Winner: Submit to Authority, But Don’t Follow Blindly

Post a Comment » Written on October 1st, 2008     
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CHICAGO, IL (October 1, 2008) – Christians need to submit to the authority of others for their own benefit as well as the community, but they must do so judiciously, author Lauren Winner said today during a chapel service at North Park University.

Winner shared examples from her life that represented the value of submission as well as the dangers.

Winner told the audience that she and her future husband had been dating only two weeks while in college and were sure that they would break their vow of chastity if they did not get guidance from someone else. So they turned to the campus chaplain and shared intimate information from their lives. The couple committed themselves to following his advice and being accountable.

Winner admitted that granting that kind of authority is difficult. “I was embarrassed by the prospect of granting someone authority over my life, over something that felt personal.”

Despite her embarrassment, the decision was important. “Although this issue of sexuality is a personal issue, it is not – in Christian grammar – a private issue,” Winner said. “That is, the community has a stake in decisions I make about what I do with my body. The reason the community has a stake in that is because my body is part of the body of Christ.

That same principal applies to issues such as how we spend our time and how we use our finances, Winner said. She challenged the students to consider how they would spend their time and money, if they let someone else hold them accountable by looking at their calendar or checkbook.

People should not grant absolute authority to another person or community, however, Winner said. She related that she used to meet with a spiritual director who sometimes would give her assignments such as praying the Psalter or fasting. Winner normally would follow the assignments because she had granted him authority over that part of her life.

That authority was not absolute, however, Winner said, and she had the freedom to not do the assignment. She argued with him for five months regarding an assignment he gave her and she refused to do. In discussing the issue later, both realized he had been projecting his issues onto her.

“In any given situation, there is always a lot of discerning going on,” Winner said.

Giving authority to someone else also is risky, Winner added. People need to recognize that others may abuse that permission.

Winner cautioned that discussing issues of authority and submission must be contextually sensitive. For example, women, who have long been told they must submit to men, will experience the discussion differently from men. Connotations of submission and authority also may be different for African-Americans given the history of slavery.

She closed with a quote from the Prologue to the Rule of St. Benedict, with which she also opened her talk:

Listen carefully, my child
to your master’s precepts,
and incline the ear of your heart (Prov. 4:20).
Receive willingly and carry out effectively
your loving father’s advice,
that by the labor of obedience
you may return to him
from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience.

To you, therefore, my words are now addressed,
whoever you may be,
who are renouncing your own will
to do battle under the Lord Christ, the true King,
and are taking up the strong, bright weapons of obedience.

Benedict called for obedience to God and to a superior in the community, but the rule also allowed for individual discernment, Winner noted. “Don’t follow blindly.”

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