Posted by: rogermitchell | October 1, 2016

God is about mercy, not sacrifice, and no sparrow is forgotten!

I originally posted this piece back in 2011. I notice that it is still of interest to recent clickers and surfers on this blog and think it may be helpful to current students of my Westminster Theology Centre module on Peace, Reconciliation and the Politics of Jesus.

Here are the key statements of Jesus on which I wish to comment: “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mat 9:13) and “Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God” (Luke 12:6).

In order to get to the heart of Jesus’ take on the whole idea of payment and appeasement as a means of relating to God, I think it will help to look at these two sayings of Jesus together. There is something so crucial to his deliberate subversion of the whole empire domination system here, that motivates him to tell the Pharisees in no uncertain terms to “go away and learn what this means.” I suggest that this is central to the mindset change that Jesus wished to accomplish in the incarnation. After all, the sacrifice system and its outworking takes up a significant part of the law and the prophets which he claimed to fulfil.

In a previous post on katargēsis and the temple (April 29th 2011) we have already considered the way that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection brought the whole temple liturgy to an end. He did this by carrying through all that was good from it into his own life and subsequently that of his body of followers. So by insisting that the Pharisees, who were seeking to maintain the law and liturgy, learnt the deeper implications of his desire for mercy not sacrifice, it follows that he was implying that at a deep structural level the temple system itself was about mercy, and not about sacrifice. So what was sacrificed was not about payment and appeasement at all, but about mercy, or as alternatively rendered, compassion. It is very important to get hold of this.

Jesus is not saying that because God is sovereign, and we have offended him by not recognising his authority and keeping his law, we are under his angry condemnation, but then the sacrifice system provides a secondary way of mercy by paying off his intrinsic sovereign offence and anger. It is rather that his mercy is what defines him and not his offended power. God is not an angry God needing to be appeased. He is a merciful, compassionate God desiring mercy and compassion to be shown to all and lived out by all.

Looked at this way the sacrifice system is revealed by the teaching and attitude of Jesus, to be about the primacy of God’s mercy and in need of being re-understood in this way. This is where the sparrow comes in. Because if even “a sparrow that falls” moves God’s heart, how much more does a pigeon, a lamb, a goat or a bull, and even a sheaf of corn. The issue is clearly not monetary value but emotional, creational compassion. Sin is revealed as that which elicits God’s compassion, not his anger, condemnation and offence.

With every sacrifice throughout the whole tabernacle and temple period, God’s heart was shown to be overwhelmed by the effects of human sin, and to be bearing it together in his own heart with the bodies of living manifestations of his own deeply loved creation. The purpose of the sacrifice was not to appease God but to demonstrate and carry away the effects of sin. Sin viewed in this way is that which is unloving and unmerciful, and hurtful of God’s own compassionate heart and creation, not what offends God’s person, hierarchical position or sovereign rule.

This takes a long time to grasp, because God’s sovereignty and its offence is the teaching about God that lies at the foundation of Christendom with its marriage of church and empire. But it is not this kind of God that is revealed in the incarnation, and it is in the light of the incarnation that the Christian disciple is called on to understand and interpret life and the universe, particularly the Old Testament, and not the other way round.

Posted by: rogermitchell | September 16, 2016

Putting Love First

This has been a very busy and eventful two weeks for me, beginning with the Westminster Theology Centre residential at the University of Wolverhampton Telford Campus where I taught my module in Peace, Reconciliation and the Politics of Jesus. If anyone is interested in studying part time with WTC here is the link to their website:

Then last Friday I gave a talk entitled “Putting Love First” to the Faith in Politics Group at Ashburnham Place. People liked it and my good friend Michael Lafleur from Mississauga, Canada, happened to be there with his wonderful expertise and recording equipment so here it is for anyone one who would like to hear it:

This was followed by the SPARKS event for activists, which was a very stimulating time to say the least. I highly recommend it if you are one, and I will post about next year’s event as soon as the dates are confirmed. In the meantime you can address any inquiries about it via the Ashburnham Place website And what a place that is!

