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 https://www.amazon.co.uk/Fall-Church-Roger-Haydon-Mitchell/dp/162032928X. 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. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Church-Gospel-Empire-Sovereignty-Impregnated/dp/1610977440).

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 https://www.amazon.co.uk/Fall-Church-Roger-Haydon-Mitchell/dp/162032928X).

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.

Posted by: rogermitchell | June 2, 2016

the prophetic & the EU referendum

Many readers of this blog may rightly regard the term ‘prophetic’ as a way of describing counterpolitical voices for social justice. Thank God that there are many such prophetic voices nowadays. But there is sub-cultural category  of ‘prophetic’ within the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement that refers to particular seer and ecstatic gifts of certain individuals. Many of these, to my mind, bring considerable confusion when it comes to the matter of interpreting what they see or speak because their thinking is still impaired by the sovereignty delusion that I have traced in the books Church, Gospel and Empire (Wipf & Stock, 2011) and The Fall of the Church (Wipf & Stock, 2013).  As a result although they pick up on key issues their pronouncements miss out on the theological restoration currently taking place in the post-Christendom world that interprets the current scene from an incarnational, Jesus perspective, what I have referred to in earlier posts as a Jesus hermeneutic.  More recently I have referred to the insights of contemporary theologian Thomas Jay Oord, on the basis of which we could refer to this as the love hermeneutic. So the way to interpret the signs of the times through the sight and utterance of the Pentecostal-Charismatic prophetic voices would be with reference to the essential kenosis of God, that with God love comes first before anything else.

It follows that the crucial test of any prophetic utterance or its interpretation, based on the definition of love, is whether it acts intentionally, in empathetic, sympathetic response to God and others to promote overall wellbeing. This is a crucial question to ask of the plethora of such voices surrounding the question of how to vote in the coming EU referendum. Not surprisingly, for those prophetic voices addressing the issue who still have not ‘got’ the fall of the church or recognised the peace through sovereignty delusion, the question of preserving or regaining our individual and national sovereignty features strongly in their pronouncements. Instead of recognising the potential of the EU to share and weaken sovereign power and provide a greater context for overall wellbeing for the peoples of Europe, they emphasise its threat to the sovereignty of the UK and British people. Of course we need to work and pray to make the EU a place of greater wellbeing for all and be under no illusions that it remotely resembles the kingdom of God. We need to confront the current unholy alliance of the European Commission with the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank and the current neoliberal economics of austerity that are all part of the ongoing effects of the sovereignty delusion of Christendom. But it will be much easier to continue to do this in the context of the shared power of the European Union than it will ever be within the strengthened sovereignty of a lone nation state.

Posted by: rogermitchell | May 26, 2016

For love’s sake vote Remain

For love’s sake vote Remain!

In my view the greatest deep-structural delusion of the western world is that peace comes through the exercise of sovereign power. There is another way, peace through love, which an exciting network of my friends and fellow activists call kenarchy and this blog is all about. Kenarchy attempts to outwork the kind of love characterised by the life of Jesus and defined by Thomas Jay Oord in his book The Nature of Love as “to act intentionally, out of empathetic, sympathetic, response to God and others, to promote overall well-being”.

Nationalism, imperialism and the nation state are all forms of sovereignty that uphold the western delusion of peace through sovereign power. This is why, for me, it’s a no-brainer to see that the best place to outwork kenarchy is within a wider situation than a single national institution of sovereign power. Much better to be in a situation of sovereignty shared between states such as the European Union. Of course within such a union where sovereignty is shared between 28 states we need to work hard to ensure that the EU does not ever become a single sovereign power. But it will be much easier to do that inside a union deliberately based on the idea of shared sovereignty rather than in a single nation state, especially one that wants to leave behind shared sovereignty in order to strengthen its own.

So while there are many things wrong with the European Union that I want to see transformed by love, I see far greater chances for such transformation within the EU rather than in a deliberately strengthened sovereign power outside it.  I have other reasons for encouraging readers of this blog to vote Remain in the coming referendum, but this is the overriding one.

