The notion is not a new one, but it appears to be one seldom discussed explicitly, unless I am missing the entire conversation altogether (please let me know if I am). I want to spend a few posts on the idea of divine proxy. I hit the concept in “Congregation as Expert; a New Way Forward” during the “Culture and Crises” lecture series. It’s something that lurks behind practitioners in the helping fields, especially those practitioners who are Christians, as we falsely imagine that we are the changing force in the lives of our clients. It’s something that lurks in church offices and behind the desks and efforts of those who try to help and change situations being faced by others.
Today, the idea itself could use explanation, however brief.
Divine proxy is the idea that when someone is speaking from authority, whether professional or religious, whether self given, institutionally given, or transcendently given, they are then interacted with, heard or perceived as becoming the official voice of the source of the authority.
a therapist who speaks on matters of relationships can become the final authority on a specific relationship.
a pastor who speaks on matters of moral or spiritual issues can become the actual voice of God on specific matters with individual people.
if a therapist has a misguided view, or is offering a personal, cultural or biased view on someone else’s specific relational situation, the someone heeds the advice as fact, and acts accordingly whether or not everything in them says otherwise and the result is damaging and more disabling. Or maybe they do heed advice even though they feel otherwise, and it is helpful and healing and the person comes to know that to be true later. Or, the person finally hears what deep down he or she knew all along about the situation, and they are set free because the professional speaking offers a more authoritative voice than the person views his or her own voice as being.
If a pastor has a misguided view, or is offering a personal, cultural, or biased view on someone else’s specific moral or spiritual issues, the someone heeds the view as fact––from God rather than from the individual––and acts accordingly whether or not everything in her or him says otherwise and the result is damaging and more disabling. Or maybe the advice is heeded even though the individual feels otherwise, and it is helpful and healing and the person comes to know that to be true later. Or, the person finally hears what deep down he or she knew all along about the situation, and finally freedom is experienced because a pastor speaking offers a more authoritative voice than the person views his or her own voice as being.
We can quickly see how the influence of authority gives incredible weight, whether someone turns a back and walks away from the perceived authority and the authority represented forever, or someone follows the authority because it is seen as direct from the authority source, and therefore should be heeded.
While it may sound pointless or semantic, the issue quickly becomes incredibly personal and incredibly immediate. I think about people who experience great healing because a pastor sees the presence of divine proxy, and takes great caution to express anger and action toward injustice and evil. I think about the latest story coming out of a megachurch about a spiritual abuse and misogyny that is only headed because the pastor has an unquestioned direct link to God, and questioning is called disloyalty to him…and God. I think about other church experiences where people continued to go home to abusive homes because the pastor says the wife should act more like Jesus to make the husband come around.
So it’s not pointless, and it’s not semantic, and it’s worth the time to consider, even if it’s only mine. So, the first time for a series on mosthopeful.com. We’ll see what happens.
Next up: divine proxy | stories of the phenomenon