After Sparks it was a privilege to attend the Ashburnham community celebration around the camp fire on a balmy evening and listen to Brad Jersak present his beautiful Gospel in Chairs. You can access that on YouTube here: I highly recommend it.

This was followed on the Monday and Tuesday by a Theology Dig around the theology of the Kingdom of God. There was an extraordinary gang of both academic and ordinary theologians as well as hands-on workers among the poor and marginalised. Watch this space for outcomes in due course!

I returned home to two days of meetings at Cornerstone in Lancaster with theologian Michael Hardin organised by my friend Francis Dawson. Michael is co-editor with Brad Jersak of the excellent compendium on non-violent atonement Stricken by God? It was wonderful to have Michael staying with us out at the friary here in Silverdale.

Finally can I invite anyone who is looking for the opportunity to apply kenarchy to their daily work lives to consider taking my Lancaster University postgraduate distance learning certificate of accreditation in Political Theology for Peace this coming Lent term? It is very sensibly priced at around £721 for the 10 weeks. Now is the time to register if you are up for this. Here is the link: Don’t be put off by the description “full-time” – that simply means that it takes 10 weeks but is ideal for those in full-time occupation.



Posted by: rogermitchell | August 23, 2016

Resurrection life and gender relations

I noticed this morning that someone had been reading a post I made some four and half years ago based on Jesus’ response to the Sadducees’ question about the resurrection (Lk 20:37-38). I thought it made some important points that are worth re-posting, so here it is again.  It was in response to this insightful comment:  “So much, much of the structure of our society is based on the questions of reproduction and the relationships between men and women. And Jesus radically challenges all of that. Not only will we live after death but we will live without marriage. That completely shifts the gender relationships and perhaps allows for true equality for women. Remove reproduction and its politics from the picture and gender relations completely change. I assume, since Jesus posits this is a God thing, for the better, much as many will feel that they would be missing something vital to their lives.”

This shift in gender relationships implied by the politics of resurrection, is, I believe, extremely significant. It reinforces the conviction that Sue and I have long shared, that it is important to distinguish between gender and sex. What I am getting at here is that both males and females have a mix of gender chromosomes, and just a small percentage difference is the deciding factor as to whether you end up with a male body or a female body. That is to say that both men and women are on a gender spectrum between masculine and feminine, although their bodily sexual identity is male or female. This suggests that God’s image is the fulness of both genders. Several things follow from this. One is that human fulfilment is unlikely to be circumscribed by sexual ecstasy and the joys of raising children. It’s more likely that both point beyond to a greater fulfilment in reciprocal shared life embodied in the trinity life of God that we are created to share with humankind in the context of the rest of the creation.  My point here is that affirming and sharing different aspects of gender in each other is even more important in deciding and fulfilling human behaviour than sexual experience is. Which is a view of life that this third contention emphasises, and which of course runs counter to the beastly system which puts everything in simplistic categories for control and commodification.

In fact even the most oppressive forms of empire are usually very pro marriage and the family because they can easily become categories of control and subsets of domination. Marriage and family are good available choices which I for one have been very blessed to have reached out to make and been received by my wonderful partner in so doing. My sons, their partners and my grandchildren are a constant delight to me. But given that heaven signifies the fulness of life for the present day and not just the future, they are clearly not the most important things in life.  So it follows that we all, married, single, divorced, widowed and so on need to discover and pursue the more important things together, and make sure that these lesser blessings and responsibilities are submitted to them and not the other way around. In the process it is important that we recognise and affirm the degrees and types of gender combinations in each other, and the way we pour them out in answer to the cry for justice for the poor and for the blessing and healing of the creation. Jesus clearly did this when he described himself as a mother hen and encouraged his disciples to put his loving way of life before job and family. This is emphatically not about putting church first which is often just another category of oppression, but putting the kin[g]dom of God first and submitting all else to it. The comments on the last post are right, all this flows from Jesus’ reply to the Sadduccees, about the reality of resurrection and in missing it we show how little we know of the scriptures or the power of God.

