I remember being at a conference a few years ago, where we were invited to participate in a personal power audit. It involved straight forward questions: identifying oneself as male / female; gay / straight; university educated / not; english as first language / not; employed / not; ordained / not. At the end of the process we tallied up our individual responses, and in the small-talk between the test and the contributor’s analysis, the white, highly educated, employed, straight, articulate, ordained man who was sitting next to me, said – without any hint of irony – ‘The test is wrong. I don’t have any power’.
Power, of course, is a much more complicated dynamic than a test like this can uncover. But flawed as it is, it still offers one of the most important parts of the picture.
I suspect the church is the most power-unaware organisation many of us will ever encounter. Part of the issue for people in the church is that the amount of power we feel like we have rarely correlates to the amount of power we actually do have. I don’t think there’s anything more dangerous to a group or organisation’s well-being than people who throw their power around a room purely because they don’t recognise that they have power. Seriously, if you’re a white, educated, employed male who’s looking for more power, influence or voice in the church, then, um, wow…
One of the repeating conversations that’s part of my world at the moment is the power that groups [and individuals] have to include or exclude; to welcome or not. And it’s not often a healthy power – especially when held by those who don’t recognise that they have inherent power. I’ve written about that before. On top of all that, though, a friend directed me towards this interview last week on Radio National. It’s about research that’s recently shown that the participation of women in decision making groups markedly increases the intelligence of the group. This paragraph in particular drew my attention:
Michael Duffy [interviewer]: It’s occurred to me while you were speaking that historically women have been excluded from most decision-making groups, outside of the family anyway — at least until fairly recently. Would that suggest that maybe decisions that have been made by these traditional groups were not as good as they could have been and that indeed by including more women we have the potential to improve significantly the sorts of decisions made by groups.
Anita Woolley: Yes, well that’s a conclusion that should be considered quite seriously by groups functioning in these various sectors where women are under-represented.
One of the reasons that is often given for the inclusion of women in the church is that women have a right to be heard. What this research indicates is that the church is most probably less intelligent without the voice of women. It’s diminished. If you won’t include women in decision making in the church because they have a right to be involved, do it because the church isn’t making as good decisions without them.
I doubt that it’s just women who bring that intelligence to life. I haven’t read any research on this, so my reflections are anecdotal, but my experience is that the less ‘dominant culture’ a group is, the better its wisdom is. It imagines a different reality much more easily. I’m reminded of Sallie McFague, in Life Abundant, who talks about how hard it is for white, middle class, educated, males to do theology – how much harder they have to work to get it right, than those who aren’t within that demographic. The further we are from the perceived dominant centre, the more we enter the wild space of imagination and liberation.
I’m so tired of trying to fight for a church that doesn’t privilege dominant white male culture. To be honest, i can no longer remember why it once mattered to me to do that. If those that don’t fit that demographic are missing from the church and its decision making bodies, then they [we] are somewhere else. The thing that struck me while reading this interview is the unspoken correlation of the research: the somewhere else may actually be the most wise place to be.