Sunday, January 18, 2004

Of Love and Power

What do they value more on average? money/career or better relationships? If the latter, follow the love part of the diagram, if the former follow the power part of the diagram. (Note: people who prefer power don't trust people enough, whereas people who prefer love trust people too much.)

This quote comes from an interesting site,, which features a plethora of self-inventories giving Myers/Brigg Personality types and Enneagram types. Being a certified administrator of the MBTI, as well as having a long interest in the Enneagram, I was interested to see if my scores had changed from previous self-evaluations. Usually, I self-report as a 2, Helper, with a 3 wing, Achiever. Sometimes it comes out 2 with a 1 (perfectionist) wing. Both are true to an extent. But in the not too recent past, I self-reported as a 4, sensitive artist, and in all inventories I report a high score for 7, the Adventurer/Generalist. MBTI type is consistently ENFP though my E and I scores are a lot closer than before. I recommend this site to people seeking a little self-knowledge with the caveat that all such inventories should be taken with a grain of salt.

That being said, I turn to the quote. About 15 years ago, I was enrolled in the Institute for Christian Studies, a diaconal school for the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida here in Orlando. I remember how excited I was about these studies, learning for the first time about source and literary criticism of scripture, about the history of the faith and the Episcopal Church particularly, about theology and the interface of sociology and psychology with religion. It was an incredibly expansive period in my life. And I have a fine priest, Bob Vanderau, who was then canon at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke in Orlando to thank for what has become my life's work if not obsession. Things in this diocese and at the cathedral are very different today, I am sad to say.

What sparked this memory was the dichotomy between power and love that the Enneagram explanation on the similarminds site featured. I remember saying to Bob years ago that what I saw in tension within the Episcopal Church and probably throughout the Christian faith was the conflict between love and desire - if not a perceived need - for control. It seemed to me that Jesus represented trust embodied: trust of G-d, trust of the creation, trust of his fellow human beings. Trust like that could only be understood as originating in a love of self, others and G-d. But it also seemed that Jesus met with unrelenting, fear-driven forces which manifest themselves in the perceived need for control, power over others. Surely that was true of the Sadduccean temple cult he encountered who were unwilling to see their place of privilege in the Roman province of Palestine threatened, not unlike the brokers of power in religious heirarchies today. It seemed true of some (though hardly all) of the Pharisees who believed that by exercising control over their own lives they could feel efficacious and thereby superior to others, not unlike our religious right today. And clearly it was true of the Romans who lived for power, control and domination of their conquered foes, not unlike the neo-conservative Machiavellians of our current administration.

But what seemed saddest to me is that for Christianity the tension didn't die with Jesus. Indeed, in the broader history of the Christian faith, I continue to be haunted by the question raised by my church history professor: "Is it possible that for the most part Christianity has been a destructive force in the universe?", a question followed by "Have a nice Thanksgiving!" and a disarming sweet smile. I've thought about that question for 13 years now and I have to admit I am still troubled by the possibility that the answer to her question is yes. And I also have to wonder if the primary reason for that being the possible answer is the inability of Christianity to live into the calling of Jesus to love, opting instead for mechanisms of power and control in their many guises, not the least of which is exclusive claims to absolute truth and ultimate salvation.

What the similarminds site added to this mix is a plausible explanation: People who prefer power don't trust people enough. Indeed, one has to wonder when reading the negative anthropology of people like Augustine and Calvin on the religious side and Hobbes and Machiavelli on the secular side whether people who prefer power can trust people at all. Seems to me that the root of not being able to trust is simply fear. Such fear is abundantly clear in theologies of original sin and Hobbesian/Machiavellian realpolitik. In the former, fear/distrust of the other manifests itself in an otherworldly fixation in which getting the right religious formula in this life determines whether one escapes the fearfulness of this world in the next life. In the latter, fear/distrust of the other results in authoritarian approaches to life in this world. While fear makes a very poor basis for public policy or religion, it also provides a very common basis for both.

I have to admit, I've never much understood how anyone could find such worldviews plausible, much less attractive. Of course, being an Enneagram Helper 2, that makes perfectly good sense. To boot I am a Myers/Brigg iNtuitive Feeler Perceiver (NFP) which approaches the world in terms of concern for human relations, openness to others and preference for the big picture rather than the immediate details. The other is generally not frightening to me; rather I find them intriguing, people I could learn from.

Admittedly, the other part of the equation can be true: Love-oriented people can be too trusting of others. I have found that to be true to my great dismay far too many times to detail here. It certainly was true in the hypercompetitive business of legal practice. It was very true of the process for ordination in the Episcopal Church. And it is becoming increasingly clear that the halls of academia are not immune to untrustworthy academics. There is something refreshing about Polyanna naivete and the child-like trust that it evidences. But those of us whose natural tendencies are to approach the world with these presuppositions can often find ourselves rudely awakened and disheartened. It is possible to trust people too much. Human beings are a mixed bag on any given day.

The struggles within the Episcopal Church today are a current example of this conflict of love and power. The move to expand inclusiveness within ECUSA to gay clergy elected bishop and to make available the blessing of unions to gay and lesbian couples has provoked a major firestorm not only within the American church but within the larger Anglican Communion. The general rubric for the convention's decisions has been that of justice though I would agree with any number of liberal theologians who rightfully understand justice in such terms as little more than love incarnate on a collective basis. While ECUSA is hardly a bastion of love-based practice, decisions such as those of the General Convention 2003 have brought the theory of our faith (to "seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself...." and to "strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being..." Baptismal Covenant) a baby step closer to its actualization.

Of course, it's not surprising that fear-driven theologies of power and control would find such actions anathema. People who don't trust the other will find solace if not a sense of security in rules to bind both themselves and others. They will come to worship the work of their own hands as the absolute, eternal revelation of the deity even as they ignore the history of its social construction. Fear has a way of blinding people.

The reaction to General Convention was fast and furious. The bishops of Central Africa, locked in a death grip with the fundamentalists of Islam, believe they cannot allow the Muslims to appear more homophobic than themselves. Pronouncement after pronouncement has rung out of places like Nigeria declaring themselves out of communion with ECUSA. Similar stories are reported from the Caribbean and Latin America where homophobia is the official policy if not always the actual practice. And within the US, Episcopal fundamentalists armed with tons of money from far right think tanks like those of Scaife and Ahmanson secretly plot ways to destabilize and destroy ECUSA from within.

And so, once again, the message of love - of self, of others, of the good creation and of the G-d who created it and in whose very being all exists - is eclipsed by the driving power of fear. Those who cannot trust others make a mockery out of their promises to love their neighbors as themselves (although one must wonder how much one could love a life driven by fear - perhaps they DO love their nieghbors as they love themselves!). Once again, the crowd cries "Crucify them!" as power-driven Pilates and priests ponder how to retain power and protect privilege.

Perhaps this is just the human condition. Perhaps all of us have a little Pilate deep in our souls even when love is our primary motivation. And perhaps all of us have a little trusting Jesus in our depths even when we desperately seek to repress it. And perhaps the best we can do is to be as aware of those two Enneagram poles within each of us and to be as conscious as possible and open to the call of Jesus and countless other enlightened souls who have embodied a higher example of what it means to be fully human and called us to "Follow me."



The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding. Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.


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