Posted by: rogermitchell | November 14, 2020

Time to cultivate local social and economic space!

I don’t believe that central government can resolve the current needs of the UK at this time. Neither the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, the implications of Brexit, the NHS, education, community cohesion nor the social and economic circumstances or the poor, the disabled or the otherwise marginalised – in sum the issues of our time – can or should be left to them. Of course we should expose, challenge, disregard or affirm central government as occasion arises. But doing so is not the priority. Our local towns and cities and their rural hinterland are where we can make a significant difference and real change is possible. It is here that the horizontal politics of love can heal and transform our lives and ultimately undermine the domination of money, status and power that undergirds our current centralised government system. I gave a talk last year at the Morecambe Bay Love and Kindness conversations which spells this out and which you can listen to here if you have not done so already https://reimagininghealth.com/love-politics-part-3-roger-michell/

I am glad to say that both theoretical and practical resources are springing up throughout these islands to help us in our local action for overall wellbeing. Below are some that I have a hand in. My hope is that those who follow this blog, together with the clickers and surfers who pass through it daily, will comment with news and links to similar initiatives and help nourish and fertilise them. Some of you will be able to engage with what we are doing here, others will hopefully be encouraged and resourced to continue and expand what is happening in your own localities.

Morecambe Bay Poverty Truth Commission http://www.morecambebaypovertytruthcommission.org.uk/

Morecambe Bay Love and Kindness Movement http://lovemorecambebay.co.uk/

The Lancaster University Centre for Alternatives to Social and Economic Injustice http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/casei/

The Lancaster University Social Action Research Group https://lancasteruniversitysocialactionresearch.com/

It is my hope that The Kenarchy Journal http://www.kenarchy.org will help undergird these many developments. I particulary commend Spencer Paul Thompson’s substantial article “The Commodified Christ and the Economics of Jubilee” https://kenarchy.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Kenarchy_Volume1.7.pdf. Whether or not you are a person of Christian faith you will find it illuminating and challenging.

Posted by: rogermitchell | October 24, 2020

Why do Children go Hungry?

My good friend Dr Andy Knox has responded to the current UK crisis of child poverty in his most recent blog post. I’m with him all the way on this!! https://reimagininghealth.com/while-children-go-hungry/#top_page

Many Christians and churches across the world have been implying that the pandemic is God’s punishment for the sins of twenty-first century nations. I strongly disagree and encourage Christian friends who are tempted to think this way to think again. My good friend Brad Jersak deals with this question in the latest edition of Clarion: Journal of Religion, Peace and Justice. I recommend his response to you.

https://www.clarion-journal.com/clarion_journal_of_spirit/2020/07/qr-with-brad-jersak-2-chronicles-7-and-the-pandemic.html

Posted by: rogermitchell | July 20, 2020

Undoing structures of patriarchy

Those familiar with my theological research and writing will know that I regard our contemporary Western system as a continuation and consummation of empire. The good news is that this may at last be coming to an end, and the redemptive potential of the coronavirus and its aftermath is that it is accelerating this. In my view, patriarchy has been a core structure within this system and it too must come to an end if we are to find a new genuinely collaborative and loving way of life. It is my conviction that it is the task of the politics of love to hasten the end of the Western empire and the undoing of patriarchy. As you might expect, I believe that the gospels can help us with this.

Last week Sue and I were reading Matthew’s account of Jesus’ address to the crowds and his disciples about the patriarchal empire system of his day of which the scribes and Pharisees were key promoters and representatives. This was clearly seen in their role in the world of fashion, culture, religion and commerce. As Jesus puts it “they do all their deeds to be noticed by men.”

Jesus then proceeds to make four very strong statements about the motives of these social pillars followed by three uniquivocal directives to his followers that undo the structures that this kind of behaviour upholds. “But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ.”(Mtt 23:5-10)

In exposing and cutting these deep roots of empire it seems to me that Jesus identifies a strategy that can begin to undo the endemic institutional structures of patriarchy. If we undo these three core elements of empire then other evils will begin to unravel with them. If no-one elevates the role of teachers, fathers and religious or political leaders over others then the demonic hierarchies of men over women and white supremacy will begin to come down. Let none of us think that this is going to be easy. It’s about both how we view others and how we view ourselves. Let’s be clear right away that this is not decrying teaching, fathering or leading. Jesus commissioned his disciples to teach the nations (Mtt 28:20), affirmed the exhortation to honour father and mother (Mtt 19:19) and gave the twelve leadership roles (Mtt 10:5ff).