Posted by: rogermitchell | August 10, 2016

Jesus and the Politics of Love

The guys at Nomad kindly asked me whether I would be their 110th podcaster. So last Monday morning I was interviewed on the subject of Jesus and the politics of love.  This was no short affair, lasting around an hour, so it’s definitely for those who want to dig into what I have to say in response to some relatively probing questions. But if that’s you, here is their introduction followed by a link to the interview:

With the dust just beginning to settle after Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, we thought we’d take the opportunity to look at our relationship with politics. Was Jesus political? Should Christians engage in party politics, or should they be a prophetic voice from the margins? We bring these, and many other questions to political theologian Roger Mitchell. Roger is an honorary research fellow in the Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion at the University of Lancaster and on the faculty of the Westminster Theological Centre. So he knows a thing or two about religion and about politics. So tune in for an insightful and challenging conversation!

Nomad 110: Roger Mitchell – Jesus and the Politics of Love

Posted by: rogermitchell | August 1, 2016

God and Politics

My good friend Lance Muir has encouraged me to respond to Paul Young’s recent blog post on God and politics.  I have very great respect for Paul and realise that he is attempting to express something really important about the nature of politics and government. As he says “I am not discounting that good people enter politics for good reasons and that even political machinery can accomplish good, but let us not confuse nationalism and patriotism with the kingdom of God.” But instead of focusing on the difference between the politics of love which rejects patriotism and racism and the politics of sovereign power that promotes them, he appears to dismiss politics and government completely as the proper arena for the work of the kingdom of God.

But the word for kingdom (basileia) that Jesus used in his proclamation of the kingdom of God is unequivocally a political one. As Wes Howard-Brook and Anthony Gwyther explain, “Basileia, the Greek equivalent of the Latin imperium, has traditionally been translated ‘kingdom’ or ‘reign.’ In the Greek-speaking world of the first century the word had a primary meaning: the Roman Empire.” (Unveiling Empire. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1999, 224.) By proclaiming the kingdom of God at precisely the same time as the empire of Rome was at its height, Jesus positioned his followers with their message of love for self, neighbour and enemy into the centre of the political arena.  N. T. Wright similarly makes this clear by showing that Jesus’ announcement of the kingdom of God stands firmly in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets, whose prophecies and visions of a new and just world were critiques of the imperial politics of Israel and the surrounding nations. (See The New Testament and the People of God. London: SPCK, 1997, 243-286.) This is the context in which Isaiah declares “to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder” (Is 9:6)

In my books, papers and numerous blog posts I have traced the history of what I call the sovereignty delusion. This delusion, based on the mistaken idea that peace comes through the politics of empire, has impregnated our understanding of politics and government since the fourth century partnership of church and empire until the present day. This destructive partnership is currently reaching a climax and the phenomena of Brexit and Trump are, at least in part, immediate evidence of this. This lies behind both the protest vote of the multitude who have been marginalised by the sovereignty of the rich and powerful and in the nationalism, patriotism and racism to which they give place.

Paul Young rightly describes the kingdom of God as “an alternative kingdom to the kingdoms of this world” and recognises that “the only option to the insanity of political empire is the kingdom of God.” But he then seems to limit this to “only a kingdom that changes us from within.” However, the gospel message of the kingdom of God not only changes individual people from within, but proclaims a new humanity whose loving politics can proceed to change the corporate institutions and policy decisions of our world from within. What is urgently needed is for the people of God to travail in hopeful partnership with the Spirit to embody and apply the politics and government of love wherever they are located throughout all our workplaces and communities.  Without this engagement with both grassroots and institutional politics we risk leaving the world system unchallenged and unchanged.


