Napoleon Bonaparte

Image by Dunechaser via Flickr

Case 1: In my lifetime I have been a member of three churches which have split–in three different denominations. One of them split twice. Theology was rarely the issue; it was a person or group of people wanting power over others. Some the agitators were most like sociopaths–but otherwise good people followed them.

Case 2: I grew up in a small town that then had around 5000 people (it’s up to over 30,000 now–pseudo-progress). My family lived outside the city limits in the country, where they rented a house. When the house burned down in 1965, it didn’t even make the local newspaper. However, the society pages were filled with news of what was going on with the “in-crowd” of those who wielded power in the town. As one resident from a northern state said, “In this town, natives believe they are the Vanderbilts, the Astors, and the Morgans.”

Temptations to excess in seeking money and sex I understand–but I have never understood a lust for power, especially when such lust is fulfilled in a cutthroat way. What good did it do the agitators when they got the power they wanted over a church? In one church, the main instigator left shortly after gaining power, and the rest fought with each other. It took many years for the church to recover. When a person is six feet underground and liquefying inside a casket, what good does the power he had while alive do him? What good will it do to win out in petty small town politics after one is dead? To be wielded properly, power must be linked to a sense of service–then power is inclusive, wielded with concern for everyone, including people who may not fit well into a town or church. Raw power is exclusive, leading to an “us vs. them” mentality. When will those who lust after power realize that the most powerful person in the world gets up every morning and “takes care of business,” to use the euphemism? When will they realize that their legacy of good or evil will be all that remains of their position of leadership?

I suppose there is a natural tendency of people to feel self-important, that they’ve accomplished something in their lives. Seeking a leadership position out of a servant mentality and a sense that one can make an organization better is a good thing–and can lead to real accomplishment. But power for power’s sake only leads to tyranny, heartache, division, and hatred. How many people will attend the funeral of a ruthless, heartless person who divides a church or other organization because of a desire for power? Is it worth the small satisfaction that ultimately will fade into regret?