At issue is the use of the roles of teacher, father and leader as a means of acquiring honour and position for oneself, compared to others, and thereby affirming the hierarchical organisation of the governing institutions of the social order. The key clarifying statement is later in the chapter which records the list of Woes that Jesus unleashes on these selfsame scribes and Pharisees. Jesus uses his famous metaphor of “white washed tombs filled with dead men’s bones” to describe them. “So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Mat 23:28). More than anything this is about an appearance of propriety which in fact covers up self promotion. Self promotion, or what the apostle Paul calls “vainglory” (Phil 2:3) is the fulness of lawlessness. Drawing on apparently proper laws and protocols it actually conceals “all uncleanness” (Mtt 23:27). Titles that harness teaching, fatherhood and leadership in the cause of self promotion are primary levers of institutional patriarchy, prejudice and injustice.

While it is good to be a teacher, father or leader it is not okay to turn these jobs into positions of power and authority over others. They are roles and can be callings, but they are not hierarchical titles or positions. Titles entitle and entitlement is one of the worst characteristics of empire. Entitlement carries the assumption that some jobs, tasks and identities are intrinsically and self apparently more worthy of respect than others. They are not. While the scribes and Pharisees were political players they were religious leaders. Given that Jesus’ woes were reserved for them and his warnings were directed to his followers and disciples, I conclude that the gravest kind of patriarchy is to be found among those men who use their expertise in teaching, fathering and leading to carve out for themselves positions of entitlement in the ecclesia or to advance their role in the workplaces of the world. Those familiar with my post-renewal ecclesiology will know that I understand the primary task of the ecclesia to be repositioned in the world for the overall wellbeing of the whole family of humanity and the cosmos. Hence the behaviour of Jesus’ followers within the life of the city and the spheres of society absolutely matters and is essentially counterpolitical. We are here to embody and embed the politics of love, not to take power for ourselves.

This has set me doing some deep thinking personally. Being awarded a doctorate for my theological research nine years ago was incredibly healing for a working class boy. It has also enabled me to speak up for the poor and the oppressed and to challenge the empire system. I think that academic, ecclesial and political titles can do the same for women and those from oppressed racial groupings. But I am aware that for me at least it can be a cover for the self promotion and personal entitlement that maintains patriarchy. So I’ve decided to stop using the title doctor. I will use the letters PhD and describe my role in various academic workplaces where it helps give validity to my theological writings and activism, but I’ll get rid of the title from now on!

Posted by: rogermitchell | June 7, 2020

Unhelpful mindsets (2)

As we have seen in the previous post, nation states like Britain and the USA mistook the biblical account of Israel’s stewardship of the land for the blessing of all the families of the earth for a justification of exclusive ownership of land by nations as the original purpose of God. In much the same way the Evangelical and Pentecostal-Charismatic churches have tended to take on a similar view of the church. They have regarded God’s new covenant as the evidence that the church are God’s specially protected favorites on planet earth, rather than the agents of grace for the poor, strangers, and enemies. For this reason the misapplication of God’s covenant with the land of Israel often continues to feature in the church’s expectations for the future. 

1. Ghastly eschatologies

This privileged position for the church is particularly characteristic of the modern dispensational eschatologies that center round the church’s future relationship to an anticipated thousand years of peace. In times of apocalyptic change like the current pandemic some of these ghastly eschatologies are reappearing. These are the amillennial, premillennial, and postmillennial theories that have occupied much theological debate about the end times. It is especially true of the premillennial eschatologies that posit the removal of the church prior to a supposed great tribulation that befalls the rest of humanity before the establishment of a millennial reign of peace centered on a reconstituted Israel complete with Jerusalem and its temple. These theories came to great public prominence in the 1970s through Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth and more recently the Left Behind series of books and films from Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. What is distinctive and particularly problematic about these various eschatologies is the assumption that the climax to the salvation story is a new and cosmic Christian empire with Jesus on the throne and the neo-nations of Israel and the church as his ruling cadres. 