Posted by: rogermitchell | June 29, 2016

This Different Britain (iii)

I begin by recommending my book The Fall of the Church (Wipf & Stock, 2013) to those who really want to understand why I feel the way I do It traces the way that a mistaken partnership of church and empire produced the modern western nation state, of which the UK is an example. At the heart of this mistaken partnership is what I call the sovereignty delusion, the idea that peace comes through a society ordered by the rich and powerful through the control of military force, law and money. Our representative democracy is simply overlaid on this delusion. The history of the British Empire reveals how ugly such a construct can be. I wrote about some of this history in the book The Sins of the Fathers back in 1999 with my friend Brian Mills. All this explains my conviction that the nation state, upheld by an underlying system of law, money and violence with all its paraphernalia of flags, anthems, war memorials and the like, is at root an oppressive construct.

This construct is what we have inherited, but it’s not all we have. My book traces what I call the love stream, which has flowed through the empire system throughout its history, relieving the oppressed, ameliorating the worst extremes of empire and war, caring for the poor, the sick and the marginalised. As a follower of Jesus, I would like to be able to say that the church can be identified with this stream of love. But of course it can’t. Instead, since the 4th century  it has all too often been the partner and carrier of empire and its oppressive constructs. It was this puzzle that led me back here to Lancaster University more than ten years ago now to research the historical relationships of church and empire and how the way of Jesus was so seriously displaced. My academic theological research is contained in the book Church, Gospel and Empire: How the Politics of Sovereignty Impregnated the West (Wipf & Stock 2011) and The Fall of the Church is my attempt to make it more accessible to non-academic thinkers.

I see the sovereign nation state as an ugly vehicle enabling and promoting the European Colonial project and the two horrific twentieth century World Wars. This is why I have regarded these past forty years of life within the EU as a hopeful experiment in diluting the delusion that the multiplication of sovereignty is the way to peace. Throughout my adult life I have experienced this wider context as a source of peace, freedom and encouragement to think and live more radically through learning from and embracing difference.  While I know that the EU still carries empire I believe it also carries the love stream through founding fathers like Robert Schuman. He summed up the motivation behind the EU like this:  “The European spirit signifies being conscious of belonging to a cultural family and to have a willingness to serve that community in the spirit of total mutuality, without any hidden motives of hegemony or the selfish exploitation of others.”

It is my conviction that the openhearted politics of love and peace are making real headway in these islands of ours. This has been despite and even because of the austerity policies of successive governments and has in part been because of open borders to Europe and beyond. Of course the EU needs reform, particularly away from market driven economics, and we need to connect with the reform movements that are germinating there. But for me the leave vote has felt like a vote away from open hearts and borders back to the imperial past of nation state and empire. So it is a very painful time. However, we cannot allow the pain to paralyse us, instead this is a moment to be gripped by love as the apostle Paul puts it (2 Cor 5:14), and to redeem this time by using every opportunity to come in an opposite spirit to empire in all we do.

Posted by: rogermitchell | June 25, 2016

This different Britain (ii)

The reason that I spent the weeks leading up to the referendum pleading “For love’s sake vote remain” is that I knew that, in part, the founding fathers of the EU desired to dilute the sovereignty and nationalism that led to the First and Second World Wars. This is why I regard the EU as a relatively safe space for nation states as the whole edifice of empire decomposes and deconstructs. I stand by that opinion even although I know how much the economics of the market, rooted in Thatcherism and the Chicago school and the austerity policies that flow from them have damaged the EU and member states, in particular Greece. That is why the EU desperately needs reform. Those familiar with my theological research will know that the idea that peace comes through the exercise of sovereignty lies at the foundation of what has culminated in the Western world and its so-called democratic nation states, as we currently know it, both inside and outside the EU. (See my academic book Church, Gospel and Empire: How the Politics of Sovereignty Impregnated the West. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2011.

