Anglican Archbishop David Gitari ended his talk at the Wheaton Theology Conference with a neat illustration of the difference between doing mercy and confronting power. He used the example of a factory where many workers were injured. Wanting to help, a church arranged to have an ambulance on call at the factory at all times. That’s mercy.
After a time, someone asked, Why do so many people get injured in the factory? No one knew, so someone went in to find out. They found that the factory used old equipment and didn’t observe rules of safety. They confronted the managers and the factory was changed. Injuries declined. That’s confronting power.
Churches, Gitari said, need to be involved in mercy. But they also need to discern and confront the places where there are injustices and distortions that cause the suffering that needs to be met with mercy. That’s a much trickier thing to do, and requires a good deal more courage, because it is likely to provoke powerful people who are quite happy for the church to pick up the shards of broken lives that they leave behind but who don’t want to stop breaking things.