The basic problem with these dispensational eschatologies is that they reintroduce the imperial view of God that Jesus came to fulfill and correct. This is by no means a merely esoteric matter of interesting theological speculations on the nature of the end times. These are life and death issues that need to be faced. It is well documented that President George Bush Junior’s policy on the Middle East was directly influenced by such eschatologies.[1] The highly influential worldwide intercessory movement has been at least partly infected by them. In this way they have inadvertently been a means of exacerbating some of the very problems they had intended to overcome and have continued the colonization of the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement by biopower (the capitalist economic commodification of everything).

2. A properly incarnational theology

It is not primarily the specifics of an eschatology that makes it ghastly, although for sure some details are quite dreadful, but the theological and political assumptions that drive it. A properly incarnational theology always argues from Jesus to God. This works forwards as well as backwards. That is to say that our expectations about the future peace that Jesus came to bring needs to be of the same substance as the incarnation. Any second coming of the gospel Jesus will manifest the same essential kenotic lordship as the first coming. So we can say that concepts of future victory for the church and judgment on its enemies that run counter to Jesus’ demonstrations of victory and treatment of his enemies cannot belong to the future kingdom of God. This means that a Jesus hermeneutic has to be applied to the epistles as well as the Old Testament and particularly the Revelation. The latter clearly stands together with the few brief passages of Jesus’ own apocalyptic in the counterpolitical stream of the Old Testament prophets. Seen this way the Revelation and Jesus’ apocalyptic are about exposing the here and now of the status quo, more than providing precise details of an as yet unknown future. Once this is understood the Revelation becomes an extraordinarily practical handbook for the radical activism of subversion-submission spelt out in the previous chapter. Martin Scott has helpfully demonstrated this in his exposition of the letters to the seven churches in the first three chapters of Revelation. He applies the message and imagery of the letters to particular city types in order to see how a city and its hinterland might best be developed for the blessing of the nations.[2] In their book Unveiling Empire[3] Wes Howard-Brook and Anthony Gwyther give a comprehensive overview of what a radical political interpretation of the apocalypse might look like when applied to an imperial society in any generation.

3. The roots of dispensational eschatology

Donald Dayton has done comprehensive work on the rise of the premillennial eschatological theories we have been considering here.[4] He helpfully explores their roots in the tension between the dispensational eschatological views of John Wesley’s eighteenth-century associate John Fletcher and Wesley’s much more this-worldly reformist and incarnational approach. He explores how the futuristic premillennial views came to dominate a century later, particularly as developed in the writings of the Plymouth Brethren evangelist J. N. Darby. Dayton explains this in terms of a deep frustration with the perceived failure of the evangelical justice agenda such as that characterized by Oberlin College despite the fact that, as we have seen already, he regards that movement as itself a primary harbinger of the Pentecostal-Charismatic outpourings. This shows how easily the church becomes vulnerable to a crisis of faith when egalitarian grace fails to be properly earthed and the expected rule of peace seems to be delayed. This is both challenging and encouraging. Challenging, because it shows how the failure to have a properly incarnational perspective reduces the gospel to the expectation that it is merely about immediate breakthrough for personal blessing. It exposes a truncated gospel that assumes that either we get permanently healed or socially freed in the present or we simply wait for our sufferings to be justified sometime in the future. Encouraging, because, notwithstanding the apparent crisis of faith that led to the rise of such ghastly eschatologies, the utter abandonment to God of the late-nineteenth-century people of faith, despite their vulnerability to empire, led to an unprecedented outpouring of transcendent grace.

——————————————————————————————————————–

[1] See, for example, Yaakov Ariel, “Messianic Hopes and Middle East Politics: the Influence of Millennial Faith on American Middle East Policies.” LISA e-journal, Vol IX – n0.1, 2011. Religion and Politics in the English-speaking World: Historical and Contemporary Links

[2] Scott, Impacting the City.

[3] Howard-Brook and Gwyther, Unveiling Empire: Reading Revelation Then and Now.

[4] See Dayton, “The Rise of Premillennialism,” 145.

[5] Hardt and Negri, Multitude, 352.

[6] Ibid., 101.

[7] Negri, Insurgencies, 12.

[8] Badiou, In Praise of Love, 57.

[9] Ibid., 59.

[10] Hardt and Negri, Multitude, 352.

[11] 1 Cor 15:17, 19.

[12] Rom 8:36.

[13] Mayhew, “Turning the Tables, Resurrection as Revolution,” 1.