My research has convinced me that the idea that peace comes through the politics of sovereignty is a delusion. It leads inevitably to the dominance of the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and the marginalised, ultimately through violence and war at the expense of everyone.  I love the islands of Britain and Ireland and their peoples. This is why I wanted them to continue to enjoy the relative safety of the EU in the undoubtedly difficult years that are ahead of us. The majority leave vote, comparatively narrow as it was, has rejected this partially safe haven for the UK as the decomposition and deconstruction of the nation state as a political form continues. Let no-one delude themselves, this decision in favour of greater sovereignty will not lead to peace. Instead it will accelerate the end of the nation state of the United Kingdom and lead to the ever greater alienation and estrangement of its peoples from each other. Unless, that is, there is another politics at work. We urgently need a politics of positive peace right now, and more than ever. Thank God for all who see this, and work for this whether believers or unbelievers, people of faith or not.

I am convinced that the politics of Jesus, displaced as they have been by the whole sovereignty delusion, can once again contribute to this in a significant way. This a gift that needs to be given in a completely different spirit to the sovereignty delusion. It is not a programme. It can’t be enforced. It is not something that is democratically voted for. It is something lived. Then and now it is a ‘Way’ of life. As those familiar with the substance of this blog know, kenarchy is a strand of politics developed out of the Jesus story, what theologians call the incarnation and what I have termed the love stream. It’s for the whole family of humanity: men and women, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor as the apostle Paul makes clear. Those of us who ‘get’ this need to accelerate its application in the cities and regions of these islands, otherwise the poor and the marginalised will continue to bare the brunt of this momentous decision to their own detriment, as will we all.

I am well aware that many readers of this blog, and who commented on yesterday’s post, are Brits living in other nations of the EU. We need to cooperate, and strengthen each others’ arms in this Way of life!

Posted by: rogermitchell | June 24, 2016

This different Britain

Although a theologian, I know myself to be first a feeler, and only then a thinker. Over the next weeks I will be blogging every few days or so, to help myself and those interested in my translation of feeling to thought, as we acclimatise to a Britain where a more unkind, unloving politics has apparently prevailed, at least temporarily, over the emerging new political shoots of peace and wellbeing.

Traveling by train and tube across London from Enfield to Catford this morning, for me the disappointment, shock and uncertainty  resulting from the majority leave vote is palpable. People who have found home and shelter over generations here, now know that the majority have given way to the forces of xenophobia and personal and corporate sovereignty that made the nations from which many have originated such dangerous places. These same forces of what in short hand I call empire were those that made Britain and its colonies a dangerous place for the multitude of ordinary people up until the end of the Second World War. Here in Britain this was certainly true for those from a working class background like my own. But then the Union movement and the Labour party, both of which were at least in part rooted in the Jesus story, and that I have called the “love stream”  in my research and writing, culminated with the post-war hope for peace to bring new opportunities and freedoms which have provided the context for lives like mine. (See for example The Fall of the Church. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2013

Of course not everyone who voted leave is a racist, selfish person, but they have willingly included themselves in a decision that is at least in part motivated, promoted and activated by people who are. This is why, for the first time in my life, I no longer feel so at home in this country of my birth. Back in the eighties I could see that Margaret Thatcher was unleashing a biopolitical economic empire that is now upon us and in the nineties that Tony Blair’s decisions for war were opening up an increasingly violent future of which we are now reaping the consequences. But I knew that they were representing a minority view within Britain, despite having been democratically elected. But the vote to leave the EU is not simply the product of our peculiar electoral system, it is a straight majority of those who wanted to vote. Now I know that the majority are willing to give place to what in my view is individual selfishness and corporate racism, and this is a wholly different feeling. As those familiar with my research and writing will know, I believe Western representative democracy and fascism to be on the same spectrum, but not until now in my lifetime have I felt that Britain is once again exposed to the extreme end of that spectrum. But I do feel that now.

