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A Question of Human Flourishing

By Martin Barrett

Almost 2000 years ago, a great teacher spoke a remarkable vision of the culture of authority. The teacher’s motivation was his observation that those in governing authority were abusive and oppressive. His love for the poor and oppressed made him indignant at what he saw. He turned to his followers and defined his paradigm for exercising authority. Pointing to the governing officials, he said to his followers:

“You see, those considered rulers over the people lord it over them, and the “greater” they are, the more they desire to exercise their power. Yet it shall not be so among My followers, but whoever desires to become great shall be your servant. And whoever desires to be first shall be the slave of all; for not even I came to be served, but to serve and give up My life for My people.”

This teacher started a leadership culture clash—self-enhancing power vs. other-centered servanthood. We experience governmental, big business, and educational leadership where most in authority seek to grow their power or career at the expense of those they are to serve. This self-centeredness is expressed by using the office for financial gain, job security, and more influence with the party or money from whom they seek to gain favor. The motive is toward self, and therefore cannot be what is best for the people they have been placed in office to serve. These inverted motives lead to abuse, oppression, usury, injustice, and a permanent underclass. In abusing authority and power, the poor get poorer, the dependent become more dependent, the rich become more affluent, and the powerful become more powerful. In the end, truth, genuine compassion, justice, and honor are sacrificed on the altar of “might makes right.” Laws and justice “for thee, not for me. “; elites who are above the law.

The teacher called out abuse by the established authority and was attacked by all who benefited from the status quo; still, the teacher persisted. In the end, it cost him his life. The teacher was Jesus. The teaching is found in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 10, verses 42-45.

Last year I ran for Burien City Council. During that season, I was attacked multiple times. Not on issues, but on my person, as a person of faith. A video went around, which I had made for a local gathering of friends where we were going talk about bringing the authority of our city to alignment with the servant model that Jesus taught in Luke 10:42-45. It would challenge the status quo.

I have made it a habit of not defending myself. Why would I defend myself from the truth if the accusation is true? It is the Truth that sets me free. If it is not true, then what do I care what others say about me? For the sake of the Truth, I tried to explain to the writer of these attacks what “discipline authority” meant, but he did not want to understand. He liked the idea of a sound bite, so I let the attacks go unanswered.

But recently, the attack came again. Once again, not over issues. The attack was over my belief that authority should be exercised as a servant, not as an overlord. Therefore I need to speak out, not in self-defense but to clarify the truth.

What is meant by “discipline authority” for the sake of our city? The authority in our town needs discipline. It has become less than a servant of the people of Burien. Leadership has increasingly sought its own agenda at the expense of the people, desiring its own enrichment of power and elevated position over the welfare of the residents. The DESC is a great example.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: which understanding of the proper exercise of authority promotes greater human flourishing? The current attitude of “lordship” or an attitude of servant leadership? I believe in servant leadership! It is this paradigm that The Gem of the Sound is promoting. When we see it, we will praise it. When we see abuse, we will call it out and speak into it. We seek to discipline how authority is exercised in Burien and the Highline School District to enhance human flourishing in our city and school district.

If you like how our city, school district, and others in offices of authority are making decisions, then this thinking will likely not be of value. But if you believe that those we elect, hire, and place in positions of authority are there to serve and, if need be, lay down their careers and comforts to serve this city and its people, our kids, and their parents, then read The Gem with an open mind.

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  1. That same great teacher spoke about the necessity of disciplining those he loves!
    The loving posture of this article reminds me of a description of wickedness and righteousness that I read once.
    Wickedness is the leveraging of the community for the self, Righteousness is the leveraging of the self for the community.

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