Friday, January 27, 2017

Christian Anarchy and Idealism

Anyone who knows anything about U.S. history will know that the statement, "Our country was founded as a Christian nation," is suspect.  In the days of the colonies, our country was so unchristianly Christian that Catholics and Quakers had to establish a colony for themselves just to be protected (Maryland and Pennsylvania, respectively).  The form of Protestantism that existed here was quite unkind even to other Christians, making our country, as far as I can tell, an unchristian one.  More than that, those who actually wrote our founding documents were mostly not Christians but Deists or atheists, or some strange brand of Christian that we wouldn't recognize as Christian today (Thomas Jefferson).  I'm not denying that some, like John Adams, were devout Christians, nor am I denying that our founding documents can be read as consonant with Christian ideals, as I myself read them, but I am denying, as any nominal historian would, that our country was ever founded as a Christian nation, aside from the coincidence of a lot of Christians living in the country.

Despite the undebatable facts, many do re-write history in demanding that our country return to some fictional Christian theocracy in which Christian ideals, ideas, and policies are instituted and Christians themselves protected for living out their faith in whatever form it takes.  Most of those who read the Bible would point to Romans 13 in which Paul urges a respect and submission to the governing powers that be and Jesus's statement to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's in support of their claims.  There is biblical precedent, they would say, for an intense patriotism and loyalty to state because the government and its leaders have been ordained by God; or, if not ordained by God, then we need to create a Christian nation in which we can say God would be proud.  Christians, it would seem by these arguments, have the right and duty to have power in government and power over government.

The problem, of course, with any biblical argument for a near-theocracy or Christian power in or over government is that such an argument goes against the arc of Christian living outlined in God's story.  First of all, we are told that God helped the Israelites set up a monarchy begrudgingly.  If you check out 1 Samuel 8, when the people ask Samuel, God's prophet, to erect a kingdom/government to protect them from invading armies, God essentially says through Samuel, "I am the only Lord you will ever need," and then warns the people that they will have reason to complain of their leaders and government forever thereafter if they do not continue to adhere to the decentralized, almost anarchical way of living that they had been accustomed to.  Indeed, up to that point, God's people had lived in Israel with this tribal anarchy for two hundred years or so, or more depending on how we read the Bible, and had survived and thrived... at least whenever they followed God's ways.  It would appear, then, that the institution of any government was and is a decision that cannot be rolled back, and a decision about which God disapproved.  Anarchy, or its closest sibling, is God's ideal form of government for His people so that God alone can be Lord and Judge. 

God's absolute ideal for us as written in the Bible is to live without government, without anyone's having power of another, and instead to love one another to the point that we don't need any centralized force to protect us from one another.  Love of God and following God's precepts would be the only necessary glue; love of God, following God's precepts, and loving one another would do the same job as a government.  Christian anarchy, in which there is no government and therefore no power, is God's ideal, and so is the ideal. 

Putting aside for now the practicality of Christian anarchy, it is clear that God believes (or, if we're talking about God, I should say God knows) that any person or persons having power over other human beings can never end well.  How, then, is a Christian theocracy, the sort that many in our country have hoped or worked for with the election of Trump, at all Christian?

Of course, as the founders of our country knew, and this we should at least agree on, hoping for an idealist society is silly.  Madison and Hamilton repeatedly state in the Federalist Papers that idealism is impossible when you are working with human beings.  So anyone's hoping for one candidate, one party, or one policy to suddenly usher in an ideal is living a pipe dream.  Human beings are flawed and will not and cannot bring about an ideal.  We will be constantly disappointed and disillusioned if we fight for the election of one person or party believing that

Jesus Christ knew this, too.  If we actually read the gospels, the overwhelmingly trend of Christ's political engagement is not to declare vague statements about rendering to Caesar and to God, but to fight against the corrupt powers that be, even the temple authorities.  Based on the story of Jesus, one might say that "the powers that be" are always in need of prophets to attack and criticize and push the government to be more righteous.  Perhaps this is because power corrupts.  Perhaps simply it is because we are, indeed, flawed, and can never think that the work we have done is enough.  Whatever the reason, it is clear that Christians in power as Christians--meaning that they are in power because they are Christians, and not simply individuals who happen to be Christian--Christians in power or Christians as Christians using those in power are doomed to become like the leaders and Pharisees that Amos, Micah, and other later prophets prophesy against.  The Pharisees were righteous by Jesus's own declaration, but even them, the most religious people at the time, were in need of corrective spiritual forces.  What we learn from Christ, then, is that it is best for Christians to avoid power altogether.  Yet that is not what we have seen in the past year, plus, to the great detriment of the faith and Christ himself.

Indeed, what we further learn from Christ and from his apostle Paul is that Christ is ruler over all dominions.  We then must ask the question why anyone would ever want power on Christ's behalf.  Christ is not in need of power, since he is already in power.  To seek the institution of Christian power in government is to deny our discipleship of Christ, of a God who wants to be the only one with power, and instead to seek the institution of ME: my ideas, my thoughts, my say, my power.  Christ does not need power, but we think we do.  When we fight for power as a Christian we are fighting for our ego and therefore not dying to self or dying with Christ on the cross, and not doing what we claim to want as a supposed disciple.

Individuals should, of course, take an active interest in the work we as a collective citizenry do, called politics.  Perhaps especially Christians should take an interest.  More than take an interest, we perhaps should get involved.  If we are to get involved, however, it should be as outsider prophets declaring the corruption and misuse of power and abuse of our republican democracy, or as people who take office and just happen to be Christian.  Never should we run for office with a campaign platform that we are a Christian working for Christians; never should we seek power for our Christian church or group; never should we seek power on behalf of one who does not need or want power.  If we do, then we are failing the Head of the Church, Christ, by using faith as a powerful means of persuasion in the pursuit of power, both forces of manipulation that Christ could never consent to.  And, of course, if we do, then we are then called on to actually be a Christian leader, and it's kind of hard to do that when basic concepts of Christianity are neglected or outright rejected (I'm thinking of Matthew 5 and 25 in particular, loving enemies and being merciful, and welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked).  Instead what we have gotten in the last year or so are Christian power-brokers who would rather focus on a Christian's right to deny someone service in the name of religion while also building walls to keep out a handful of potential enemies, policies which may be good or bad but neither of which can be classified as Christian.  Almost always Christianity will be duped when it is used in the name of power, and the country will likewise suffer.  I would add that we should be wary of any pastor who sidles up next to politicians for political gain.  Nothing religiously good can come of such a relationship.  Christ would roll over in his grave if he were still in a grave.

Regardless of all of this, and despite how I began, there are many who still in their heart of hearts would like to see our country a Christian nation.  If that is the case, and your intentions are pure, then do not seek power.  Instead, we should live in such a way that we do not rely on the powers that be.  As far as possible we need to live into the ideal God set out for us: as anarchists.  Again, anarchy is impractical on many levels, and by 'anarchy' I obviously do not mean those people who throw Molotov cocktails at government buildings.  I mean that we should live as anarchists, not relying on government to do what we are called to do by Christ: loving our enemies, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger.  We can do all of that without the help of government, without power of any kind.  We can be powerless prophet servants who do what faith asks of us.  Actually doing what Christ leads us into doing is the only way we can ever claim to be a Christian nation.  The moniker will have nothing to do with power, can't have anything to do with power, or we instantly lose our claim to being a Christian nation and we have lost hope.  So just live your own life as a Christian and we will see a revival.  Until then, when we see those in power, especially so-called Christians in power, who are not making Christ's love known in the world, you must be a prophet and call it out and try to move us closer to the ideal.

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