The Sexuality of Power

Ask any Jewish person about their day in the sun, and they might mention Abraham, they’d give Moses some respect, but I would bet almost everyone would eventually land on King David. He was, after all, a man after God’s own heart. Not to mention that he helped usher Israel into their most prosperous time in history. They lived in the promised land and everything was right with the world.

One of the things that is interesting to me about the way we talk about David is how easily we parse his life. We either talk about his giant killing days or his wise rule as King…Or we talk about his dark side. The Scandal of Bathshebagate.  I can understand why we tell that story, as far as bible stories go, it’s got it all. Murder, adultery, betrayal, and lust. It’s like a late night movie channel special.

Or it’s like any political leader today.

I’ve spent the better part of last week trying to avoid any comment on Congressman Weiners’ recent “exposure” in the media. It was difficult, (sidenote: this exercise helped me to realize just how low my maturity level was). The sad part for me was that I like Congressman Weiner, I had seen him on several interviews and he seemed personal, compassionate and intelligent. But after the sad turn of events of the past few weeks have taken it’s toll, it’s easy to start demonizing him, but….

I heard a special on NPR about the relationship between power and sexuality a few days ago, and it was fascinating.

They were talking with a Canadian based research firm about all the different sexual/political scandals that have been happening lately. It seems to almost happen at rapid fire that somebody in power is doing something with someone that they shouldn’t. And these are only the ones that we know about. And so this firm was looking into why this happens at such an increased rate. Here’s what they found.

When they would give someone power in the clinic (like being in charge of the other researchee’s, holding a clipboard, etc.), whether male or female, that person would almost immediately become more flirtatious and confident. Their self-image was boosted, and they became someone much more amorous.

But what was really intriguing was that they didn’t just feel more sexy, they started to assume that the people around them were hitting on them. Imagine being there, watching some chump being handed a clipboard and asked if he could turn off the lights when everybody leaves. If you were a woman, does that do anything for you? Do many women these days think a man in charge of a light switch is somehow better looking than someone who’s not? Do I need to start carrying a clipboard around the house?

Here’s what the researchers actually said:

“I don’t think this is going to be limited to powerful politicians or CEOs of big companies by any means, I think this can happen in everyday social interactions. In fact, in our own research, just giving people power over a small amount of money in a short laboratory interaction was enough to elicit this overestimation of sexual interest. Volunteers with the power believed their lab partners were acting in sexual ways even when they were not, In other words, when you say “hello” to someone, an ordinary person thinks you said hello. A powerful person thinks you meant helllloooooo.”

Which brings me back to David.

Go back and read 2 Samuel 12 again sometime. Nathan tells David a story about a man who has so much who takes away from someone who has so little, just because he can. And I think that’s brilliant. For one reason, because Nathan knows he’s on thin ice. David had already killed one guy to cover up his scandal he could do it again. And when Nathan confronts David, he does it through a parable. He holds up a mirror to David and let’s him see how ugly what he did was.

What is interesting about that story, and one of the reasons I think that we parse David’s life so easily, is that God doesn’t really correct David for his adultery or even his murdering Uriah (which is obviously something that God’s not cool with). Instead, God sends a prophet to rebuke David for his use of power.

The researchers found that people in power became hypersexual. And one can argue that this is just one sad by-product of power. But to the Christian story, it is also unacceptable.

It’s been said that as many as 40% of ministers have affairs. That is a travesty, and I think it’s one that you can draw a straight line from a misunderstanding of the gospel to the way we work in the world.

Think about the close tie that churches have had with politics, or the way that some preachers just baptize a presidential model of ministry. Now I believe in leadership, I believe in Christian men and women who have the God given gift to lead, and these people should be empowered by their communities, but it’s a different kind of leadership, it’s a different kind of empowerment.

Christian leadership is the kind that is first and foremost a service. It’s not always popular, and it’s not always going to be what the people being led want, but if it’s like Jesus’ than it’s done for the other, with their best interest at heart. It’s leading others in the self-emptying way of Jesus, by doing it yourself first.

That’s what David came to understand, and it changed the world.

Ultimately God redeemed David’s sexuality, and his power. Because after all, David is the Great, Great grand daddy of the one who showed the world what true power would look like.

So take heart Anthony Weiner, and Newt Gengrich, Mark Sanford and Elliot Spitzer. There is still hope for your story yet.

Just get your own lamb.

About jonathanstorment

My family and I love reading, traveling, daddy/daughter dates, playing hide and seek, good music, and long meals with friends. We still miss LOST, and all four of us have Superman uniforms. We are passionate about bringing Heaven to Earth and want to follow Jesus while repainting discipleship for those around us. We are followers of Jesus and I preach at the Highland Church of Christ. We participate in something called A Restoration Movement, and we've come to realize that might be larger than we thought.

6 thoughts on “The Sexuality of Power

  1. Thanks for your take on the Weiner scandal.  Interesting piece by NPR, too.  I’m glad that you’re in a place where admitting liking Weiner and that you listen to NPR doesn’t get you fired or branded.  It’s interesting to me how shocked our sex-obsessed culture is when someone in power acts out sexually.  We look at our communities, our families, our circles of friends, our churches, and see scandals all  the time but we become aghast when a politician cheats?  I think part of it is our culture and much of it is the media loves some good sex scandals to help ’em sell shoes and cars and such.  Keep up the good work. 

  2. I might be mistaken, but I thought that the death of three of David’s sons and the rape of his daughter has been traditionally viewed as part of his punishment.

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