Posted by: rogermitchell | April 19, 2015

the selfish vote

Who should I vote for?

This is actually a very ambiguous question. It could be asking which candidate or party should I vote for, or it could be asking on whose behalf should I vote. I think for many people the latter interpretation is obvious, it’s me I should be voting on behalf of. The autonomous me, and my safety, my prosperity, my job, my future. Or if I go a bit wider it would be my family, my social or economic group, my tribe, class, race, locality, age-group and so on.

If I’m moral shouldn’t I vote for the others?

The next generation, the poor, the marginalized, the stranger, those on the receiving end of our government’s economic or foreign policy. I think the answer is yes, for sure. But how many voters are moral? Isn’t the whole idea of the autonomous individual that is at the heart of our western democracy primarily a selfish concept? I think so, and I think it it undermines democracy.  The word democracy comes from the Greek word demos and referred to the common people of the ancient Greek state. So democracy is government of the people by the people for the people. It’s not about autonomy, it’s about the common good, the good of everybody. If I vote for what’s good for me as an individual rather than what’s good for the common people, what Jesus called the multitude, then it’s not a democratic use of the vote but a selfish use. And it’s immoral, sinful, although perfectly legal.

Our current western values need to change

I believe that our values are changing and that many people want, and are working for, moral cultural change throughout society. They need encouragement and resources. Next weekend I’m participating in the Manchester University Lincoln Theological Institute Conference on Self and the City. The aim is to provide serious discussion on how to understand ourselves and how to behave in our changing world.  I shall be giving a paper and chairing a panel discussion on Do Cities Make us Selfish? Of course we don’t just need theoretical resources, we need the relationships, connections and finances to change the way people think and behave. It takes time, but its happening. Until we change our common morality, the popular vote and our politicians and their parties will continue to promote selfish and partisan policies. The signs are that the British people no longer want business as usual. I hope and pray that the coming election will open up a lot more space for real democracy.

Posted by: rogermitchell | March 9, 2015

doing theology the way Jesus did

As I write this post I am in Mississauga, the overshadowed sister city to Toronto, the original location of the mid nineteen-nineties Pentecostal-Charismatic eruption sometimes known as the Toronto Blessing. It was more properly a Mississauga one, with its roots, as far as I understand them, in the extraordinary egalitarian relationships between early Pentecostal settlers and the Mississauga first nation Canadians. I return here regularly to engage with local facilitators seeking to work out the implications of these recent and more ancient past events for the reversal of hierarchy and the reinstatement of the marginalized, displaced and the poor of the city today.

One of my reasons for being in Mississauga this time is to engage with other thinkers and writers attempting to work out how to do theology the way Jesus did it. Tomorrow I’ll be getting to know new friends who I will be sharing in roundtable discussion with; C. Baxter Kruger the trinitarian thinker well known for his book The Great Dance, and Paul Young, well known for his book The Shack. Other friends will be joining, including Mike Love from Leeds. Michael Lafleur and David Peck will be facilitating and Sam Cooper and the Meadowvale Christian Reformed Church will be hosting. The idea is to make some of these discussions available online and I will provide links via this blog and twitter in due course.

On the way over I read Derek Flood’s new book Disarming Scripture.
This is a crucial book, and having already seen excerpts, I’ve set it as a key text for the “Peace, Reconciliation and the Politics of Jesus” module that I will be teaching for the Westminster Theology Centre from September 2015  I made no mistake! His chapters on “Reading the Bible Like Jesus Did”, and “A Practical Guide to Enemy Love” are particularly helpful and complementary to my own work. I couldn’t recommend it more highly for those struggling to do theology the way Jesus did! His description of Jesus’ approach to the Old testament Scriptures as faithful questioning as distinct from unquestioning obedience liberates us from sovereignty-bound misunderstandings of lordship and rulership. It’s great stuff. He deals head-on with the infamous genocide passages and notes the way that Jesus and Paul boldly and unapologetically excised violent passages in their exegesis and application of the OT to their contemporary scene.

