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

"It is permissible within our religion to defer, or to make up your fast later if you're feeling sick."
From experience, I know that Hispanic families had been greatly, and disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and survey data from the 2021 PRRI-IFYC Religious Diversity and Vaccine Survey corroborates this.
As the last few days of Ramadan are upon us – take our interactive quiz to find out how much you really know about this holy month.
We weren’t sure what to expect or how to navigate the complexities of getting to know colleagues from a distance, but IFYC team members Silma and Nadia welcomed us into their homes, their traditions, and their faith.
As the final project for the class, we wanted to do something that would make our campus a more inclusive, interreligious place.
IFYC is collecting prayers and meditations from diverse faiths to show our solidarity with the people of India, as well as links to charitable organizations that people can support.
Generally, tradition holds that the body is to be cremated or buried as quickly as possible – within 24 hours for Hindus, Jains and Muslims, and within three days for Sikhs. This need for rapid disposal has also contributed to the current crisis.
“Humanitarian Day embodies why Islam is relevant in America today. It’s why many Black Muslims embraced Islam, to be part of the solution, not only in their personal lives, but in their communities." - Margari Aziza Hill, MuslimARC
Recently, I asked a group of IFYC Alumni to share what they do in one sentence. I love their responses because they capture who they are so well.
As a nurse and a physician occupying different spheres in relation to the patient, Anastasia and I held comparable but also differing views about the role of religion and interfaith in the realm of patient care.
El movimiento necesita artistas, educadores, trabajadores de la salud, padres, funcionarios electos, científicos, clérigos, directores generales, y cuantas personas sea posible para hablar en contra de la injusticia donde sea que la veamos.
The scholarship covers the students’ tuition, as well as housing and living assistance while they pursue undergraduate or graduate degrees across all 18 of Columbia’s schools and affiliates.
En esta foto del sábado 9 de mayo de 2020, el Rev. Fabián Arias lleva a cabo un servicio en casa, al lado de los restos de Raúl Luis López quien murió de COVID-19 el mes previo, en el barrio Corona del distrito de Queens en Nueva York.
It is certainly within the rights of philanthropic and political institutions to 'not do religion,' but such an approach undermines any meaningful, holistic commitment to community or place-based humanitarian efforts in much of this country.
Last month, Kevin Singer, co-director of Neighborly Faith, brought two interfaith leaders together to discuss their respective publications and the consequences of the Equality Act on religious organizations, institutions, and places of worship.
It is in this spirit respeaking memory and finding time to etch it into the future that I offer the following exercise. It is designed to do with your friends or folks – preferably three or more. Take some time with it. Use it as a catalyst to...
Imagine my surprise upon coming to USA and celebrating my first Easter, but didn’t people realize it was Easter? Why are all the egg die and chocolates already sold out and none left for us celebrating a few weeks later?
They will, in other words, be learning the skills of mindfulness meditation — the secular version of the Buddhist practice that has skyrocketed in popularity to become America's go-to antidote for stress.
This is a sampling of sacred texts and statements, listed in alphabetical order by religion, that religious communities have used to engage in the work of public health amidst this global pandemic.
Chaplain Fuller’s leadership and guidance has left a lasting, rippling effect on and off campus which will guide communities and individuals into multifaith work and engagement long after her tenure at Elon.
In the grip of a deadly second wave of COVID-19, religious charities and faith-based organizations are among the many civil society groups that have stepped up to mobilize relief efforts.

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.