If you want five other reasons to think through and reflect on, here they are, presented compellingly by my dear friend Dr Andy Knox. I’m with him all the way! https://reimaginingthefuture.org/2016/05/25/why-im-voting-remain/#comment-2521

 

 

 

 

Posted by: rogermitchell | April 30, 2016

De-mystifying church

The word ‘church’ carries so much baggage that for many, both inside and outside it, it is no longer a helpful expression of what it means to be Jesus’ body.

This is why, in company with many others (for example http://www.ekklesia.co.uk), I tend to use the word ecclesia, from the original Greek word for church in the gospel narratives (cf Mtt 16: 18) and New Testament epistles (Eph 1:22 et al). However, this does little to deal with the double problem of how so many people understand the church as a religious organization with a tendency to hierarchical control and fail to recognise its potential as a movement for overall peace and well-being today. This is especially true given the pressing need for just such a movement in the fast decomposing political system of the west, and the current re-emergence of the church to fulfill this need. While I am well aware that to counter this problem we need Jesus’ followers to embody his loving behaviour, what I and others around this blog call kenarchy,  I think we also need to explain what’s gone wrong when we have the chance. Hence another post along these lines.

The true body or the mystical body?

One of the most significant historical reasons for the problem with the word church is the process by which its direct link with the Jesus story was broken and transferred to the institution that oversaw the ceremony of the bread and the wine, what the Roman Catholics call the Eucharist, the protestants call the communion and some more radical types call the breaking of the bread. In my books Church, Gospel and Empire and The Fall of the Church (Wipf & Stock 2011 & 2013) and my December 21st 2010 post “Not much Jesus”, I refer to Henri de Lubac’s work. He describes how, culminating in the twelfth century, there was a trend in how church was understood that resulted in a lasting swap-over of what in the Latin was known as the corpus verum and corpus mysticum, that’s to say the true or real body, and the mystical, mysterious body. This meant that the simple but profound truth that the church was a movement of love for God, self, neighbour and enemy and the bread and the wine were a mysterious resource for this practical Jesus way of love, was pretty much lost. Instead it gave way to an understanding of the primary role of church as centering round a mysterious cultic ceremony of worship presided over by priests, or other professional religious experts. After the reformation this ceremony tended in protestant churches to center around preaching, again usually by institutionally trained qualified experts, and after Pentecostal renewal around the gifts of the Spirit and the ‘presence’ often induced by sung worship. As a result the primary meaning and experience of church has been lost for many.

The plan of the mystery or the mysterious plan?

Recently I have been catching up again with Giorgio Agamben’s work and particularly his book The Kingdom and the Glory (California: Stanford University Press, 2011). In this he highlights an early approach to Paul’s writings, similar to the trend in understanding church as mystery underlined by de Lubacs. Whereas Paul speaks of “the plan of the mystery” hidden in God but now made known in Jesus Christ (Eph 3:9-10), early church writers increasingly came to swap these words round and speak of “the mysterious plan”. So instead of the mystery as to how society can find peace being made known in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, what now lies at the heart of Christian theology and practice is a mysterious plan that theologians have tried to decipher ever since. So church becomes the institutional context for trying to work out a mysterious plan instead of being the movement that lives out the obvious practical way of love that the story of Jesus embodies.

 

Posted by: rogermitchell | April 5, 2016

With God, love comes first

I have found Thomas Jay Oord’s innovative theology hugely helpful. This is particularly true of his definition of love in his The Nature of Love, (St.Louis, Missouri: Chalice Press, 2010) and his developed concept of essential kenosis in The Uncontrolling Love of God, (Downers Grove , Illinois: IVP Academic, 2015). While I wish to make it clear once again that I believe all theology, and indeed all knowledge, to be relational rather than propositional, it is still helpful to have a definition of love as we work out the relational consequences of being loved and loving others. In fact I think that it may have been a lack of such definition that explains why some readers of this blog and the related books have not always grasped what us kenarchists are on about. Although it has been useful to escape the baggage that the phrase kingdom of God has carried for some people and in some contexts, love is essential to it, and the politics of love is another way to describe it. So providing a definition of love may help us, and this is what Oord provides.

“To love is to act intentionally in sympathetic/empathetic response to God and others, to promote overall well-being.” (The Nature of Love, p. 17).