Posted by: rogermitchell | June 4, 2020

Unhelpful mindsets

It is now seven years since the publication of my book The Fall of the Church https://www.amazon.co.uk/Fall-Church-Roger-Haydon-Mitchell/dp/162032928X Although I shared a lot of the content here on my blog while I was writing it, it is likely that many of you now reading this have never read it. This is even more likely to be the case with those who follow my Facebook page and who want exposure to my theology, politics & social comment, but haven’t realised quite how radical that is!

So I’ve decided to re-post some of the final chapter on “Myths and Obstacles” in several posts starting today, and link them to my Facebook page so that those who wish can have a serious think about them and respond if they wish. The most resilient of these myths and obstacles come within what we sometimes think are Christian mindsets but actually are obstacles to the testimony of Jesus. They can be summed up in three categories. The first of these consists of problematic beliefs about the gospel narratives or “gospel myths” that significantly undermine the Jesus story. The second is made up of idolatrous perspectives towards Britain, the United States of America, and particularly Israel that regard all three nation states as in some sense “promised lands.” Finally come the peculiar beliefs about the end times that I term “ghastly eschatologies.”

I’m going to begin with the second of these mindsets that is particularly prevalent at the moment and that I call “Promised Lands”.

Promised lands

This is a problem that is particularly deeply rooted in Britain and the United States of America. This is the manifestation of the partnership of church and empire that is religious patriotism. I am not referring here to love of one’s country, but the idea that one particular country or another is especially favored by God in being positioned over against others in a morally or culturally superior manner. This is sometimes referred to as exceptionalism or manifest destiny. It tends to carry with it the idea of a special relationship or covenant with God that apparently guaranteed the nation’s past and present prosperity. The thinking is that such an advantage will continue into the future as long as the nation involved keeps to certain conditions at the heart of its political construct, such as the ten commandments. While this reading of the relationship between God and nations might conceivably be defended from the Old Testament story of Israel, just as long as one avoids crucial parts of the message of the prophets, it runs counter to the fullness of the divine character and purpose revealed in the incarnation. As we have already seen from Jesus’ final public remonstration with the temple authorities, it was precisely this selfish promotion of national dominance that aligned Israel with empire and lost its calling to the nations.  

1. The purpose of Israel

If as God’s initial promise to Abraham stated, the blessing of God is for all the families of the earth,[1] then the gift of land, culture, and people is to be stewarded for the rest of humanity. The advent of Jesus and his identification with those displaced by empire, such as women, the homeless, the asylum seeker, and the poor, made clear that the kind of society that sided with empire for its own survival and prosperity was far from the kingdom of God. Israel’s chronic inability to understand their kenotic purpose as God’s loving agents provided the background to the incarnation story. As chapter 2 has already pointed out, the radical prophetic stream constantly called them back to their original destiny. They were to be the means of making “wars to cease,”[2] of speaking “peace to the nations,”[3] of leveling social stratification,[4] and of bringing “justice to the nations”[5] until “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.”[6] As Luke’s famous Magnificat sums it up in Mary’s own prophecy of the incarnation, it was to pull down the mighty from their thrones and exalt the lowly.[7] In these terms the purpose of Jerusalem was as the mountain of the house of the Lord to which the nations came to see the governance of God demonstrated.[8] It is this that Jesus speaks of rebuilding in three days[9] and Paul describes in Galatians as “the Jerusalem above.”[10] It was this destiny that the gospel testimony saw as completed in Jesus, including the fullness of the battle prophecies of Zechariah, Jesus’ most quoted Old Testament book. At the cross all the prophesied eschatological battles reached their culmination. Now “all the tribes of the earth” could “look on Me whom they have pierced . . . and . . . mourn,” and not only the tribes of Israel who represented them.[11] We can say confidently from the testimony of Jesus that if there is any ongoing prophetic destiny for the Jerusalem “below” it must be as a place of inclusive blessing for all nations, including its enemies. 

Despite this incarnational fulfillment in Jesus, the idea that God’s covenant guarantees the ownership and rulership of the land by a particular state or people has continued to define world politics. As we have already seen, the assumption that this was the nature and purpose of God’s blessing to Israel played a key part in the foundation of the Western nation state in Britain during the seventeenth century, and often continues to uphold it. Gilbert Burnet drew on the supposed sign and parallel of ancient Israel[12] in his legitimation of William and Mary, and William Paterson did the same in securing the Bank of England’s currency of debt on the future prosperity of Britain. Even William Penn drew on an idealized view of native English justice to undergird his Holy Experiment instead of drawing on the egalitarian loving justice of the incarnation.[13] Had he done the latter he might have written kenotic love deeper into his initial configuration of the American Constitution.

