Tag Archives: social justice

OCU’s Difficult Precedent

Oklahoma Christian University has made the choice to respond to student concern about the racial history of one of their building’s namesakes (N. B. Hardeman) by renaming it. The story has made national religion news. In some respects, this choice is heartening. The objections of Hardeman’s grandson notwithstanding, all evidence suggests that Hardeman was a casual, open racist typical of his time–though not for this excusable. Coming to grips with its deep history of racism is an overdue chore for many churches, and the Churches of Christ particularly so, as they have by no means moved beyond their segregationist tendencies. So kudos to OCU for tackling the problem head on, as other churches and congregations have tried to do, however symbolically.

At the same time, OCU sets for itself and other institutions affiliated with the Churches of Christ a very difficult precedent. As a movement born of and maturing in among the most overtly racist periods in US history, the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement has little but deeply imperfect leaders in its history when it comes to race. When some quote (and there are ample) from David Lipscomb or James Harding emerges, will whole universities need to change their name? Freed-Hardeman shows no sign of following OCU’s lead and dropping the “Hardeman” from its name (even if most of us just call it “Freed” for convenience anyway). If OCU’s approach to the problem is really the most constructive, than there is a great purge coming.

If so, it’s not a big deal; names on universities or university buildings shouldn’t demand more loyalty than racial justice. I still can’t help but wonder if this isn’t tokenism plain and simple. There are still real issues of racial divide and injustice in the country, in the churches, and probably at OCU. If you put a blue uniform on Jefferson Davis, he doesn’t become Abraham Lincoln. Scrubbing bad names off of buildings doesn’t change what’s inside.

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Parsing Justice: Jill Lindsey Harrison’s Pesticide Drift

Image by MIT Press

In the course of batting around with a colleague the possibility of doing a paper about a biblical approach to environmental justice, I picked up Jill Lindsey Harrison’s Pesticide Drift and the Pursuit of Environmental Justice and, candidly, was disappointed. For those who are not familiar with the environmental justice movement, as I wasn’t until recently, it is an attempt to correct what are seen as deficiencies in earlier environmental activism. It does this by recognizing the overlap between environmental and social justice problems, especially the disproportionate environmental burden born by those who are socially and economically marginalized and the same peoples’ lack of voice in crafting environmental policy. Though the movement has been around for decades, and gained steam in the nineties, recently historians (like Ted Steinberg and Thomas G. Andrews), sociologists (like Harrison), and activists have begun to stress more and more that when environmental disasters “strike,” they affect the poor and racial minorities more acutely than anyone else. It is a trenchant critique of the system, one that demands the attention of any and all concerned either with environmental ethics or with social equity. I certainly do not want to imply by my critique of Harrison that there is some flaw in the environmental justice perspective. My problem with Pesticide Drift is more academic and less foundational.

Harrison’s book is not, first and foremost, an apology for environmental justice, though she does more than her fair share of preaching. Instead, she turns her critical eye on the movement’s own perception of its place in the greater environmental discussion to point out an error in thinking among environmental justice advocates.

My aim in this book is to both uphold and amend this EJ argument. This book pivots around…a case that illustrates in sharp, present detail how the workings of “raw power” shift the burden of pesticide pollution to the bodies of California’s most marginalized and vulnerable residents. That said, I also challenge the claim that environmental inequalities exist because mainstream (i.e., non-EJ) environmental politics are devoid of justice. I contend instead that environmental inequalities emerge from the cruelty and malfeasance, but also from the ways in which many well-intentioned actors are engaging in efforts to make California agriculture more environmentally sustainable.

Or, in other words, the road to the toxic contamination of Hispanic communities is paved with good intentions. It strikes me as something of an obvious point, but one that undoubtedly still needed to be made considering how haughty activists can be in the presentation of their causes as just and their methods as the lone means of achieving that justice. So, with the aim of exploring how alternate theories of justice have unintentionally collaborated with pesticides to create an environmental and social disaster, Harrison gives an overview of the pesticide drift problem in southern California and the many fateful ways that individuals, industry, and the regulatory bodies of the state have failed to prevent it.

