This article is the first part of a series adapted from the ideas in my thesis, The Trump Shall Resound: Christian Anarchism as Eschatological and Apocalyptic Witness; but it’s basically a total rewrite, because the paper is far too long and far too academic to post on this blog. If that kind of stuff floats your boat, though, feel free to check it out.
Christian Anarchism. If you aren’t familiar with it, the term probably conjures up pictures of men with Bibles in one hand and Molotov cocktails made from communion wine bottles (or juice bottles) in the other. Or maybe a bunch of dreadlocked guys and gals in robes and Jesus sandals out in the desert somewhere, doing a Bible study with WikiLeaks as a discussion starter. Or maybe turning the annual men’s retreat into a boot camp for a church-sponsored militia. Or even worse, maybe you’re picturing a bunch of white-clad cult members stockpiling arms in a big mansion out in the woods.
But real Christian Anarchism isn’t nearly as strange or violent as any of that. It isn’t violent at all, since it is all about the non-violence taught by Jesus. Christian Anarchism is totally nonviolent (I might say “pacifist” - but that term implies non-action rather than non-violent action and resistance). In fact, it isn’t really about “anarchism” at all, at least not in the classical sense of trying to overthrow the government and live in a stateless society. Not only is that impossible, but it’s not even desirable as far as Christian Anarchists are concerned.
So what is it then? I'm going to give the briefest of introductions in this article, and hopefully I'll be able to flesh it out a bit more in the rest of the series; but it's not the easiest thing to sum up quickly if the concept is new for you, because it is literally a total paradigm shift from much of historical (Western, and especially American) Christianity. However, I am firmly convinced that paradigm shift is much more in line with the teachings of Jesus and definitely of the early Church.
Christian Anarchism is a way of doing theology and ethics - more specifically, theology about the State or the Empire and how we are to relate to it.* To sum it up simply, which necessarily means losing a whole lot of the content, it is the view that not only are the Kingdoms of this World different from the Kingdom of God, but they are actually mutually exclusive and antithetical to it. To make it even simpler, it is simply following “Jesus is Lord” and “No king but Jesus” to their logical conclusions.
Earthly kingdoms, and more specifically Empire, are built on hierarchy, oppression, and violence - three things which are completely opposed to the “politics” of Jesus and which will make up the next three posts in this series. Empires have their own “salvation stories” and “discipleship training” wrapped up in their political histories. And yes, I did just say Jesus was very “political,” but not in the sense we think of the word. He had a whole lot to say about Empire and oppression and how to subvert it, but not once did he try to set up a government. In fact, he was quite clear that he was a very different kind of king.
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” (John 18:36)
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)
When Jesus proclaimed the “Good News,” a term which we have over-spiritualized to the point of losing its original connotations, he wasn’t making up a new word. The word Jesus used for the Good News/gospel was euangelion, and it was a political term used to describe Caesar’s conquest of a new city or region. The Emperor would ride in on a war horse, proclaiming the so-called “good news” that the people were now part of the glorious Roman Empire - the fact that they had been killed, raped, and pillaged along the way didn’t matter.