Posted by: rogermitchell | February 8, 2015

more on ISIS and loving one’s enemies

This coming week I will be getting down to work on expanding the paper I gave at the Lincoln Theological Institute conference on Post-liberalism, Individualism and Society back in the summer. This is for a volume my friend Benjamin Wood is editing that is due to be published later this year. Its title then was Individuals: our autonomous selves or the loved others The task is to consider the historical formation of these two perspectives. As I’ve been contemplating this I’ve been reflecting once again on how much our deep-seated mindsets influence the way we respond to practical political issues, and our ability to communicate our perspectives to others. Practical evidence of this can be found in conversations that continue on this blog arising from comments on my post several months back on “What’s the alternative to meeting ISIS violence with violence?”

A big thank you for all who have engaged with what was a very serious post on how to respond to violent enmity, and especially the one or two who took time to enter into robust discussion. One such is Sidney Cordle of the CPA who seemed to agree with a lot of what I had to say up until the point that I suggested the need for dialogue between Christians, Muslims and other people of faith who have a heart for peace and have some understanding of what makes the ISIS extremists tick. It seems that his perspective on the Muslim scriptures simply does not allow him to believe that it is possible to be a true Muslim and a person of peace. He presented a list of Koran quotations to prove his point. My attempt to point out that this approach to relegating all Muslims to fundamentalism was foreign to the testimony to Jesus and his kingdom of peace simply elicited more of the same.

As I understand it Jesus’ approach to the ‘other’ whose faith was not the same as the Jewish tradition was not to argue theoretical points of belief but look for the fruit of their lives. Witness the story of the woman at the well, his commendation of the Roman centurion and the parable of the good Samaritan. With due respect to Sidney, a mindset on truth that holds people to the propositional statements of their scriptures rather than looking for the image of God and potential for the revelation of the Spirit is a sovereignty approach to God and truth rather than a loving kenotic one. The latter refuses to regard anyone from a human point of view, as Paul puts it “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once regarded Christ from a human point of view, we regard him thus no longer” (2 Cor 5:16 RSV).

I contend that many Muslims are among those that Jesus identified as people of peace (Lk10:6). In any case on my reading of the testimony of Jesus even my enemies are the loved other and this includes ISIS extremists.  Muslim friends who pour their time and energy into community action and cohesion and search with me for kenotic sources of love for the other in their scriptures and faith tradition are no way to be lumped together with violent extremists. Sidney particularly takes issue with the Koran’s teaching about the cross and the resurrection, and of course I agree with him that their position leaves them with a diminished Jesus and loses the heart of the incarnation. Those familiar with my research on Church, Gospel and Empire will be familiar with the view that the partnership of church and empire in Western Christian history did something pretty similar (See Church, Gospel & Empire and The Fall of the Church). Nevertheless, the interest that my Muslim friends locally have in the person and life of Jesus seems to me full of exciting points of synergy for peace-building and nonviolent ways of dealing with ISIS. My participation in the recent Christian/ Muslim Encounters Jesus Conference organized together with the Richardson Institute for Peace Studies of which I am the external partnerships coordinator only served to confirm this.

So let’s continue this important dialogue please!

Posted by: rogermitchell | January 4, 2015

Russell Brand’s “Revolution” joins my best books list

Big thanks to my son Chris for giving me Russell Brand’s Revolution for Christmas.
It rapidly displaced the several books I was currently reading for both readability and importance. I’d soon read it from cover to cover, not something I often do with books, which like many other academic researchers I tend to read ‘in’. Not only are the revolutionary recommendations that he gleans from other insightful radicals highly practical, he gets to the deep-structural subterranean heart of the political system with courage and acuity. I heartily recommend it.

His practical steps to revolution are worth setting out here for those who might not get round to reading it yet awhile:
Radically alter trade agreements to support the needs of the people and planet;
Impede energy companies’ ability to profit from irresponsible practices in oil refinery and fracking and convert to responsible renewable energy;
Cancel personal debt;
Stop using titles to refer to one another;
Decentralise the power of both the private sector and the state;
Kill a global corporation;
Move to a co-operative economic model;

Of course for many this is impossible because they see the current unjust system as immoveable, for them a new politics that penetrates below the surface is inconceivable.