2. Subconscious mythologies of the nation state

It is this background to the Western nation state that makes patriotic practices such as the pledge of allegiance to the American flag and the singing of jingoistic national anthems, something much more than love for the land of one’s adoption or birth. Personal identification with the deep subconscious mythologies of the nation state works strongly against the necessary challenge to the status quo brought about by the practice of civil disobedience advocated in the previous chapter. Romanticized notions of nationhood such as those summed up in Shakespeare’s “this sceptred isle”[14] and songs like “Rule Britannia,” “Land of Hope and Glory,” “America the Beautiful,” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” all occupy the space that Jesus obtained for egalitarian grace. Gratitude for the gift of a land and culture to steward for the blessing of the other nations of the world is undoubtedly a good thing, but the proud, violent national idolatry that emerges from below the surface of our supposed promised lands is dangerous and destructive. 

Since the establishment of the nation state of Israel after the horrors of the Holocaust, the danger of it coming to embody the idea of God’s commitment to special lands and people has been very real. Instead of encouraging Israel to pursue its ancient heritage of being a blessing to all the families of the earth, there has been a tendency for the United States, Britain, and other nations to invest the modern nation state of Israel with special status as a talisman of justice and blessing. Supported by American and British vetoes at the UN council, defended by atomic weapons, and financed by Western investment, it has become the archetypical symbol of the political currencies of law, violence, and money that undergird the whole Western imperial project. It is crucially important to point out here that while the parallel promotion of the Palestinian people as a rightful alternative claimant for ownership of the so-called promised land is fully understandable in the circumstances, it only replaces one symbol of sovereignty with another. In so doing it makes the more striking the destructive implications of the exclusive ownership of land for a particular people instead of its stewardship by all its inhabitants for the common good. From both a creational and incarnational perspective, land is the context for every tribe and tongue and nation to live together in peace and harmony. The current Middle Eastern tragedy is a clarion call for kenarchy coming from the very place of its source.


[1] Gen 12:3.

[2] Ps 46:9.

[3] Zech 9:10.

[4] Isa 11:6.

[5] Isa 42:1.

[6] Hab 2:14.

[7] Cf. Luke 1:52.

[8] Isa 2; Mic 4.

[9] Matt 26:61; John 2:19.

[10] Gal 4:26.

[11] Zech 12:10; John 19:37.

[12] Mitchell, Church, Gospel, & Empire, 123, 121.

[13] Murphy, The Political Writings of William Penn, 394.

[14] Shakespeare, King Richard II.Act 2 scene 1.

Posted by: rogermitchell | June 1, 2020

The Kenarchy Journal official launch!

I’m delighted to tell you that after months of preparation, the Kenarchy Journal, Volume 1: 2020 Starting Points is now fully available online. While kenarchy is a gift for everybody, those of us who configure a politics of love in these terms are strongly motivated to do so in a way that deeply penetrates existing socially constructed mind-sets. This is why we combine applied academic research and writing together with grassroots social, economic and political activism. Kenarchy has developed over the last decade as a form of political theology and we make no apology for that, but it now embraces a wide and interdisciplinary perspective relevant to the life and practice of love. The purpose of the Journal is to advance applied research, and as such, it is an academic journal. However, the intention is to make kenarchy more widely known and practiced and so we invite thinkers and activists motivated by love and concern for overall wellbeing to engage with the research material via the forum and when they can to submit articles of their own. You can access it here: http://www.kenarchy.org

The simple core approach to life that sustains my activism and theology is the embrace of an incarnational hermeneutic. Or put it another way, my faith in and commitment to the gospel Jesus is the deep source of my relationship with the divine, the human and the cosmos. Those of you familiar with my work will know that I find this to have a decisively political outworking which I and a whole network of thinkers and activists with whom I collaborate configure as a politics of love or kenarchy. We express this in terms of seven foci, the first of which is the instatement of women. Given that the nature of divinity and humanity seen in this way is an all embracing life-laying down cruciform gift of love, its outworking is decisively positive and others-affirming, even and particularly enemy-loving! For this reason I have hesitated to assess theological and cultural opionions and traditions different to mine as wicked or evil or in need of repudiation or repentance. But theology and knowledge are progressive and eventually there are boundaries which love must draw.