Except that Harrison never actually proves her central claim, that there are other theories of justice operating in the various responses to environmental issues. That is not, of course, to say that she is wrong. Her proposition, having been stated, is so self-evident that it undoubtedly will stand without a proper defense. Her book, however, lacks a raison d’être without it. Harrison proposes the existence of two alternate theories of justice: the libertarian and communitarian. The former sees justice as primarily concerned with upholding personal property rights. The latter holds the community is best positioned to locate and enact justice. It is a simple taxonomy, so simple that it elucidates nothing for the reader. It would be just as convincing to say that a libertarian sense of freedom is centered on private property, or a libertarian conception of personal well-being. Or you could leave out “justice” altogether and say that libertarians focus on private property. Communitarians focus on the community. It says nothing about “justice” to collapse an entire worldview into it: Christian justice is cristocentric, utilitarian justice stresses utility. Harrison had the opportunity to explore the notions of justice–the ideas, the impulses, the cultural drivers–that inspire these alternate responses to environmental issues, but she declined to pursue any deeper than the most superficial definition of what “justice” might mean outsider her own movement.

Instead, she spends the majority of her time taking libertarianism and communitarianism to task more generally. (After all, not having defined their visions of justice with any rigor, it would be hard to do otherwise.) Libertarians have a false hope in the power of the person working in concert with the market. Individuals, while laudable in their efforts to farm sustainably, inevitably lack the ability to affect such a systemic issue as pesticide drift and struggle with the economic disincentive to do so. Industry, less laudable (why is not clear) has an even more powerful economic disincentive to create sustainable farming techniques, not when the pesticide industry is a multi-billion dollar quasi-monopoly for a handful of companies. Politicians, incentivized by industry, are content to shirk off their responsibility in exchange for campaign contributions. Communitarians are similarly naive in their assumption that a community can correct a structural issue in society and achieve social justice. Even agrifood advocates, the rank and file of the sustainable agriculture activists reading Michael Pollan and shopping at Whole Foods, reflect the kind of wealthy middle class assumptions about choice that cannot function for the impoverished communities that bear the brunt of environmental injustice. The problem with both mindsets is that problems of the size and scale of pesticide drift “require substantial government intervention” (189).*

Harrison is more than willing to set out detailed proposals for how to enact the environmental justice vision of justice on a national level, and for those who are interested only in exploring environmental justice policy, I can with all sincerity recommend (at least the last chapter of) Pesticide Drift. But for anyone expecting to have presented a compelling new intellectual framework for considering the way justice operates in environmental politics, Harrison proves an unforgivable tease. The book which will explore justice as an environmental concept in pre-EJ environmentalists, in industry, or in alternate political philosophies cries out to be written. Perhaps, if time and good fortune permit, we may yet make a contribution to that discussion by considering the implications a biblical approach to justice might have for environmental justice. In the meantime, Harrison has promised to fill a void and only stepped in to show us how empty it still is.

*(It is here that the regular reader will expect me to launch into a tirade about the gross inadequacy of the state to achieve anything of lasting good. I did just that in my personal conversations with my colleague who, like Harrison, seems to believe that after fifty years of intensive federal environmental legislation, the reason we are not seeing the kind of improvements we want is because we are simply not surrendering enough power to the state. I won’t distract myself with that nonsense here.)

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Ross Douthat is a Genius.

Seriously. You’ll not hear me say that very often about anyone, but in this case I think it’s justified. The ouster of Metropolitan Jonah has all the makings of a brilliant story. A high level church official, the highest actually, has been implicated in a cover up of a rape by a deranged priest. There is sex, alcohol, religion, and scandal, but all anyone can seem to talk about is an article Douthat wrote about the statistical decline of the Episcopal Church. Small newspapers in smaller midwestern towns are giving each other high fives at the downfall of the nominal Christian. Episcopal bishops repudiate the criticisms, Episcopal parishioners echo them, and Episcopal priests try to temper them. Meanwhile, emergent, missional, politically leftist, and every stripe of hipster Christian have launched an Occupy the Blogosphere movement to protest the caricature. How did Douthat do it? It has been outrageous, and I am clearly by no means immune. (I’ve even caught myself arguing in the comments of other articles with people clearly too riled to think straight.)

