I have lamented in the past that I have not been able (or at least not disposed) to offer a comprehensive statement of my beliefs about the relationship of Christian’s to civil government. What follows, as before, is unfortunately still not such a statement–and I doubt that a venue such as this could ever really provide an appropriate means for an exhaustive study of the type I imagine, the type which has already been undertaken by countless greater minds than mine. Nevertheless, I have resolved in May to dedicate extensive space here to a discussion of Christian anarchism and to an exhibition of quotes from Christian anarchists who I respect (even if I do not always agree with their particular variety of anarchism). Because political strains of anarchism are again rising to the top of cultural consciousness as a new generation latches on to their anti-statist, anti-capitalist, or anti-globlization impulses it becomes critical to distinguish Christian anarchism from these human, revolutionary movements.
Christian anarchism is the belief that there is no legitimate source of authority other than God and that, in view of this, all attempts by humans at self-government are illegitimate. As all human structures of power are illegitimate, they can only sustain themselves through illegitimate means, namely the sinful use of coercive force. Insofar as recognition of human governments is the recognition of a false authority (i.e. idolatry) and participation in human governments requires, directly or indirectly, the sinful employment of violence, it is the duty of Christians to abstain from allegiance to them. The Christian anarchist holds citizenship in only one kingdom and swears fealty only to one king, obeying temporal authorities not by virtue of the legitimacy but only in so far as it is consonant with one’s duty to the only true, legitimate authority. (In other words, when John F. Rowe snidely inquires whether or not a Christian should pay taxes, we may answer with David Lipscomb, “Aye, as a Christian, not as a citizen of human government; as a part of his religion, as a duty to God, he pays taxes to whatever government he is under.”) In all this, the Christian anarchist looks to–without presuming to instigate by human means–the eschatological dissolution of human governments promised in Scripture.
That brief statement leaves a tremendous amount of room for elaboration, but I hope the treatment of Christian anarchism in the coming weeks will contribute substance, both historical and theoretical, to yield a fuller picture of what it means to be a Christian anarchist. The following is a list of entries in this series which will be linked as they appear:
David Lipscomb on Virtue in Politics
An Anarchist Manifesto
Garrison on the Consequences of Non-Resistance
Tolstoy on Moral Culpability
Activism vs. Quietism: Where Anarchism Falls
Bender on the Anabaptist Vision
Chelčický on Romans 13
Romans 13: Love, Vengeance, and Anarchy
Eller on the Just Society (Pt. 1)
Eller on the Just Society (Pt. 2)
Eller on the Just Society (Pt. 3)
Anarchism and the Just Society
Jesus on Ethics