“Abuse of authority is the improper use of a position of influence, power or authority against another person.”
There is extensive information on the hurt perpetrated in churches, by church folk, on church folk. It plagues both hierarchical and congregational polities. Church leaders (clergy & lay) have authority by position and/or respect.
Our legislation is clear when abuse of authority has a sexual element. It is less identifiable in other forms. Before listing a few, let’s acknowledge the difficulty of dealing with a highly nuanced situation like religious organizational work. Every bible genius is not suitable for preaching or pastoral care. An administrative savant may not command moral and spiritual prerequisites to lead a lay ministry or episcopal district. Discerning truly called and gifted leaders is not easy. Monitoring and policing the exercise of authority and respect challenges structures with the best intentions.
Look at some ways abuse of authority and respect manifest in our culture. Silencing critics. Hiding and withholding information. Manipulation of judicial process to ignore facts, evidence, common sense, and imposition of prejudice and political bias. Appointments (at every level by clergy & lay) which ignore qualification; with malicious intent; for personal gain; with favoritism; and, against the best interests of either congregation/group to be served or the effected person.
Most of our elections are hardly an improvement to the presence of consent. When respected and/or authority figures direct delegates in voting, the masses surrender consent to the powerful. Instead of the democratic process checking/correcting injury, a presumably “free” process reinforces the culture of abuse. Surprised? Hardly. The system is time tested and true to infamous design.
Control who is elected delegate. Use delegate status as the carrot to secure loyalty. Threaten the disloyal with denial of the elevated delegate status. Reward those who will be manipulated with position. A few rise to the top. The cycle/system perpetuates itself.
Respect for authority is an important feature of civilized society and effective organizations. The proper use of power is a virtue. Irrational rejection of structure and proper discernment of gifts and graces is not the way toward a better church. We have to care of what and how we resist. Silence and neglect of amended ways is complicity with the assault.
We groom the faithful from the cradle roll. We indoctrinate them with The AME Way through Lay, WMS, Boards of Examiners. The results are mixed. We have The Unsuspecting Sheep, The Knowingly-Quietly Abused, The Frustrated, The Angry, The Successfully In Charge, and The Used to Be… to name a few.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We can/must do better – REFORM THE CULTURE! We need a few laws, but we need a lot of change of heart. Not easy! Not impossible!