Considering how heated the discourse has become, a few clarifications and disclaimers seem to be retrospectively in order on my part.

The liberal-conservative continuum is a useful but not flawless tool for discussing contemporary Christianity. I endeavor to be very careful with the labels I use in describing Christian groups. A historical perspective has afforded me a wonderfully rich taxonomy with which to precisely categorize various manifestations of the faith as they have appeared repeatedly throughout history, and I am convinced that it is safe to talk about a “liberal” wing of Christianity and a “conservative” one that dominate the scene in the American religious landscape. Now there are important qualifiers there. First, only America is in view here. Talking about liberal and conservative Christianity in Africa would conjure completely different images if not, more likely, be entirely nonsensical. Second, liberal and conservative Christianity dominate but do not constitute the American religious landscape. There are many groups, some significant theologically and some powerful within small segments of society, that fall into neither group neatly. Any kind of binary system of categorizing Christianity will necessarily fall short. (Sorry, Byron Williams.)

Ambiguity is the mother of conflict. Much of the tension that has arisen in the wake of Douthat’s article has been a result of uncertainty about just what is meant by “liberal Christianity.” Some of this has been on the part of self-styled liberals misreading what is being said in an effort to serve their own agendas. Much of it has been on the part of conservatives who are so busy rejoicing in their arguments that they do not take the time to clarify them fully. Even Douthat is somewhat at fault. It has been rightly pointed out that liberal Christianity can and does thrive in ways beyond what can be measured by attendance in the Episcopal Church. Douthat, however, is very careful to limit his criticisms to institutional bodies that have embraced liberal Christianity. Thus, saying that the “spiritual but not religious” demographic (who are often embracing the label “liberal Christians”) yet grows is not to debunk Douthat but to confirm him. They are leaving the liberal churches because they have nothing left to offer. Additionally, many have complained that certain liberal church groups are continuing to grow, churches that cling to the traditional core of Christian doctrine but play free-and-loose with traditional Christian forms. Again, however, Douthat makes very sure to define liberal Christianity as theological liberalism, the marginalization (if not obliteration) of all theology and dogma in favor of left-wing social and political causes. Cf. Burklo. Churches that keep the faith and update the practice are the kind of liberal churches Douthat wants. Which leads me to…

The decline of liberal Christianity is nothing to be happy about. Douthat is careful not to gloat over the predicted demise of the Episcopal Church, and other conservative Christians should follow suit. The conservative church has always existed in order to temper the unbridled pursuit of progress as its own end, to sustain the truths which might be (and in many cases have been) discarded when they become inconvenient, and to continue the stress on holiness which has characterized God’s relationship with His people from its earliest recorded moments. What the conservative church needs to realize is that the liberal church has an important function as well. It prevents the rest of the church from embracing the fallacy that something must be done a certain way because it has always been done a certain way. It keeps the faith fresh, timely, and growing. And, perhaps most importantly, the liberal church has historically stressed social ethics as a counterpoint to the conservative church’s stress on personal ethics. Conservatives rightly have a problem with vulgarity, sexual libertinism, divorce, and substance abuse. Liberals rightly have a problem with war, poverty, oppression, and disease.

The two groups or, more appropriately, the two impulses within Christianity serve each other through their constructive tension. It is only when that tension becomes conflict that we see the kind of partisan infighting which is quickly coming to define every aspect of American life. So conservatives, put away the fireworks. The demise of a powerful liberal branch is among the worst possible outcomes for American Christianity. And liberals, there’s no reason to equate Douthat with sexists and racists. His article has the same purpose that my responses to Burklo did: to encourage the liberal branch of Christianity to recover “a religious reason for its own existence” and “consider not just what they would change about historic Christianity, but what they would defend and offer uncompromisingly to the world.” Because I want a strong, vibrant, liberal voice among institutional churches. Otherwise, the Southern Baptist Convention gets to set the tone of the message, and I’m not ready for that.

