Am I an Oppressive Person or Leader?

by Pastor Daryl Largis

Most of us would quickly say surely not! But I think I read about such a person who lived a long time ago who was, or we would point to a leader somewhere in the world and say for sure it is that guy!  While those references may indeed be true, I think this question deserves a bit more personal attention, for oppression can happen through anybody and to anybody including you and me.  It may not be on the scale we see on the news or internet but nonetheless it still can live and breathe in how we dispense the influence granted to us. Some reading this may say they are exempt given they are not in a place of formal leadership, but I offer they too should take this seriously given they might be parents, or grandparents or even volunteers in this or that or belong to this group or that group. In any event, for one to be immune from the traps of being oppressive they would basically need to be living by themselves on a remote island, which is likely not the case for most reading this blog.

With all of that said, let me spend a bit of time and describe what oppression looks like.  It is a decision that produces an action or environment that is unjust, arbitrary, or otherwise inconsistent with the known truth to control others by position of authority, power (such as wealth or education), or force as in physical size including threats of punishment. The motive behind oppression is selfishness in its nature in that the oppressor is looking to gain or avoid something related to themselves. It is not to be confused with discipline and consequence. These have their place but indeed need to viewed and administered in the same light that keeps one from being oppressive. Oppression is driven by the one in power whereas discipline and consequence are the result of individuals, regardless of place and position, being held appropriately accountable.

Typically, the times in our lives when we run the risk of being oppressive is when our leadership, however great or small it is, becomes threatened.  This can happen as a business director or as a parent.  In any event, the thinking and then the speaking goes something like this, “I am so and so and, therefore, you need to do so!”  We then expect immediate compliance based upon our position or authority. This begins the journey into oppressive leadership which in the end produces two things if it continues.  The first is that it produces misery for the leader in that the results will never be fully what they want or desire.  Secondly, it will produce rebellion in the hearts of those who experience it and as soon as there is a break or an opportunity to get out they will take full advantage of that and do what they want or at least perceive to be the best thing.  This happens all around us on large scale situations such as coups in nations to kids when they get to college and away from mom and dad. It is human nature to respond in such ways to oppressive leadership. 

So, what can we do?  Well, I think there are three goals for us as people who have influence and/or leadership responsibilities whether much or little. 

  • We need to ensure we are not oppressive in our leadership.
  • We need to keep those we influence from developing and growing seeds of rebellion.
  • We need to keep misery as an outcome of our leadership from knocking at the door.

I believe we can achieve all three of these goals.  To do so, requires us to think and act in ways that allow for our influence to be life-giving not oppressive.  Fortunately, Scripture gives us great instruction in that regard that I believe is worth knowing, understanding, and implementing.  Simply stated, we should learn to make decisions especially those involving people or impacting people that are right, just, and fair.  When we make decisions that are consistent along those three dimensions, we are producing an environment that is healthy and one that gives life not one that oppresses it.  So, how do we do that, I mean make decisions that are right, just, and fair?  Well, first I think it helps to understand what each dimension is and then understand how they work together, and then finally understand what is needed to navigate them together at the same time.

So, fairness takes into consideration the special circumstances of the situation, it is merciful, it is truthful, loving, generous, caring, it is based upon the needs of the individual in light of reality, it is equitable, it is commensurate, it is more focused on the person and their situation.

Being just is more rule bound, it is the consistent principle to be applied in this situation that was used in the past and will be used again in the future; it is an understood law or regulation; it represents a clear truth that does not change; it renders a judgment that holds its own regardless of time and circumstances as in one who steals is a thief and will always be a thief.

Being right demonstrates and declares what is the honest, pure, and good thing that should happen or should of happened. It is clear what is right and wrong based upon truth that is uncompromising. As with being just, being right is typically tethered to principles that don’t change or a clear conviction based upon recognized truth.

So, while more could be said in terms of the three things above, I believe they form the dimensions needed for leadership to broker its influence in any scenario that DOES NOT produce oppression.  Avoiding one of these dimensions assuredly will place the leader in a position whereby the results will be less than desired as we remember that you:

  • can’t do something fairly if it is unjust and wrong.
  • can’t do something justly that is unfair and wrong.
  • can’t do something right that is unjust and unfair.

They each depend on each other as it were; so, the goal is to do that which is fair AND just AND right.  This might seem like a tall order and in some instances it is, but God knows this and provides a key ingredient for us to navigate these three dimensions – His wisdom.  If we are not actively pursuing His wisdom daily we assuredly will not have the wherewithal to navigate successfully any decision involving those around us in a manner that is right, fair, and just. We simply are not that smart – we need God’s wisdom to successfully navigate this.  Fortunately, His Word clearly states that if we ask for it (His wisdom), He will give it without constraints.

If we do and are successful in asking, believing, and receiving God’s wisdom, we will be more able to lead in ways that people experience fairness, justice, and rightness. In doing so, here is the environment that is created:  being fair enables trust, being just demonstrates and affirms truth, being right ensures purity and goodness.  These are elements that nurture and give life – trust, truth and goodness.  Our leadership should produce these in abundance.  We can do this repeatedly if we are disciplined in leading with these three dimensions – am I fair, is this just, and what is right?  Personally, I usually start with the question, “What is the right thing in this situation and can I base that on Scripture?”  Next I ask, “What is the just decision based upon what happened and what is right?”  Next, I ask, “What is the fair thing to do in light of these two other dimensions – rightness and justice?”   While not a perfect approach if you will, I have found it to be one that in my mind produces the desired outcomes on a consistent basis. So, my hope for you is that you look inside yourself and objectively evaluate your influence on others and assess whether you are oppressive at times.  If so, I encourage you to adopt the approach of evaluating what you do based upon fairness, justice, and rightness.  You can create a different ethos if needed or enhance the one you have in the circles you lead by doing so, and the people you influence will be blessed to a greater degree.

Scriptures references:  James 5:1-6 and Proverbs 1: 1-7