Faith in institutions and Jesus on trial


I find that the trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin (from the Bible Passion Narrative) has a lot to teach us about why trust is low in the developing world, and why hoarding power & prestige are the root of the problem.

But first, a few relevant stories…

Faith in the church

In February of 2012 Kawangware slum (Nairobi, Kenya) was ablaze over a scandal. On the day in question, a 14 year old girl was found in the woods, gagged and tied, her throat slit, but miraculously not dead. Some men untied her and revived her. In between coughing up blood, she was able to speak the name of the man who’d tried to kill her – the name of the local pastor.

Just an hour earlier an eyewitness had seen this pastor driving away from these woods along Ngong road.

Later, other witnesses admitted that they knew this church leader had been having an affair with this same girl, who later died. But they had kept silent about it until questioned.

For several months prior, this pastor had repeatedly raped this teenage girl. When she told him she was pregnant and demanded that he support her child, he refused at first. He insisted it couldn’t be his child. When she screamed and shouted at him, he finally agreed to support her. Then the next day he kidnapped her and dragged her into the woods, and slit her throat, hoping literally to shut her up, and left her for dead.

That afternoon when he realized people were looking for him, he tried to set fire to the church. I don’t know what his motive was; perhaps he thought he could cover his tracks, or create a distraction. Regardless, he failed at that too, but did manage to burn down a city block, destroying the homes of a dozen bystanders.

Strangely, the men in the woods who tried to help this girl were a gang of lawless thugs who camped out there, robbing motorists and surrounding villagers. But on this day it was the outlaws and sinners who tried to save this girl from the hand of God’s representative in the community.

This story reveals a breakdown of society’s institutions on so many levels. Why did the church staff remain silent? How could the church have employed an evil man as pastor? Why were the outlaws the decent ones? We’re faced with youth who steal to eat, and a man who claims to speak for God more likely attracted to (seduced by?) the power and prestige that comes with the robe.

This is why Heather’s friend Martin just shakes his head and walks past the doors of the church on Sunday morning. He wants to worship God, but not if the pastor is this man.

Now you might be saying, “Wait a second! One bad man does not make the church bad!” And I would agree with you. But to the masses of humanity, ten years of the church helping a community can be washed away by one heinous incident. Trust and faith are hard to grow, but easy to destroy.

Faith in the international criminal court (ICC)

In Dec, 2007, the Kenyan election was nearly a tie. Both sides claimed victory. Arguments escalated into violence, and by January a wave of mutilation had engulfed thousands across the country. The international community (led by USA) forced a power-sharing agreement between the two sides, and many Kenyans have waited ever since for the world court to deliver some kind of justice. Nobody trusts the Kenyan courts to do it – they are too easily corrupted. They “serve at the pleasure” of those leaders who ought to be indicted, and those leaders remain determined to win at all costs.

Just how much faith people are putting in the Hague comes through in these stories:

In 2007 people voted hoping that they would find a president who would make their lives better. Within no time the votes were cast and the president who had won, people had doubt. People killed each other, burnt houses and left homeless. The pepole who had been killed were buried. Everyhere was full of blood people were badly hurt the ICC came and stopped the conflict. The ICC helped alot people and saved the life of alot of people.

During post-election of 2007 so many people were injured & others were killed. Family were left orphans. the cause of this problem was the politician whom were later investigated and were known. Now, they a taken to the International court called a Hague, which is super power and more investigative. For now the are still running with the case till the fact is out.

If the court fails to bring justice, many people will lose faith in all justice systems. It is because nobody has faith in the police and courts to exert fair and just control of society that we have regular mob violence against accused thieves.

The trial of Jesus

Picking up the passion narrative after Jesus was arrested…

Jesus before the Sanhedrin.  

Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house, where all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes were assembled. Now the chief priests and the whole council conspired together. They sought testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. For many bore false witness against him, and their witness did not agree. Some said, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.'” Yet not even so did their testimony agree.

So the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes, and they said, “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I ask you, you will not answer.” And they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.” And they said, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips.”

And the high priest stood up in the midst, and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But he was silent and made no answer.

Then the whole company of them arose, and brought him before Pilate.

And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man perverting our nation, and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ a king.” And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” And Pilate said to the chief priests and the multitudes, “I find no crime in this man.” But they were urgent, saying, “But He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.” When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time.

Then Herod questioned him at some length; but he made no answer.  The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him.  And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then, arraying him in gorgeous apparel, he sent him back to Pilate.

Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him;  neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Behold, nothing deserving death has been done by him; I will therefore chastise him and release him.”

But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barab’bas” — a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city, and for murder. Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus; but they shouted out, “Crucify, crucify him!”A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no crime deserving death; I will therefore chastise him and release him.” But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. So Pilate gave sentence that their demand should be granted. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, whom they asked for; but Jesus he delivered up to their will.

Note how Jesus repeatedly says “it is you who say I am.” When leaders conspire, nothing a person says can aid in his own defense, even when he has a voice. Systems, jurisdictions, and due process did not protect Jesus from the powerful people he threatened.