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Speaking of the Folly of “Progressive” Christianity

It would seem that Ross Douthat, of the New York Times has been reading my criticism of progressive Christianity’s attempt to distance itself from theology and collapse religion into social ethics because he has chosen to illustrate my theological point with some statistical data. His article specifically reviews the declining attendance in Episcopal churches and correlates it to the conscious decision on the part of the denomination to become deliberately progressive.

As a result, today the Episcopal Church looks roughly how Roman Catholicism would look if Pope Benedict XVI suddenly adopted every reform ever urged on the Vatican by liberal pundits and theologians. It still has priests and bishops, altars and stained-glass windows. But it is flexible to the point of indifference on dogma, friendly to sexual liberation in almost every form, willing to blend Christianity with other faiths, and eager to downplay theology entirely in favor of secular political causes.

Yet instead of attracting a younger, more open-minded demographic with these changes, the Episcopal Church’s dying has proceeded apace. Last week, while the church’s House of Bishops was approving a rite to bless same-sex unions, Episcopalian church attendance figures for 2000-10 circulated in the religion blogosphere. They showed something between a decline and a collapse: In the last decade, average Sunday attendance dropped 23 percent, and not a single Episcopal diocese in the country saw churchgoing increase.

And why not? After all, what do Episcopalians have now to appeal to a young, socially liberal demographic? You’re telling them, “Look, we believe what you believe,” but then you also want them to believe in the existence of an omnipotent deity which their college professors have told them is intellectual barbarism, ask them to give up an hour or two out of their precious weekends to do liturgical calisthenics (sit, kneel, stand, kneel, sit), and encourage them to give money so that the church can continue to feed the hungry, care for the sick, and marry the homosexuals (like Jesus did) out of the comfort of their altar-filled, stained-glass cathedrals. That’s a PR manager’s dream.

So while progressive Christians and secular liberals continue to laud the Episcopal Church (US) as a model for Christianity, regular old Christians are investing less and less of their time in the Episcopal and like churches. Douthat rightly observes that the problem is not a renewed emphasis on the social ramifications of the Gospel but on the emptiness that comes when you strip Christianity of everything not compatible with political liberalism, not unlike Burklo trying to taking everything “unbelievable” out of the New Testament. The truth is, and somewhere some Episcopalian must know it, that a Christianity without a full-bodied, soul-saving, pre-existing, sanctifying, dead-buried-resurrected-returning Christ is no Christianity at all. It certainly has nothing that is going to put butts in the pews and bills in the offering plate. If progressive Christianity is going to continue to have a voice in the greater faith community–and I sincerely hope that it does–it needs to realize that it has fallaciously and dogmatically married social liberalism and theological liberalism. Maybe that’s the aberrant marriage they really should be worried about.

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Anarchism and the Just Society

The following is part of the Anarchy in May series which examines Christian anarchism and quotes prominent Christian anarchist thinkers. For a more detailed introduction and a table of contents, please see Anarchy in May: Brief Introduction and Contents.
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There is a great deal to commend Vernard Eller’s arguments about human attempts to construct a classless society, but an arguments merits are normally apparent on its face. To that extent, I intend to let Eller’s point speak for itself. No argument, however, is entirely invulnerable to criticism. Two such criticisms came to my mind while I was reviewing Eller’s case that bear engagement. Though I do not think either is ultimately justified, the fact that Eller does not address them specifically compels me to address them.

The first and most obvious criticism that might arise from those who advocate revolutionary attempts to establish equity is that Eller’s Christian alternative does not actually achieve the ends for society that they pursue. No matter how hard we try, simply ignoring social inequality does not resolve the reality of it. As long as the “oppressing classes” continue to have recourse to their means of oppression, the “oppressed classes” will continue to be oppressed.

This is undoubtedly true. It must be remembered, however, that Christian anarchism makes no pretense of trying to reform human society through human effort. In fact, it is predicated precisely on rejecting such a pretension. Eller makes the point quite clearly that all human means for establishing social equity necessarily involve the use of force (in some fashion) which is itself a form of social oppression, even if it is the “oppressed” who are oppressing the “oppressors.” Christian anarchism doesn’t provide an alternative human means for achieving human ends, but a rejection of human means and human ends in favor of divine ones.

