Ps. 82: Exercising Power Justly

The Rev. Dr. Katharine Rhodes Henderson is president of Auburn Seminary, a multifaith leadership development and research institute that equips bold and resilient leaders of faith and moral courage to build communities, bridge divides, pursue justice, and heal the world. Author of God’s Troublemakers: How Women of Faith are Changing the World (Continuum, 2006), Henderson is an internationally known speaker and has been featured in The Washington PostThe New York TimesUSA Today, MSNBC, NPR, and more. Her TEDx talk, “Letting God Out of the Box,” was released in February 2017. Henderson is currently writing her second book, Fighting for the Heart of America: How the Prophets of our Time are Bringing Our Nation’s Future to Birth.


Psalm 82 speaks pointedly about the right exercise of power. Less poetic and more prophetic, the psalmist draws us into a courtroom scene where God acts as the Defender of Justice. In the exchange that follows, God takes on the lesser gods—those to whom power has been delegated. Instead of using their power for good—to ensure justice for the weak and vulnerable—these gods do just the opposite, giving preferential treatment to the wicked. They act as though they are above the rule of law, seemingly unconstrained by the guardrails governing regular folk. Without “knowledge or understanding, they walk about in darkness,” with the consequence being that the foundations of the earth are shaken.

How familiar this story rings as we face the multiple pandemics of white supremacy and racism, economic inequality and COVID-19 in a time of rising authoritarianism—an “epidemic of norm breaking”—that threatens our democracy.1 Almost daily the Trump administration’s abuse of power—preying on the lives of immigrants, election manipulation, fueling the passions of division and polarization, giving preferential treatment to the wealthy and failing to control the pandemic—shakes the foundations of our democracy, while threatening the lives and well-being of people around the globe.

But there is a vision implied by the psalmist that can propel us forward and beyond this doomsday, showing us a way though this time of trial. The hope lies with those among us who are using their power for good, for truth telling and whistleblowing, for revealing abuses of power and bringing criminal activity to light. For giving voice and specificity to egregious violations that most of us might only intuit. The right way forward lies in acting beyond partisan politics; it lies with those who remind us of our shared values: freedom, equal justice for all, and the rule of law.

Our hope lies with people in positions of influence and power like Fiona Hill, Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman, General James Mattis, Prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky. These from government and the military are joined by faith-rooted justice activists like Bishop William Barber, a tireless advocate for the poor, whose vision for moral leadership has rallied millions; by Barbara Rimer, the Dean of the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina, who wrote an impassioned letter opposing the recent ICE Policy requiring international students in the U.S. to take at least one in-person class to maintain their visa status. These and countless others are the gatekeepers of our democracy—the “gods” who use their power well and have the humility to know that they are mere mortals—compelled to bring forth moral leadership in this urgent moment.

We must also learn from brave upstanders throughout human history. Even during the horrific years of World War II and the Holocaust, courageous leaders like Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer of the Confessing Church, and others from government, education, media, and everyday citizens took great personal risks in acting against the brutality of the Nazis. Let these and other such historical figures serve as models for us in our time and place, for the fight we face today. Our psalmist ends his prayer with a poignant plea, a call to an all-powerful sovereign God to judge the nations. The psalmist desires vindication. So do we. In this time of widespread illness, inequity, and the erosion of our democracy, we pray for God to rain down justice. In the meantime, it is up to us—truth tellers, activists, faith leaders, and everyday folks from all sectors of society—to work together, keeping our eyes on the prize of a truly inclusive multiracial and democratic society where economic, social, and political justice become real for all. With the psalmist, we appeal to the Defender of Justice, our strength and our shield, to hear our prayers and to guide our path.

1See Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, How Democracies Die (Penguin Random House, 2018) p. 204.


Read more about the PsalmSeason here & subscribe for email updates.

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

more from IFYC

"99.8% of U.S. deaths are of the unvaccinated. If you heard of an airline of that percentage dying, whereas a 0.02% on another, you’re switching flights." -- Dr. Jimmie Smith, Macon-Bibb County Health Department, Georgia.
As a scholar of religious studies, I frequently use critical race theory as a tool to better understand how religion operates in American society.
Inspired by their faith, four LDS students built new study resource that has revolutionized how hundreds of thousands of aspiring physicians study for their exams. "It really started because we just wanted to help people," one said.
We're now in one of the holiest seasons of the year for one of smallest and oldest religions in India -- one with a long history in the United States.
Organizing on-campus vaccination clinics, calling thousands of students, hosting informational webinars with medical experts – these are some of the ways in which IFYC’s Faith in the Vaccine Ambassadors (FIVA) have been raising awareness around the COVID-19 vaccine on campuses and high-need communities across the nation.
Last year's winners, listed below, created a range of initiatives, from virtual retreats and criminal justice initiatives to book clubs and racial equity workshops.
Religious objections, once used sparingly around the country to get exempted from various required vaccines, are becoming a much more widely used loophole against the COVID-19 shot.
What will the campus chapel, and the chaplaincy, look like more than a century from now? Let the adventure begin.
The issue is not the presence of religion in the public square. Instead, the question before us is how to express those religious commitments within in a pluralistic society.
We don’t know what the year 5782 – as it is in the Hebrew calendar – has in store for any of us. But we have the power to act in a way to do right by each other and bring a little more peace and love and joy into this profoundly broken world.
The following interview features Dr. Toby Bressler, senior director of nursing for oncology and clinical quality at the Mount Sinai Health System and vice president of the Orthodox Jewish Nurses Association.
Part of what I found so beautiful about our conversation is that we both agree that American pluralism is not simply a pragmatic solution to the challenge of a diverse democracy, it is also a kind of sacred trust that God intends us to steward.
After 9/11, there was increased intentionality in widening interfaith relations to include a broader number of faith groups and discussions. Twenty years later, it is not unusual to see interreligious conferences, joint advocacy efforts and disaster relief teamwork involving faith groups ranging from Adventists to Zoroastrians.
Twenty years later, we at IFYC, like so many others, collect the shards of memory, recollecting, reconstituting the trauma and horror of that day. And the sacredness is in doing so together.
As we approach this significant anniversary of 9/11, we must work to infuse the day with purpose and pluralism. Pay it Forward 9/11 is bringing people together to do 20,000 good deeds for the 20th anniversary.
In the first month since 9/11, The Sikh Coalition documented over 300 cases of violence and religious discrimination against Sikhs in the U.S. and has since grown to become the largest Sikh advocacy and civil rights organization in the country.
“If you were to quiz these students on what happened on 9/11, they think they knew what happened, but nobody really explained it to them,” Lisa Doi said. “I had to think through, how do you teach this history to somebody who doesn’t really remember it?”
My prayer is that for as long as we remember 9/11, that we will take time to listen to the stories of loss that break our hearts, and join together in finding ways to heal the division, violence and hate that continue to tear apart our world.
It has been 20 years, but the pain of that day is still present in so many places.
20 years after the 9/11 attacks, four remarkable people took profound suffering, loss and grief and “somehow managed to not center enemies. What can we learn from that? How can that be a teaching to the culture?”
Now the entire planet is our garden, and Rosh Hashana is our chance to remember that we are all descended from the original gardeners — that we are here, each of one us, to tend our chosen plots as best we can.

The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.