The powerful strategize; the powerless engage in tactics.
So writes Emmanuel Katongole in his book, “Mirror in the Church – Resurrecting Faith after Genocide in Rwanda.”
People in power plan the way they want things to be. They do research and analyze from a distance. They employ technology and expertise. They are pragmatic and lay out a set of sequential steps to get to their goal.
The marginalized, on the other hand, employ tactics; they are guerilla fighters, Katongole writes. This is how people survive in a world they do not own.
The marginalized assume that the world cannot be entirely remade; it will not bend to their will.
Thus, they look for spots of vulnerability and exploit them to subvert the status quo as much as possible. They do not work at a distance; they are in the midst of things.
Katongole argues that the teachings of Jesus smack more of tactics than strategy.
Jesus showed no indication that he thought that he, or his followers after him, were going to remake the Roman Empire into the Kingdom of God.
Turning the other cheek was not a strategy to break the power of the Roman army. Settling before you get to court would not make a corrupt and exploitive justice system fair. But both these acts would disrupt the rhythm of the system.
The early church in Jerusalem knew it could not reform the unjust distribution of wealth in society, but it did subvert the status quo in a small way by sharing all things in common.
The powerful lobby the legislature to change a law. The marginalized just sit down in the front of the bus one day.
Perhaps the church in the U.S. is still living with a hangover from the days when the church had civic power when planning strategy was our posture.
We talk about the end of Christendom in our nation, the passing of the “Protestant Franchise.” Yet, we still want to plot strategy, like in the good old days. We want to be players in the power structure.
One Protestant ecumenical organization complains because the state governor won’t meet with them anymore; now he offers to send an aide. The group refuses to meet with the aide. They still want their “seat at the table.”
Perhaps it is time for our congregations to return to tactics – finding the weak places in the “powers and principalities” of our age and exploit them in whatever ways we can.
We can live our lives in dissonant ways, rattling the cages of those around us. This is where we began two millennia ago.
Luke 3:11 – “anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same” – is not a plan for a universal redistribution of wealth.
This is an act of insurgency, a solitary act of charity that challenges the way things are. It is a refusal to go along with the mainstream.
Jesus’ responses in Luke 3:12-14 to questions from tax collectors and soldiers about their jobs after being baptized is not a strategy to make an unjust system just or to dismantle the military.
Rather, these are tactics to subvert the system where one can.
I heard a man being interviewed on the radio one day. He was working with a ministry that provided food to hungry people. The interviewer asked him if he thought he could remake the whole world.
The man replied, “No, maybe I am simply trying to keep the world from remaking me.” He had gone tactical.
Churches in the U.S. would be wise to adopt this mentality, remembering the words of Paul in Romans 12:2. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Jim Kelsey is executive minister of the American Baptist Churches-New York State.