But it’s his profane grace to fillet the guts of the long term constituted system of the Western establishment that marks this book out.
Some of its content will wound you, for there’s no other way to challenge our allegiance to the established system. But treat it the way Walter Brueggermann suggests we treat the more offensive parts of the Old Testament when it does the same and I think you’ll find the testimony of Jesus is all over it. And while his ingenuous expectation that love and unity is at the core of all religion may worry you, (Richard Rohr has the same effect on me), such theological naïvety is surely profounder than an approach to doctrine that excludes and dominates and ultimately upholds the powers that be. The incarnation and the cross demonstrate that the reality of evil can only be overcome by love, not exclusive truth propositions after all.

Some of us have long been suggesting that when a new clarion call to the kingdom of God comes it will be from unexpected sources. Maybe an ex-addict celebrity comedian from Thurrock is one such. Yep, without a doubt Russell Brand is a prophetic son of peace for me.

Posted by: rogermitchell | December 1, 2014

Kenarchy research community

We had a good meeting of twelve folk from this applied research community last weekend.
After looking at the preparatory thoughts that four of us had supplied beforehand around the theme of kenarchy and action for justice we came up with six questions that we reckoned needed addressing.
These were
• Can anything be kenarchy until it’s given away?
• What is politics?
• What is leadership?
• What is power?
• What are we seeing that excites us positively?
• What is the new political space?
• What are we are we dreaming for the future?

We decided to begin with “what is leadership?”
We had considerable discussion about the downside of the phrase “empowering others” because of the way it put the leader in the position of the strong one. We buzzed a whole family of words that seemed to us to configure leadership in a way that was consistent with kenarchy. Some of these were “enabling”, “releasing”, “freeing”, “making space”, “creating space”, “helping people understand who they are”, “liberating”, “activating people’s abilities and gifts”. We decided that we quite liked the new word “forgoer” from “forgo.” We soon decided that the word leadership itself carried so much baggage that we decided to reject it altogether. So we looked for a new noun for leader that conveyed the idea of leadership understood through the family of words above, all of which saw leadership as something distributed, given, and not held onto. We thought about “influencer”, “sage”, “impactor”, “fool”, “moderator”, “guardian”, “encourager”, “helper”, “advocate”, and noticed that these last three were names for the Holy Spirit which seemed positive.

We developed new words for leadership and leader from the verb to enthuse: “enthusia” to replace leadership and “enthuser” for leader. We also liked the new word “kenship” for leadership, like kenarchy, connoting the emptying out of power and gifts for the other, although there was less than general enthusiasm for the word “ken” for a leader, although I confess I rather like it! We concluded that the qualities of reconfigured leadership were “to keep space open and discern the time”; “be responsible for recognising the intersection of space and time to birth the preferred future” and that “to be kenarchic it would be offered as a gift to be received”.

We then moved on to “what is politics?”
Some of us naïvely hoped that this would be easier to quantify! So the simple suggestion of “how we organise ourselves as a society” had to be qualified with the recognition of the baggage of power play resulting from how politics thus defined has been formed as an artificial construct through history as well as an organic development. Having agreed these qualifications to our definition we agreed to take them as read and to return to them under the power question when we come to it. We then extended the question of what is politics to “what we do we mean by politics in the context of kenarchy.” We came up with “how we organise ourselves as a society for the wellbeing of all the people.” Some preferred “recognising the intrinsic value of all”, and for simple brevity “how we live our lives together for the benefit of all.” We then accepted as given the seven priorities of kenarchy as providing the “how” for this, namely instating women, prioritising children, advocating for the poor, welcoming strangers, reintegrating humanity and creation, freeing prisoners and caring for the sick, and asked one another what other things are crucial for this. We decided that this particularly included definancialisation (Molly Scott Cato’s term), the question of how to accommodate difference, and finally the need to expose what interest brings us to embrace kenarchic politics and making sure that we are willing to lay that interest down rather than insist on it. Not surprisingly this last point led to considerable debate.

