reframe a significant cultural context, they’re like the child who shouts that the emperor is wearing no clothes. They expose a whole belief system for what it is—a belief system, not the natural order of things, not reality. . . . Then people who never before doubted the status quo, who took it as God-given and utterly legitimate, start to ask their own questions. Paul Ray and Sherry Anderson
The three volumes of Walter Wink’s trilogy on the Powers are aptly entitled: Naming the Powers, Unmasking the Powers, and Engaging the Powers. The concepts of naming, unmasking, and engaging help shed light on our human responsibility in relation to the institutions of our day. All three require humility, courage, spiritual discernment, and prayer.
Naming and unmasking the Powers primarily involves spiritual discernment and thought, in a process of identifying, analyzing, and articulating their reality. But according to Wink, that is just a beginning: “The ultimate issue . . . is not whether we comprehend the Powers, but whether we confront them with their apostasy. . . . Understanding the Powers is but a step toward encountering them. We unmask them only in order to engage them, in the spirit and power of . . . the truly Human Being incarnated by Jesus.”
So far we have focused primarily on naming the Powers, that is, the ruling institutions of our time. Matthew Fox frames (that is, names) the demonic aspect of institutional (specifically corporate) power in this way: “Not ‘Word was made flesh,’ but the ‘Devil is made fleshless.’ Yes, a Devourer of Flesh—of the flesh of rainforests and indigenous peoples, of ordinary citizens, of the future. . . . They are the Flesh Eaters. . . . They lack incarnation. They are angels—bad angels, unfortunately. As in the Book of Revelation, there is only one question here: Who rules the universe: economic fleshless imperialists or the incarnated ones?”
We are the incarnated ones. God, the Creator and Spirit of the universe, can work through us. As living human beings, we are the only ones who can name, unmask, and engage the “economic fleshless ones” and the other disembodied, institutionalized dealers of death. We are the ones with the power, ability, and responsibility to bring change.
This generation has a window of opportunity in which to act. We have been given prophets to point us in the direction of healing, human faculties with which to deal with the great challenges we face, spiritual gifts that the earth so desperately needs. We have every tool we need to name, unmask, and engage the Ruling Powers that are propelling us toward a living hell.
Engaging the Powers begins with our personal refusal to bow to them. As we have seen, the Domination System of our day, with its interlocking network of powerful institutions, depends upon our fear of death, or its mental, emotional, financial, or spiritual equivalents, to keep it in place. The power of the state is coercive, and depends upon its final sanction, which is death. Economic power, too, is coercive, pursuing profits at the cost of people’s lives and ecological destruction. Religious institutional power can also be coercive, providing moral support to the dominant political, military, and economic Powers through active consent or silent complicity. Some churches even use the threat of eternal torment to keep people in line.
When we refuse to live in fear of and obedience to the Powers, their stratagems no longer work. When the Powers can no longer count on fear, selfishness, and apathy to keep us in line, they cannot do business as usual.
But how can we know whether we are still dominated by the Powers, especially if we are benefiting from the system and are not in harm’s way? We can go to where the damage is being done. We can enter into solidarity with people who are suffering and risk speaking and acting on their behalf. In this way we give voice to the voiceless and take our stand with, as Matthew Fox says, “God being crucified anew by impersonal, rational, abstracted, mostly fleshless powers and principalities.” If God in Christ is in solidarity with the victims of injustice and oppression, so should Jesus’ followers be. In the words of Dorothee Soelle: “To attain the image of Christ means to live in revolt against the great Pharaoh and to remain with the oppressed and the disadvantaged. It means to make their lot one’s own.”
We are called to engage the Powers by taking actions that expose them for what they are, so they can no longer mislead, distort, and hide. We are called to reveal (unmask) their true nature, their idolatry and injustice, their worship of death, their rebellion against God. Like the child who cried out, “The emperor has no clothes,” our words and actions can show that the dominant system is bereft of morality and based on lies.
What kind of actions? Those that are undertaken under the guidance and motivation of the Spirit, that demonstrate “God’s power that is made perfect in weakness,” the power of nonviolent love, the power of the cross. Such actions are baffling to the ruling Powers. The “weakness” and “foolishness” of cruciform love makes no sense to those who dominate through violence and intimidation. “None of the rulers of this [or any] age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8) nor the millions of other innocent victims killed on the altars of wealth and worldly power.
But others, even some in positions of power, will see and understand. Courageous nonviolent actions have a way of lifting peoples’ hearts and spirits, giving them hope that change is possible and inspiring them to take courageous actions of their own.
We are called to confront the “flesh eaters” in actions that demonstrate their Achilles heel, that is, their utter powerlessness to dominate the earth without the consent of the people. For engaging the Powers exposes not only their evil effects, but also their folly. When we refuse to live in denial and instead speak truth to Power, the lies and pretensions of the Powers are exposed. When we challenge their morality, the Powers lose their legitimacy. When we choose lifestyles that reflect creative, life-giving values, the Powers lose their ability to dominate culture. When we enter actively into solidarity with the poor and oppressed, with victims of war and unjust economic policies, the brutality of the Powers is exposed. When we take part in organized actions of nonviolent resistance, the futility of their attempts to rule through domination is exposed. When we refuse to live in fear and are willing risk even death, as Jesus did, the ability of the ruling Powers to govern life through violence and intimidation is lost and the triumph of God’s love is revealed.