When I first read this I did a double-take. Love is surely more emotional, immediate and far less rational than this bald and careful statement. For me, it is true that love is first an encounter, an experience, a connection with another. But the advantage of Oord’s definition is its capacity to differentiate the love encapsulated by the incarnation, from the friendship, desire and familial bonds indicated by the other original Greek words for love. While they can all entail or include the love for God, self, neighbour and enemy that sums up Judaeo-Christian love, they are not love at all without it. Above all, what Oord’s definition does is to disclose the fully political nature of love. Coupled with his concept of essential kenosis which sees this kind of loving as God’s very nature, it puts the politics of love at the very core of God’s image and therefore of both creation and us human creatures. This is why Oord’s work is such a complement to kenarchy.

The practical implications of this are massive. It means that everything I encounter as love is qualified by the condition of overall well-being. Secondly it means that this condition is achievable – indeed ultimately inevitable – because love is the nature of God and the end of all things. So to add love to any situation is to suffuse it with hope.

Posted by: rogermitchell | November 19, 2015

The Love Politics Initiative (working title)

I am about to initiate a new phase of applied research into the politics of love in the context of the emerging new political space. I first blogged on this  a year ago on November 4th 2014 (see below). Then ‘the new politics’ was almost an unknown term, today it is everywhere. As I see it, if there was doubt then that there was real need for a new ethical politics there is none now.

As has been my practice over the last decade, this applied research will be in collaboration with the growing kenarchy research community that has been forming during that time. But there will be new partners too, because what is different now, and very encouraging, is  that the desire for populating this space with a politics of love is appearing simultaneously in a whole variety of networks and places. This has made clear that it is time to be more strategic in research focus and to make collaboration more deliberate and specific.

I’m very grateful for the opportunity to research in the context of the Politics, Philosophy and Religion Department at Lancaster University and to be able to offer the postgraduate certificate of accreditation in Political Theology for Peace via The Richardson Institute that is located there. They have just renewed my honorary research fellowship until October 2018. Next July we will be holding the annual conference of the British Sociology Association Sociology of Religion Study Group (Socrel) in the department, focusing on the power of religion in the public sphere and which will hopefully have a new politics element (http://socrel.org.uk/) . There are other exciting developments in the pipeline.

However I’m convinced that what is also needed is a wider more relational research collaboration that recognizes the complementary opportunities offered by a number of different Universities, departments and institutes, and also the need for a support group that sees the relational deficit that the increasing commodification of higher education often causes and helps meet it in a way that’s for the good of the researchers, staff and academic institutions out there.

To this end a bunch of potential doctoral and postdoctoral researchers are meeting next weekend (November 27th-29th) with three objectives. i) to set out the practical research that needs to be done to bring a politics of love into a full-orbed body of work that can be culturally embedded in the newly emerging political space; ii) to identify research locations and potential academic supervisors where this could be pursued; iii) to raise a primary source of funding to undergird a three to five year research project; iv) to create a core relational and strategic research fellowship, taking the apostle Paul’s use of the Greek word koinonia, translated in English as ‘fellowship’ and which in Philippians 2 is aligned with love and kenosis. Some of us have been inspired in this by the achievements of the historical Clapham sect and the mythology of Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring!

An invited core is already in place for the coming weekend, but the plan is to then widen the collaboration with a meeting in February or March. So can I please ask for your help to carry this vision forward whether or not you are in the frame for the coming weekend, by inviting your comments along the lines of the following questions:

i) What do you think that a full-orbed applied research initiative in the politics of love would need to cover?

ii) Which locations and academic supervisors would you particularly recommend?

iii) Do you have any funding ideas or sources? – We are looking for primary funds that we can then make available for researchers so that they can submit proposals to the relevant institutions with their funding already in place, rather than them having to bid to academic and research agencies for funds from which only something like 6% of such bids are successful and relevant agencies often have criteria unsympathetic to a politics of love. Realistically a full time PhD costs £12,000 over three years in fees which with a contribution to living expenses of a further £12,000 per year comes to £48,000.  Full time post-doctoral research posts generally earn £24,000+ per year.  So we are looking for something in the region of £360,000 over three years to cover something like four doctorates and two post-docs, and including some shorter term postgraduate researchers in the field.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

 

 

 

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