Posted by: rogermitchell | September 21, 2019

Theologising Brexit (2)

In the previous post I gave an overview of the first five chapters of Professor Anthony Reddie’s book Theologising Brexit which provides a new window through which to view the apparently binary national division that the 2016 EU referendum has exposed.

Here we look at the five chapters which make up parts two and three of Reddy’s prophetic book, entitled “Responding to the Challenge” and “The Critical Challenge of the Other.” By presenting a Black liberationist theological perspective from the Windrush generation of African-Caribbean English he shows how White British patriarchy not only undergirds the Brexit vote but a great deal of our culture and identity. He is, as he concludes, benignly ambivalent about the European Union, but is convinced that Brexit has exposed the racist and xenophobic underbelly of Britain and particularly the English. As he puts it, “This text is a radical challenge to White Christianity to do and be better! It is a challenge to live out the radical, egalitarian dimensions of the trans-national identity of the gospel of Jesus Christ that calls us to love our neighbours as we ourselves would want to be loved.”

Responding to the Challenge

In Chapter Six he tackles head on the hermeneutical problems associated with systemic frameworks that assert particular practices and ideas as normative. This involves a very interesting and clear overview of Black Christianity and the Bible in Britain. He notes the way that many Black majority churches remain wedded to a form of nineteenth century White evangelical biblicism. This is of course, as he recognises, equally true of swathes of contemporary evangelical, charismatic and pentecostal churches generally. Those familiar with my own work will know how unhelpful I also find this approach, bringing as it does unconscious perspectives on God, the church and the world which are rooted in the Christendom partnership of Church and empire. Reddie’s alternative to this is a two-fold hermeneutic in which the sacredness of Black bodies and the realities of Black suffering and struggle provide the lens through which to exegete the scriptures. I would wish to root this in a specifically Jesus hermeneutic, of course, but it provides a crucial supplement. Chapter Seven demonstrates the attempt by Black theology to offer transformative methods of education such as Paulo Freire’s concept of conscientization through which poor and oppressed people become politically aware of the dehumanising circumstance in which they live. As Reddie puts it, “it is essential to critique the overarching power of White top-down knowledge that underpinned the Brexit process.” He also outlines a variety of games and role play which can be used to expose the belief that Britain is a de facto White nation that constructs identity on Whiteness. “When politicians speak of effecting good ‘race -relations’, that is always predicated on the basis that the number of non-White people needs to be controlled and non-White immigration into the country neds to be limited. In effect, good race-relations always means less Black people, Asian people and others who can be readily identified as ‘not one of us.'”

The Critical Challenge of the Other

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

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

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Posted by: rogermitchell | September 14, 2019

Theologising Brexit (1)

Theologising Brexit is the title of a challenging and resourceful book by Black Theologian Anthony G. Reddie (Routledge, 2019). I like it a lot. Having already interposed my talk on Love Politics between my posts on Luke Bretherton’s Christ and the Common Life, and given that the next will be on his section on Anglican political theology, it makes sense to include a couple of posts on Reddie’s book at this point. Reddie describes Brexit as underpinned by a rising tide of White, English nationalism. He is a Methodist, but as will become apparent, he recognises Anglicanism’s problem with Whiteness and imperial Christianity. We have already seen the contribution of Black Power to Bretherton’s analysis, and I think that looking first at Reddie’s work will prepare the way for my next post on Bretherton’s book which will be a response to Bretherton’s chapter on Anglican political theology. I will break my overview of Reddie’s Theologising Brexit into two posts looking very briefly at the ten chapters of his book.

The aim of Reddie’s book is to provide a prophetic, postcolonial model of Black liberationist theology. With it he challenges the Church and wider society to live out the gospel of Jesus and reminds us that a so-called Christian nation has to be one in which there is justice and equity for all and not just a priveleged sense of entitlement for only some. Reddie’s ten chapters are wonderfully discomforting and for me fulfil Walter Brueggermann’s description of genuinely prophetic work, namely to provide a critique of the contemporary society and release the passion to act for the common good.