Institutions built by the powerless

What all three stories share is an event that shake the faith of the victims. When a church leader can rape a girl and then try to kill her to cover up, and when the government cannot deliver justice – even when the stakes are so high that the whole country would sooner fragment to protect the impunity of a few powerful individuals, and when a popular, peace-loving, but subversive leader is abandoned and put to death to protect the status quo, why should anyone have faith in churches, governments, and courts?

The answer is that we can’t do it alone. The world needs systems that can bring justice and prosperity to the many, and these institutions cannot exist without faith.

“Faith is the strength by which a shattered world shall emerge into the light.” –Helen Keller.

I believe the great amounts of prosperity found in some countries and not in others comes down to our divergent past – where leaders exploited the many, the individual people lost faith in the system and instead sought individual prosperity. Where people don’t work together for the common good, everyone is poorer. They are also divided, which makes them easier to subjugate and exploit. If there is a mass conspiracy out there (unlikely), all possible conspiracies begin with efforts to divide people by race, class, income, education, religion, even down to whether we drink tea or coffee (I drink neither).

Previously I’ve talked about powerty – the idea that poverty’s root cause is the hoarding of power by those who seek to “end poverty,” in their self-appointed quest to save the rest. The “rest” need to be living under their own power to be saved, and sooner rather than later. And I’ve introduced the idea of the aid servant who voluntarily relinquishes his hold on power in order to be more effective than the aid worker. Empowerment isn’t something you create out of thin air – it comes from giving your power to others.

Hoard not glory and power. It is by giving these away that the one learns their true value.

If International development wants to change the world, we must go beyond this state of “talking” empowerment and experiment with democracy-like systems that let people have real power. It will be messy, and much of it may not be effective at first, but the failures will be the people’s failures, and they will learn from it.

These systems or institutions will also provide an alternative where governments aren’t delivering results. Since governments fear outsiders hoarding power, the obvious road to the light – and Helen Keller puts it – is through locally controlled institutions that make government smaller, and perhaps obsolete. Our role is to spread ideas, give away valuable information, inspire, and be subversive. Jesus didn’t try to reform the Sanhedrin, the Pharises, or the Roman government; he imagined a different society built on trust and faith in each other and then gave away the roadmap to this place – which he called the Kingdom of Heaven.

“Remember this: we be many and they [the halls of power] be few. They need us more than we need them. Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” -Arundhati Roy

Poverty will not change its face until you see power being granted to the poor and start hearing their voices, angry and unfiltered, as clearly as you can turn on the 24 hour news cast. I can imagine such a world, so therefore it can be done. But it will require stepping on the toes of many who enjoy the glory and power of being the spokespeople for the poor. Here are just a few:

  • Nick Kristoff has written a great deal to shine light on the plight of the world’s poor – but he has also grown rich and famous off his words. They are, after all, his words, and not theirs.
  • Kony2012 raised awareness about their issue – capturing a ugandan warlord. But they too have profited in glory and power more than the people for whom they speak.
  • Jeffrey Sachs (who seeks more power by wanting to run the world bank) has gained much prestige by speaking for the poor, more than the poor have gained from his policies. Example: his millennium villages, where aid invested an amount equal to each person’s annual income, still show no prosperity effect.
  • Myself (Marc Maxson): I live in Kenya and get paid to work in international development. Even I have gained more from the privilege of my position than most of those whom I meet. I’m trying to be part of the solution but I cannot be the solution itself. Instead, I must decrease so that others may increase.

To create faith-building institutions,

  1. power must truly belong to the people affected.
  2. the internal culture must tirelessly pursue excellence,
  3. and ask “are we doing the people’s will?”
  4. and have zero tolerance for internal corruption, because
  5. everyone who is part of the institution wants to live as a public servant,
  6. and it is okay to talk about the mission being driven by the God Mechanism, (which works outside of the boxes we place God into called religions),
  7. and because we don’t fear the lessons of the Giving Tree, because
  8. this world is more than just ourselves.
And while we are building these institutions, continue to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, but direct your faith and your love elsewhere, where it can do the most good.

Building new institutions you can believe in starts with just one person.

For 6 hours a day, Bermuda’s Johnny Barnes stands at a busy traffic intersection telling all who pass that he loves them. After a few years, people actually starting appreciating this love and returning it. When he is sick, the radio station lights up with calls asking where Johnny is.

And they even built a statue to Johnny – the only other statue on the island is of their first governor. Johnny’s unconditional (agape) love is now an institution.

Passion Week

  1. Empire – the hierarchy of aid power
  2. The Gratitudes – a blueprint for social prosperity
  3. The Clarity of Powerlessness
  4. Only aid servants can end powerty
  5. Abandoning organizations on a quest for impact
  6. Faith in institutions and Jesus on trial
  7. NEXT: The path to resurrection is paved with failure
  8. epilogue: Why the poor don’t speak up

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