The church, in this understanding, becomes the only truly classless, and therefore just, society because it adopts, insofar as it is possible, the divine perspective of unity in Christ. When Paul says that there is no Greek or Jew, male or female, he does not believe that humanity becomes uniform by entrance into the church. Instead, the church becomes the proleptic experience of the kingdom on earth in which the incidentals which assume the status of identity in human society are relegated to their proper sphere.

This provides a perfect segue into the second objection: if classification as a means of domination is eliminated in the Christian community, what is to be made of the various economic recognitions of features such as gender in the church. If anarchism and its attempts to construct an equitable society by divine means is in fact the true means for achieving justice, does it not necessarily follow that people in the church cease to recognize as significant distinctions in gender?

I suspect that for Eller this is not so much an objection as a recognition of his logical conclusion. He appears to be the egalitarian type of anarchist more in the tradition of Garrison than Lipscomb. Being myself nearer to the latter, however, it is important to stress that egalitarian gender economics are only one possible implication to be drawn from Eller’s argument.

Even Eller recognizes that matters of sex, race, or socio-economic status are significant insofar as they are necessary categories by which humanity interacts with the world. For Eller this is an unfortunate byproduct of human finitude. He does not seem to recognize that there are realities which correspond to the categories which are generally labeled “oppressive.” The essence of anarchism does not need to be the elimination of all distinction because distinction is not only relevant and representative of reality but it is arguably the preeminent reality, enshrined before time in the trinitarian God and established as the predicate reality for a creation which is genuinely ex nihilo. (Eller presses this issue to its breaking point, wanting to blur even the distinctions between species as he makes a point to refer to sparrows as “individuals” in the same way that people are “individuals.”)

Instead, what Jesus does and what the anarchist vision of the church does is to divorce classification from value. This is the core of the complementarian argument of ontological equality and economic difference. It is critical to realize that difference in race, socio-economic status, and gender are non-essential, which is to say that they are not of the essence of things not that they are not meaningful. With this understanding in view, Eller’s stress on the church as the congregation of individuals standing equally before God and equally in one another’s estimation can be fully embraced.

Whatever you are, you are first and foremost a child of God, a sibling in Christ, and an expectant participant in the Kingdom of Heaven. That is what identifies us as Christians. That we may function differently in the church on the basis of the incidentals of our existence does not undermine that truth or in any way diminish its supreme importance. (And that stands not just for the issue of gender economics but also for the way people of different socio-economic status function differently but equally in the mission of the church not to mention countless other less controversial economic distinctions).

Undoubtedly, the fact that I agree with so many of Eller’s premises means that I am omitting or overlooking other potential errors in his thinking (any of which I would be happy to have pointed out to me). Nevertheless, it seems hard to contradict Eller’s acute sense of the flaw in historical and ongoing attempts by humanity to imagine and pursue and truly equitable society. The just society will always be out of the reach of optimistic human hands because humanity lacks truly just mechanisms of actualizing its vision, even if that vision were truly just.

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Activism vs. Quietism: Where Anarchism Falls

The following is part of the Anarchy in May series which examines Christian anarchism and quotes prominent Christian anarchist thinkers. For a more detailed introduction and a table of contents, please see Anarchy in May: Brief Introduction and Contents.
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As is so often the case, the question of whether Christians are to be quietists or activists presents a false dichotomy. It is one, nevertheless, which has powerful rhetorical force. There are few, if any, legitimate quietists left in the world, and those that do exist have a relatively muted voice in the public discourse (unsurprisingly). The specter of quietism, however, looms large because any time anyone expresses any pessimism about the ultimate efficacy of human effort—divinely empowered or otherwise—they are immediately labeled as quietist heretics and left to scramble for some other justification for Christian service to society.

There is some value in this, admittedly, because quietism is antithetical to the Gospel. For our purposes here, let quietism be defined as the belief that because humanity is incapable of achieving the aims of the Kingdom by its own activities, such activities are meaningless. How can this view stand up to Scripture? Jesus came to announce the imminence of the Kingdom and with this made a clear effort to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and set the captive free. In enjoining that his disciples do the same, Jesus made impossible any honest attempt at quietism.

