COMMENTARY: What power madness has done to women _ and men

June 10, 2014

We have weapons, and, in our brokenness, we tend to use whatever weapons we think will work.

Some of our weapons get assigned gender tags. Men, we say, tend to shout, bully, interrupt, trivialize, ignore “no” and turn to violence. Women, we say, tend to manipulate, conspire and blame.

But those tags mean little, and they don’t begin to describe the balance of abuse, which, as women know and men are learning, is overwhelmingly abuse of women by men.

Some weapons aren’t about gender. Some people use social status as a weapon. Age stifles youth, and youth embarrasses age. Long-timers freeze out newcomers, and the new form their own exclusive tribes. Wealth bullies poverty. The dominant race represses minorities. Heterosexuals bully homosexuals. Those with hiring power hire their own kind. More and more carry firearms and seem eager to use them.

The point isn’t more accurate tags — as in men are always this, women are always that. The point is our pathological need to win, grounded in an insane and self-defeating desire for control.

Some of the weapons we use are highly destructive, like guns and physical violence. Some weapons seem tame in comparison, such as the haughtiness of an in-crowd. But all weapons aim to harm or threaten harm, and thereby to gain power over another person.

In the aftermath of the Santa Barbara shooting and the disturbing misogynistic testimonial left by the shooter, many women are demanding an end to “white male entitlement” and to physical abuse. They are giving their own testimonials to the realities of being a woman in America, where incest, date rape, persistent unwanted advances, mockery and unequal treatment are daily fare.

I think men need to hear these words and not dismiss their speakers as unrepresentative. Men need to know what centuries of male power madness have done to women. Men need to ask why power has mattered so much.

Men need also to consider what power madness — their own and that visited upon them — has done to them. For men end up being as unfree as anyone else.

One tragic loss at the center of this power madness is the loss of meaningful Christian witness. We church folks have little to say. We are among the worst offenders in use of weapons.

Our facilities are designed to project power — our power. We condemn nonconformists. We use our holy book as a weapon. We deploy self-made doctrines as if they were thunderbolts from God.

If these elements of power were taken away from us, would we have anything left? That is the question more and more Christians are asking. If we didn’t own the trappings of power, what would we do?

It is like the question many men are asking: If we didn’t dominate women, what would be the core of human relationships?

I believe the faith community’s singular contribution going forward will need to be living without weapons. Choosing to lay down our sword and shield, choosing to step outside our safe places into a deeply troubled world, choosing to take the side of victims, choosing to be compassionate and tolerant, no matter how “unmanly” it seems.

(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus” and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.)

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