So, I believe that it’s time to say that beliefs, mindsets and practices which oppress, subjugate or displace women in preference to or domination by men are unequivocally wrong, whatever their source in religion, ideology or culture. They are contrary both to the divine nature and to humanity in the image of God. As such they are an evil that needs repenting of, or put in Christian terms are unequivocally sinful. It is my considered view that that they can no longer be excused and any arguments from biblical and other religious texts and writings that purport to substantiate such oppressions of women are in so doing exposed as misapplied and misguided. I’m aware that for many of us this has all been obvious for a long time, but I have been shocked in recent years that men across a wide spectrum of church, work place, politics, economics, culture, and religion have continued to excuse, espouse, and practice forms of patriarchal entitlement. It’s time to stop and draw the line. Those who subjugate women to men are guilty of an evil that needs repenting of. They are enemies of love and overall wellbeing. Enemies of course need to be loved, but that does not mean that they can be justified or supported in their beliefs and practices.

We are in need of deep structural investigations which can shed light on why the BAME community are so harshly impacted by Covid 19. Back in September I posted the review I wrote for The William Temple Foundation on Black Theologian Anthony G. Reddie’s important book Theologising Brexit (Routledge, 2019). Now that the UK general election’s sweeping endorsement of Brexit, together with the Coronavirus, has clouded our memories somewhat I am strongly moved to repost my review here. Sadly the pandemic brought about the cancellation of the Society for the Study of Theology’s Annual Conference at which Reddie’s vital thesis would have had greater exposure. Reading my friend Professor Imogen Tyler’s wonderful and excoriating critique of Western governments in her recently published work Stigma: The Machinery of Inequality (London: Zed Books, 2020) I was reminded of just how important Reddie’s book is for political theology. (I look forward to reviewing Imogen’s book here in due course).

Whatever the epidemiology of the Coronvirus among Black and Asian peoples, the indemic racism of the Western system clearly plays a very significant part. While I acknowledge that many among Brexit’s supporters repudiate its racist aspects and have commented strongly against any such suggestion, I believe that we need to let Reddie’s critique reach more deeply into our hearts and mindsets. I also respect the the qualifications placed on his thesis by friends of mine within the Black community. Nevertheless as a white British theologian I strongly suggest that we should expose ourselves to the sharp end of Reddie’s scholarship. Putting it bluntly, Reddie describes Brexit as underpinned by a rising tide of White, English nationalism, and we need to beware it. When I posted this review before, I broke it up into two posts. This time I’m putting them both together. This makes for a longer post than usual, but I encourage readers to give time to it, nonetheless.

The aim of Reddie’s book is to provide a prophetic, postcolonial model of Black liberationist theology. With it he challenges the Church and wider society to live out the gospel of Jesus and reminds us that a so-called Christian nation has to be one in which there is justice and equity for all and not just a priveleged sense of entitlement for only some. Reddie’s ten chapters are wonderfully discomforting and for me fulfil Walter Brueggermann’s description of genuinely prophetic work, namely to provide a critique of the contemporary society and release the passion to act for the common good. Chapter One exposes the link between Christianity and empire, and the White English exceptionalism that remains an unresolved set of religious and theological ideas that have helped to shape the national identity, and continue to resource the White, English nationalism that underpins the Leave vote. Chapter Two outlines ways in which notions of British cultural superiority and the lament for a time when we were a great empire still persist. It exposes the way that the church has often conditioned Black people into internalising the tropes of empire within their psyche alongside their White counterparts so they end up defending these ideas and behaviours, and some of them end up supporting the Leave campaign.

Chapter Three explores the role of what he describes as imperial mission Christianity in the propagation of empire and colonial thinking via Christian education and discipleship that has generally although not always served to undergird White British exceptionalism. He suggests that this has had a corrosive effect both on those who would identify themselves as White and those who are constructed and identify as the other. Chapter Four asks what it means to be a ‘proper’ human being in Britain and explores the invisibility of Whiteness and how its hidden nature causes the sense of entitlement and normality that underpinned the Brexit vote. He offers this as a starting point and gift to us White British to help us deconstruct our destructive inherited notions of entitlement, whether middle or working class people. Chapter Five addresses the struggle that Black and other minority groups have experienced in the attempt to find genuine belonging in British society. It challenges the xenophobic backdrop of Brexit, and offers Black and minority identities as the means to challenge the suffocating boundaries of a reactive White British culture.