But activism is no less futile and no less incompatible with the true message of the Gospel. Activism is just as destructive if we understand it to be the belief that we have been tasked with the Kingdom purpose of feeding the hungry and therefore must believe it is possible and pursue as an end the total elimination of hunger by human effort (with the same being true of healing the sick and setting the captive free). Such a hope and such an effort is not only the height of human pretension, but it has always invited Christianity to align itself with decidedly unchristian forces pursuing the same ends—because, of course, it is the temporal end of defeating biological hunger which is falsely kept in the forefront.

Anarchism, properly understood, provides an alternative social ethic. Unfortunately, the temptation toward quietism is great for anarchists, and accusations of quietism make the temptation toward activism even greater. Rightly employed, however, anarchist thought invites Christians to take the possibility of achieving total implementation of the Kingdom out of the picture. In fact, at the heart of anarchism is both a hearty pessimism about human ability to achieve anything, especially the aims of the Kingdom, and the eschatological mindset which makes attempts to achieve those aims nonsensical anyway. What Christian anarchists are left with is a clear command to engage in social ethics without any confusion about whether or not society can be redeemed through our efforts.

Instead, the anarchist social ethic—active without being activist—insists that the hungry are fed as a critique of contemporary human (and therefore futile, transitory) structures of power and as a witness to the church’s proleptic experience of the eschatological Kingdom. We feed the hungry as a condemnation of a world which has refused to feed them in spite of protestations that it is within their power and as an invitation to the hope that there is a God who can make good on His promises. With this in mind, quietism can be ultimately rejected as a false Christianity which, in neglecting its social duties, is in fact neglecting the very proclamation of the Gospel, the living homily which calls people out of the flawed, oppressive, and dying world and into a community oriented toward the perfect, liberating, and eternal Kingdom. At the same time, this social ethic can never follow activism down the path of unholy alliance with the coercive and incompetent methods of secular attempts to solve social problems out of a misguided, optimistic, and ultimately idolatrous humanism.

This is not to say that Christians cannot or should not praise or even participate in efforts toward social justice out of some vague judgment that Christians can only be involved in Christian charities. (Although, if Christians were doing social justice right, it would be everyone else who would be coming to us to get involved and not the other way around.) It merely means that the social ethics enjoined by Christ and incumbent upon all Christians are not an end unto themselves to be pursued by any means and with any company. Almost more importantly, the social aims of the Kingdom are certainly and necessarily beyond the scope of human power to achieve, and any confusion on that point is an invitation to idolatry: the belief that if we just work hard enough, there are human solutions through which every little African baby will be cured of AIDS and every American can have health insurance and all God’s children can eat their fill of organic, free-trade flaxseed burgers. We pursue social justice not because we can achieve it but as a testimony to our participation in a kingdom and commitment to a king Who, greater and more faithful than human governments, can do all we ask or imagine.

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An Anarchist Manifesto

The following is part of the Anarchy in May series which examines Christian anarchism and quotes prominent Christian anarchist thinkers. For a more detailed introduction and a table of contents, please see Anarchy in May: Brief Introduction and Contents.
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Below, I would like to offer a summary and adaptation of Vernard Eller’s twelve “basic principles of Christian Anarchy,” which he adapted and expanded from Jacques Ellul. Admittedly, I have some reservations about some of Eller’s points, and what follows will often gloss over or actively change those aspects in an effort to give a depiction of anarchism which I think more nearly aligns with the Christian ethos. Additionally, it warrants mention that I by no means believe that these twelve represent the best or even most basic aspects of Christian anarchism. There are principles which I would include that Eller did not. There are omissions that I would have made, even omissions of points with which I wholeheartedly agree, simply because I do not think they are basic or essential to anarchism. With all those disclaimers having been made, however, what Eller offers in this list from Christian Anarchy is a collection of important statements and clarifications about the shape of anarchism particularly suited as an apology for those facing uninformed criticisms about what it is to be a Christian anarchist.