There can be no doubt that people of love, what the apostle Paul calls the ekklesia, must come in the opposite spirit to all this and that certainly those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus can expect to live as strangers and exiles in the societies to which we belong. But to do so is more than ever fraught with the real challenge not just of being misunderstood, but opposed with ignorance, intolerance and rejection. Of course this is what people of peace must always expect, as the Jesus story demonstrates, but for the first time, for me, it is a felt reality.

Posted by: rogermitchell | June 23, 2016

the family of God overcomes empire by remaining in

Caroline Ibrahim asked me a question on Facebook today that is highly relevant to many Christians who swallow a classic Pentecostal/ Charismatic eschatological take on the EU that is as wrong footed as could be! For a fuller treatment of this read the final chapter of my The Fall of the Church.

Here is her question on Facebook and my brief answer:

I would love to know what you make of the ‘demonisation of the European Union’ and whether any links to the book of Daniel are valid. a while ago i was working my way through Martin Scott’s podcasts on revelation, think i will retreat back to them again soon. my instinct says vote in so that’s what i will do despite backdrop of fear by some Christians

I believe that the statue in Daniel refers to empire generally which has culminated in the whole western world today, including the EU. However, the core theme of Daniel is that God’s people belong IN the empire but in an opposite spirit. In my view some of the founding fathers of the EU were operating in the same “opposite spirit” as Daniel. It is this opposite spirit that comes in its fulness in Jesus, the stone uncut by any human hand. The spirit of empire is manifest in the delusion that peace comes through the use of both political and personal sovereignty. The family of God is characterised by love for all the families of the earth. Our separation from empire, means that we remain within it, but as exiles and aliens who live, like Jesus by, for and through life-laying-down loving. This is what some of us call kenarchy to distinguish it from sovereignty. So this is why I continue to plead “For love’s sake vote remain!”.

Posted by: rogermitchell | June 11, 2016

prophetic vision

As I see it there are two primary current understandings of the church. While there are some overlaps between the two, they are very different, even opposing visions. They can best be summarised as the sovereignty and love perspectives.

From the former perspective, the church represents and imposes the sovereign rule of God onto the world, with varying degrees of mercy for individuals and nations who accept the sacrifice of Jesus on their behalf. The end game is when the sovereignty of God is established universally and all the enemies of such rule are judged and removed. In the second way of seeing things, the church represents and embodies God’s out-poured love for the world and exists wholly for the benefit of the world, seeing itself as the present day body of Jesus. The end game is to discover and include as much as possible that promotes overall wellbeing in the practice and worldview of all humankind, soaking up and overcoming all the implications of un-love. To this extent it overlaps with the sovereignty vision of church because it desires to include those who hold that perspective together in the kingdom of God with the rest of humankind. As should be obvious the two visions sustain very different orientations, lifestyles and politics!

My experience of following the gospel Jesus and embracing the fulness of his Spirit has led me to the latter, life laying down, kenotic expression of ecclesia as a gift to the world, not the imposition of God’s sovereign rule.

This is outworked theologically in my recent books, papers and podcasts (expect more of the latter), and is the motivation for my sociopolitical comments and theopolitical activism. My wife and partner in radical thought and action for the last 45 years is Sue Mitchell. Her prophetic insights on the world season and scene has helped contextualise the thinking of the growing network of kenarchists whose friendship and relationship informs this blog. With me, the milieu in which our thinking has grown and developed has been the Pentecostal/ Charismatic outpourings of the 20th century and the mainstream renewal and new church movements that they inspired, particularly in their expressions in the UK. Over the last twenty years she has been informally publishing a series of insights into the coming seasons, events and experiences affecting in particular the continent of Europe, and which are therefore relevant to the coming EU referendum. I have decided to devote a new page of this blog to her insights, beginning with her latest prophetic vision for the coming four years Facing 2016-19 A Backward and Forward Look. If you scroll down the page you will find some of her earlier publications in reverse order to help contextualise the most recent. They reflect the kenotic understanding of the ecclesia as a gift for the whole family of humanity and so are themselves offered as a gift to all who take the trouble to read and engage with them.

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