As you can see, this is a polemical and unapologetic critique of some of the underlying causes of the Brexit phenomenon. I am suggesting that the impact of the Coronavirus on the BAME community is at least in part evidence of the same endemic racism. As I have already emphasised in my various posts on Brexit over the last several years, I am not accusing my Leave voting friends of consciously holding these views. However, with Reddie, I do believe that these are the substantive motives behind the desire for Brexit in the corporate life of the nation and we all, however we voted, do well to reflect on the perspective of a brother Englishman with a life time’s oppressive experience of the powerful ongoing residue of White British imperialism and cultural supremacy.

In Chapter Six he tackles head on the hermeneutical problems associated with systemic frameworks that assert particular practices and ideas as normative. This involves a very interesting and clear overview of Black Christianity and the Bible in Britain. He notes the way that many Black majority churches remain wedded to a form of nineteenth century White evangelical biblicism. This is of course, as he recognises, equally true of swathes of contemporary evangelical, charismatic and pentecostal churches generally. Those familiar with my own work will know how unhelpful I also find the biblicist approach, bringing as it does unconscious perspectives on God, the church and the world which are rooted in the Christendom partnership of Church and empire. Reddie’s alternative to this is a two-fold hermeneutic in which the sacredness of Black bodies and the realities of Black suffering and struggle provide the lens through which to exegete the scriptures. I would wish to root this in a specifically Jesus hermeneutic, of course, but it provides a crucial supplement. Chapter Seven demonstrates the attempt by Black theology to offer transformative methods of education such as Paulo Freire’s concept of conscientization through which poor and oppressed people become politically aware of the dehumanising circumstance in which they live. As Reddie puts it, “it is essential to critique the overarching power of White top-down knowledge that underpinned the Brexit process.”

Chapter Eight presents us with the positive challenge provided by interfacing with those who seem to be ‘Other’. He offers three critiques of normative White British culture; Rastafari theology, Black theology and Womanist theology. Whatever we ultimately make of these, can I emphasise right away that alternative lenses of an honourable ‘Other’ can only help us forward toward overall wellbeing. We need help to undo what for many of us is a still persisting subconscious or unconscious patriarchal, White majority expectation of our national future. Just as Luke Bretherton’s draw on Black Power as a source for democratic common life that we looked at in previous posts on Christ and the Common Life gave us important insights, the same is the case with Reddie’s recourse to Rastafari. While clearly distinct from mainstream Christianity because of its central revelation based on the association of the coronation of the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie with the second coming of Christ, it represents a significant form of Black religio-cultural resistance to British Nationalism and White supremacy in the United Kingdom. Reddie sees this form of resistance as complementary to Black theology which while more focused on Jesus specifically interprets the meaning of the incarnation through the experiences and activity of Black people in contemporary Britain. This is substantially complemented by Black Womanist theology which uses the experience of Black women as a further lens to challenge the contemporary tripartite ills of racism, sexism and classism.

Chapter Nine is one of the most innovative chapters of the book, bringing together as it does Caribbean theology with cricket and the socialism of Fidel Castro. This is of course extremely topical in the light of the oppression and deportation of some of the original British Caribbean elders since the EU referendum. Entitled “Doing It Our Way” the chapter is a wonderful demonstration of the gift of the Windrush generation to British life and culture. It combines the post-colonial focus of Caribbean theology with the ability of Caribbean cricketing legends to act creatively outside the box and the inspiration of Castro’s socialism. The impact is to provide a transnational, Black Atlantic, anti-Brexit focused theological rationale for empowering those who are othered in the body politic of postcolonial Britain. Finally, Chapter Ten, entitled “Telling the Truth and Shaming the Devil” outlines the way in which the complex identities of diasporan African peoples in Britain, informed by postcolonial theologies, can give rise to hermeneutical tools for prophetic truth telling. Drawing on the anecdotal wisdom and story telling of an earlier generation of Caribbean grandmothers and its interface with the existential threat of the oppressive and retributive power of English colonialism and empire, it provides a splendid context to the recent prophetic sense that the redemptive gift of Britain to the rest of Europe and the world is as an edgy grandmother!