  1. In Christian anarchism, the separation from and eventual dissolution of human governments is not an end in itself.  It is only ever endorsed and pursued with the aim of making room for and anticipating the ultimate and absolute reign of God.
  2. Christian anarchists are not concerned with commending anarchism as a political system superior to contemporary power structures.  As a rejection of humanly devised political systems, it would be hypocritical to propose political anarchism as an alternative to traditional hierarchical systems.
  3. Christian anarchism does not even suffer from the delusion that anarchism is viable for secular society.  It admits that human structures are a necessary (or at least efficient) means for ordering a humanist world.
  4. As such, Christian anarchism sees no particular threat in the existence of human structures of power.  The danger is only in accepting the legitimacy of their claims to power and mistaking for real the illusory authority they purport to possess.
  5. The problem with human structures of power is not that they are “of the devil” necessarily, but that they are human.  Just as humans are invariable sinful so to are the governments they construct for themselves.  Just as humans are only redeemable in dying to themselves and being reborn to God, so anarchists look for an eschatological death of human powers and the fulfillment of the divine Kingdom.
  6. Just because all structures of power are equally human (and therefore necessarily sinful) does not meant that all structures of power are equally evil, at least not teleologically.  In recognizing that the the United States government is not righteous and inevitably corrupts whoever participates in it, anarchists are not prevented from appreciating moral distinctions between the USA and Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia.  It is possible to be aware of and even grateful for human governments that are less overtly atrocious than others without endorsing, participating in, or falling at the feet of any human government.
  7. The purpose of Christian anarchism is not to actively attempt to unseat or overthrow human governments, even as their dissolution is earnestly anticipated.  As already mentioned, Christian anarchism is not intended to be an alternative political system and recognizes that pure, political anarchism is untenable as a large scale social system.  Since it would be impossible for humanity to implement anything but a human government, it would be hypocritical to attempt by human effort to replace world governments with anything else.  What’s more, the very notion of actively overthrowing a human government implies an appropriation of the very coercive and sinful means that mark human governments as incompatible with the Christian religion.  “To undertake a fight against evil on its own terms (to pit power against power) is the first step in becoming the evil one opposes.”
  8. This unwillingness to attempt forcibly to overthrow human governments does not translate into apathy toward their evils or silence about their injustices.  “[Christ] challenges every attempt to validate the political realm and rejects its authority because it does not conform to the will of God.”  Christian anarchism is not retiring simply because it refuses to incite political revolution.
  9. Just as it is not silent about the evil of government, it is not apathetic about the injustices in society.  Anarchists are not so lost in the eschatological vision of a God who is going to “settle things in the end anyway” that it lacks the grounds for social engagement.  In truth, it is the eschatological vision of a legitimate power structure and the church’s proleptic experience of that reality on which the social ethic is grounded.  Anarchists seek to be like Jeremiah’s exiles in Babylon, to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf.”  Such a social conscience cannot, however, be construed as an endorsement of the legitimacy of Babylon.
  10. Christian anarchists are not ignorant or afraid of politics, not if they are responsible Christians.  Anarchists are always willing to engage with human governments, but always as outsiders, always true to their critique of finite structures of power, and always aware of the ethical dangers involved in political contact.
  11. Christian anarchism is active but not activist, clearly and definitely engaged in the world without any false pretension about the scope of human ability or goodness.  It is eschatological rather than utopian, recognizing that the human mind is incapable of independently conceiving of what a perfect society might look like.  It is narrowly rather than broadly focused, thoroughly skeptical of any suggestion that changes at the top might invoke a systemic reformation of society.  Finally it is realistic rather than dramatic; because it is not interested in selling a partisan vision of the world in an effort to provoke action from one end of the spectrum or the other it has the benefit of being able to candidly assess what is and is not in the scope of human ability.
  12. Christian anarchism is committed to the Christian notion of freedom which is distinct from the political notion of autonomy.  Governments, and all human structures of power, cannot give you either, though it is common in the prevailing rhetoric to hear the latter promised under the name of the former.  Christian anarchism, on the other hand, rejects the stress on autonomy characteristic of secular, political anarchism of all stripes in favor of the Christian notion of freedom, the freedom to pursue God and to attempt to enact His will free from any artificial and exterior constraints.  It is, in essence, the freedom from the second master of humanistic politics and the recognition that in trying to serve both, Christians are wont to emphasize that which appears nearer rather than the God who seems distant.
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