We had some initial discussion on “what is the new political space?” This led us to some initial thoughts on what mapping it might involve, before we ran out of time.

In conclusion we agreed to ask for brief papers on financialisation and accommodating difference for presentation and further discussion at the next weekend, which is likely to be this coming March 28th-29th. In the meantime we hope to get the online kenarchy journal up and running as soon as possible on where we can progress all this further. Watch that space for details…..

Posted by: rogermitchell | November 8, 2014

stewarding the new political space

Yesterday, Saturday November 8th 2014, I led a workshop at the Leeds for Change Summat New day event entitled Stewarding the New Political Space. The basic content follows. I would love to get your feedback please!

political shifts since the economic shake up of 2008

  • austerity isn’t working: As Seamus Milne concludes in Thursday’s Guardian (November 6th 2014): “The lesson from across Europe is there are no political prizes for embracing austerity – it spells failure in opposition and disintegration in government”
  • gross inequality is increasing: since the financial crisis, the ranks of the world’s billionaires has more than doubled, swelling to 1,645 people. At the start of 2014 the richest 85 people on the planet owned as much as the poorest half of humanity (Oxfam
  • According to the Observer, today Sunday November 9th, the UK is now officially the most unequal society in Europe.

the impact of austerity on the poor and marginalized

  • at last Monday’s Morecambe Faith in the Community event (November 4th 2014) the local Citizens Advice Bureau presented a detailed critique of the 2012 Welfare Reform Act based on their own client experience concluding that many people in genuine need no longer meet the prescribed eligibility criteria
  • many are having to adjust to a big drop in income or monthly benefits, with increasing use of food-banks and borrowing from high interest rate lenders (Wonga has increased interest to 5583%)
  • more people are falling into absolute poverty

why austerity isn’t working

  • it uses the same underlying market principles that caused the crash to resolve its effects
    some would see this as effect of Thatcherite/ Adam Smith economics of the supposed benevolent hand of the market
  • research reveals a more ancient genealogy on which the liberal capitalist Western democratic system is overlaid (see my Church, Gospel & Empire and The Fall of the Church available from or amazon
  • unwritten and written constitutions and functions of nation states take for granted peace through sovereign power which basically means preferencing the rich and powerful for leadership and financial reward
  • austerity’s failure is exposing new and deep political space in a way that hasn’t happened for generations

recognizing the new political space

  • framed by all the ‘posts’: post-Christendom, post-modern, post-secular, post-political, post-material…
  • opposite to the ‘tame’ xenophobia of UKIP, and the brutality of ISIL that holds up a mirror to the covert roots of Western sovereignty
  • signaled by the increasing, if uncertain success of radical political parties that question the accepted status quo: Podemos, Syriza, Sinn Fein, (SNP?)
  • signaled by the Occupy movement such as last month’s (October 2014) Occupy Democracy Parliament Square event
  • new, inclusive presence of Faith Communities in the public forum (including within Occupy:

starting points for personal & corporate action

  • taking popular buzz phrases like ‘people matter’ really seriously
  • initiating actions that are egalitarian and other focused, not hierarchical and autonomous
  • embarking on a radical politics grounded in enemy love
  • regarding authority as kenotic not sovereign
  • sharing whatever gifts and opportunities you have to mutually empower the poor and marginalized

enacting the politics of Jesus/ kenarchy

  • instating women
  • prioritizing children
  • advocating for the poor
  • welcoming strangers
  • reintegrating humanity & creation
  • freeing prisoners
  • caring for the sick

possible applied research project

  • to map, investigate and steward the new political space for the common good
  • bringing together academic researchers and political activists, together with charities and agencies for compassion and justice
  • hopefully with EU funding
  • please let me have feedback on your own possible involvements, thoughts and ideas in the comment box below
Posted by: rogermitchell | October 30, 2014

I would like to get some serious interaction going!