Posted by: rogermitchell | May 14, 2020

The rule of law

I am always delighted when someone trawling this blog stumbles on something truly sensible and helpful I said in the past even if it was years ago! That happened today, and as this is a time when the rule of law is being applied in draconian ways ostensibly to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, it seems a good time to think again about the legitimate use of law. This is particularly important as we come out of the lockdown and rethink the use of law in our 21st Century so-called Western representative democracies. So I am updating and reposting a piece that I first posted in 2011.

When Paul says that there is no authority [exousia] except from God (Rom 13:1), it is an authority forever defined by Jesus in terms of life-laying down kenotic love, or what I call kenarchy. This means that everything else Paul says about submitting to authority needs to be measured in these terms. So from this perspective, when Paul introduces the vocabulary of the sword [machaira] and avenger [ekdikos] (Rom 13:4) our understanding and application of the meaning and role of these components must be submitted to the authority of love.

I am helped by Paul’s practicality here. For I am not an idealist and I don’t think Jesus was one either. The gospel testimony is specific about the existence of sin, and the reality of evil. So while the disciple takes up the cross daily and living under the ultimate authority of Jesus’ kenotic love “does not resist one who is evil” (Mtt 5:39), I also believe that there are times when we need a practical means of protecting the poor and the weak from the evil intent of others. That is to say we do need some temporary kind of law and physical prevention of evil which I take to be what Paul describes as the government’s use of sword and vengeance in this passage.

The big question is how to make sure that this sword and avenger is submitted to the ultimate authority of love. And this is no small matter. The difference between the authority of sovereign power and the authority of kenotic love is categorical. Sovereign power is at the expense of every other life save that of the highest power, which in imperial terms is preferably me. It leads to the commodification of life itself and the destruction of the planet. Kenotic love, on the other hand, is for the blessing of everybody, beginning with the poorest. This is available because of the inexhaustible gift of divine love embodied in Jesus’ life death and resurrection and received by me.

It is important to note that the translation of the word ekdikos as ‘avenger’ or ‘revenger’ has already imported the sense of the retribution of offended sovereignty. It is better translated as “carrier of justice” and in the original, literally means “without law.” This literal meaning is reminiscent of Giorgio Agamben’s concept of the state of exception which I have explored in previous posts, where the real authority is exposed to be the transcendent power which lies behind all government or rulership. He argues that this is manifested in the nuclear warheads and the torture of non-persons at Guantanamo Bay that sustain the Western order. To this I would add the UK government’s commitment to economic recovery at the expense of the poorest after the 2008 financial collapse.

I agree with Agamben that this is the sovereign power that lies behind the authority  of the contemporary West. However I don’t believe that this is the nature of divine authority, which Jesus’ incarnation reveals, or is the authority which Paul is referring to here. The “without law” state of exception that exists behind the sword that Paul exhorts us to submit to is rather the self-giving love revealed in the cross. So the question is what does it mean for the sword to be submitted to this kind of love? Ultimately it must mean an end to the sword, and I believe it will. But this goes beyond what Paul is saying here. He is speaking of the role of loving authority in the in-between-time in which we work for the fulness of the kingdom which is coming.

Any use of the sword in preventative action against evil that is in line with God’s authority can only be protective. It cannot be retributive, or for punishment or for preventing peaceful demonstration and has to be as non-violent a sign with as limited application as possible. This makes sense of Jesus’ identification of a time when “he who has no sword should sell his coat and buy one” (Lk22:36) and yet his admonition to Peter “put your sword back into its place” (Mtt26:51-52). In terms of contemporary implementation a stick or truncheon is much preferable to a gun, which arguably has far more devastating effect than a sword. Possibly a sword is still best.

This all gives us a huge challenge as the ecclesia to reconfigure the whole role of law and its enforcement. My research convinces me that the partnership of church and empire has brought about a legal system based on sovereign power, not on love, and that this rendered the sword the violent and retributive imposition of law and justified its replacement by vastly more destructive implements. My re-interpretation of Paul is that now is the time to challenge and change it. When I talk of now being the time for kenarchic action I am seriously calling for a complete reappraisal and reconfiguration of the foundational politics of the Western world!

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