The new book Discovering Kenarchy. Eugene Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2014 has now been available for several weeks, both from ourselves at 2MT, and via Amazon in both the UK and North America. If you have not read it yet, can I encourage you either to purchase it from us via the details in the blog page above (this helps us cover the costs of our investment; postage now free; or from Amazon, where you can obtain a Kindle version; The helpful thing about the entry is that it allows you to read inside the book.

The new characteristic of this book is that it has eight different contributors and applies kenarchy practically to the questions of theology, gender, justice, gift, health and the NHS, peace in the city and eschatology. Once you have read it, or if you have already done so, can we get some serious interaction going on the issues raised for you there?

Posted by: rogermitchell | September 28, 2014

What’s the alternative to meeting ISIS violence with violence?

All three mainstream political parties have agreed to a 3rd Iraq war.
Once again the assumption that the greater the violence and brutality of the enemy, the greater the justification for a violent response, rules the day. But if violence breeds violence, then this response will only breed a greater violence. Nevertheless, the “peace through sovereign power” model that has ruled the day throughout Western history and beyond has no other answer to give.

So what is the alternative?
If kenotic, life-laying-down, enemy love is a genuine source of political power, then it does apply in situations of extreme violence and brutality such as those inflicted by IS.
There are seven strategic components:
1) the infinite demand of love
Simon Critchley presents this inescapable motivation to love that extends beyond confessional limits in his book The Faith of the Faithless Disciples of Jesus get this, or frankly they are really not disciples yet. Others get it too, thank God. That love not hate wins. That restorative justice not retribution works. That we have to stick with nonviolent methods whatever the cost. That there’s an infinite demand.
2) deep structural subversion of the Western way
Serious examination of the genealogy of the West suggests ongoing deep structural links between the violence of militant Islam and the violence of the West. See my The Fall of the Church Unless we undo the underlying violent structures of the West there is very little hope for a parallel end to extreme brutality against it.
3) the fruit of lives laid down
The good news of the incarnation, that is to say the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, is that loving one’s enemies to the death actually does consume evil and triumph over it. In which case the extraordinary bravery and determination of some to remain on the ground in situations of extreme danger to maintain a strategy of love is crucial.
4) dangerous opportunities for dialogue
There need to be alliances between Muslims, Christians and other peoples of faith, who have some empathy or at least understanding of where IS is at and why. Peaceful people of faith who are ready to take the immense risk of meeting extreme self-designated islamists for dialogue even if it leads to beheading and death. How much worse is that than incarnation and crucifixion?
5) leadership example
Recent episodes of 24 had Jack Bauer rescuing the fictional US president from a situation where he was ready to give his life to terrorists in exchange for peace. A similar proposal by George Bush Junior on the eve of the War on Terror might have saved a lot of lives and prevented the current bloodbath. The jingoistic refusal of such political action in 24 highlights the deep structural mindsets of the West that honour yet reject such a path.
6) prayer
Those of us committed to prayer such as need to be praying for a change of heart among IS funders, commanders and troops; for strategy and courage to engage them non-violently on the ground; and new ways of introducing creative, love-based, initiatives for peace to be discovered.
7) giving
I added this last, because sending money somewhere can either be to assuage guilt at inactivity or making the false Western assumption that money is the ultimate answer. What I mean here is giving our technical, creative, rational, financial and above all our emotional and relational giftings to the cause of peace through love.

Posted by: rogermitchell | August 14, 2014

enemy-love still the only lasting hope

Despite the disproportionate brutality of the state of Israel’s response to Hamas rockets and the inhuman behaviour of the advancing IS militants in Northern Iraq, the politics of enemy-love are still the only lasting hope for peace.

Here are two reasons why:
1. The first is very unpalatable, but, in my view undeniable. Hamas, IS, and the Western representative democracies have the same foundational base.

IS is simply more extreme and manifesting its foundational violence in the now. But both IS and the West are the result of accepting the principle that says the only way to peace is by the exercise of the instruments of sovereign power in the interests of the culture and desire of me and my group over the other, the different and the alien. These instruments consist in taking territory by violence, maintaining it by our own particular version of law, and sustaining it through economics of one kind or another. In the days of Roman empire and the Christendom partnership that followed it in the formation of the West, this was the way to the current democratic ‘peace,’ such as it is, and it is superior fire power, nuclear capability and unequal advantage in the global economy that maintains it. Western representative democracies are simply overlaid on this deep structural system, and will last only as long as our military, legal and economic advantage does. Unless the deep structures of violence, law and money are replaced by enemy-love, restorative justice and hospitality then the west will be constantly challenged by extreme forms of its own image, whether the Third Reich, the Soviet Union or the IS Caliphate and however we vote, the poorest and most vulnerable of the human multitude will continue to pay the price.

2. The second may be easier to see, but is hugely challenging to live out. The poor and the vulnerable at the violent edge of sovereign power are the real leaders of the future.

This was true of the most famous examples such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela but it is true of all who non-violently resist including the tortured, raped, martyred, beheaded and crucified who refuse hatred, vengeance and violent response on the front lines of the clash of empires. When Jesus said “they will put some of you to death … but not a hair of your head will perish” (Luke 21:16-18) he set the hope for the future that his own life, death and resurrection opened the way for. Those who needs must die daily are the ones with the most glaring public opportunity to overcome by love and prove whether the resurrection really can be the first fruits of a new humanity. We need their stories, and in the days and years to come they will become the foundations of a new culture of peace. This is why those who take their lead from Jesus must do all we can in prayer, giving, going to stand in the gap and non-violently resisting with and on behalf of the innocent. It is also why we must resist the status quo of violence, vengeance and affluence at the foundations of the Western system. It is why our lives wherever they are positioned have to become channels of mindset change, behaviour change and a new politics of enemy-love that can yet carry the day. This is the call of our time.

Sojourners have an excellent blog post on this (scroll down)


Posted by: rogermitchell | August 2, 2014

The new politics

I’ve been giving papers at conferences related to a “new politics” in some interesting places lately.
Such as the Chester University conference Missio Dei: Evangelicalism and the New Politics back in June and the Manchester University conference in July on Postliberalism, Individualism and Society.
So what do these ‘new politics’ refer to and what do they look like? Chris Baker, one of the convenors of the Chester event described them to me as the space identified by ‘all the posts’: such as post-secular, post-Christian (or post-Christendom), and post-political. Graham Ward in his splendid The Politics of Discipleship (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2009) adds the postmodern and post-material. So there are a lot of posts! By this account the new politics really refers to space for a new politics, rather than the content of such politics. The title of the forthcoming William Temple Foundation 70th anniversary event Reclaiming the Public Space, this November, bears this out. Come if you can:

So is there really space for a new politics opening up?
While there is certainly a need for it in the face of the ‘tame’ xenophobia of UKIP or the brutal violence in Gaza, the lack of reasoned response or diplomatic will in both cases looks like more of the same old destructive recipe of peace through sovereign power. Victimisation and violence continues to rule the day despite the lessons of the hundred years since the war to end all wars But another way of seeing the current xenophobia and brutality is as evidence that the old politics is overreaching itself and plumbing the depths that a new politics must encompass to embrace the stranger and love the enemy. For those with eyes to see and ears to hear there is always evidence of the triumph of love; Salim Munayer and Lisa Loden’s groundbreaking book Through My Enemy’s Eyes (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2014) Nevertheless we cannot possibly minimize the challenge that achieving mindset change on a societal and global level demands.

However, if the ekklesia truly is the life-laying-down, enemy-loving, body of Christ, then people of faith can expect the move of the Spirit to renew its role.
Despite the horrific record of the subversion of the church and gospel by imperial power, there is real evidence that a significant section of the church is right now repositioning feet-first into the new political space, as I argue in the previous post of April 3rd. Now we need to do all we can to catalyse the mindset change that must follow. In the meantime we thank God for the body of those who despite, or in reaction to, the corruption of the church, are finding their way to the new politics without us, although not without God, whether they know it or not. Kenarchy offers some of the tools for both bodies to find their way to becoming friend to the ethnic other and lovers of their enemies as the soon-coming Discovering Kenarchy (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock, Autumn 2014) attempts to set out.

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