Chapter One exposes the link between Christianity and empire, and the White English exceptionalism that remains an unresolved set of religious and theological ideas that have helped to shape the national identity, and continue to resource the White, English nationalism that underpins the Leave vote. Chapter Two outlines ways in which notions of British cultural superiority and the lament for a time when we were a great empire still persist. It exposes the way that the church has often conditioned Black people into internalising the tropes of empire within their psyche alongside their White counterparts so they end up defending these ideas and behaviours, and some of them end up supporting the Leave campaign. Chapter Three explores the role of what he describes as imperial mission Christianity in the propagation of empire and colonial thinking via Christian education and discipleship that has generally although not always served to undergird White British exceptionalism. He suggests that this has had a corrosive effect both on those who would identify themselves as White and those who are constructed and identify as the other. Chapter Four asks what it means to be a ‘proper’ human being in Britain and explores the invisibility of Whiteness and how its hidden nature causes the sense of entitlement and normality that underpinned the Brexit vote. He offers this as a starting point and gift to us White British to help us deconstruct our destructive inherited notions of entitlement, whether middle or working class people. Chapter Five addresses the struggle that Black and other minority groups have experienced in the attempt to find genuine belonging in British society. It challenges the xenophobic backdrop of Brexit, and offers Black and minority identities as the means to challenge the suffocating boundaries of a reactive White British culture.

As you can see, this is a polemical and unapologetic critique of some of the underlying causes of the Brexit phenomenon. As I have already emphasised in my various posts on Brexit over the last several years, I am not accusing my Leave voting friends of consciously holding these views. However, with Reddie, I do believe that these are the substantive motives behind the desire for Brexit in the corporate life of the nation and we all, however we voted, do well to reflect on the perspective of a brother Englishman with a life time’s oppressive experience of the powerful ongoing residue of White British imperialism and cultural supremacy. I will overview chapters six to ten over the coming days. As ever, please comment here or on Facebook.

Posted by: rogermitchell | August 17, 2019

Probably me at my clearest on The Politics of Love

If you find me hard to read as some do, although by no means all, then this talk will help hugely!! As an activist I find it s much easier to make sense at a popular level when I’m in context hands on. Here I am!

https://reimagininghealth.com/love-politics-part-3-roger-michell/

Posted by: rogermitchell | July 11, 2019

Love and Democracy (2): case studies

Posted by: rogermitchell | July 2, 2019

Love and Democracy

This is the first of several posts inspired by my interaction with Luke Bretherton’s outstanding new book Christ and the Common Life: Political Theology and the Case for Democracy (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2019).

Two crucial reframes to recognise

1. Reframing democracy

Democracy, as popularly understood, is a system of government authorised by a majority vote of the general population, often referred to as ‘the people.’ In our Western representative democracies the people vote for individuals who stand for parliament or local councils, and in the case of the UK, as we are all currently very much aware, votes, known as referendums, can also be held on special issues of national importance. This kind of democracy can be highly problematic, as is by now obvious, as it is overlaid on established or reactionary assumptions upheld or promoted by the media and simply assumes the majority outcome is the best one for all concerned. The important contribution of Luke’s book is that it reframes democracy to include the negotiation of a common life as well as a way of structuring government.

On this definition, the Western representative electoral system is a form of statecraft authenticating the vertical exercise of sovereign power, whereas negotiating life in common requires deep listening and relationship between individuals and associations working towards the common good in a particular place. These associations for the common good can consist of a whole variety of institutions, charities, families, businesses, unions, faith communities and individuals. The latter approach to democracy is crucial for today because it has the capacity to bring about the kind of social and cultural changes which are necessary to a just and loving society.  These changes also have the long term potential to transform the deeply held assumptions of everyday life that undergird the current top-down political system.

2. Reframing sovereignty

Sovereignty, similarly to democracy, is generally understood in terms of the authority exercised by government. In terms of our Western nation states this is a hierarchical, vertical exercise of parliamentary power authenticated by regular general elections and the ceremonies of state which in a constitutional monarchy such as the UK is particularly vested in the reigning ‘sovereign’. As those familiar with my research into the genealogy of Western sovereignty will be aware, I see this as rooted in the partnership of the church and the Roman Empire back in the 4th century, and see the democratic development of universal suffrage in Western statecraft as a gradual result of the need of the rich and powerful stakeholders to eke out or multiply sovereignty to the general populace in order to retain as much of it a possible for themselves. (See my book Church, Gospel and Empire: How the Politics of Sovereignty Impregnated the West. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2011. https://wordery.com/search?term=Roger+Haydon+Mitchell%3A+Church%2C+Gospel+and+Empire).

On this analysis it is easy to see that our contemporary system of representative democracy is only apparently so, because it is overlaid on an established order that inevitably benefits the rich and powerful. Once again, the important contribution of Luke’s book is that it frames a second kind of sovereignty, which he refers to as consociational sovereignty. This is the kind of rule exercised through the conversations, relationships and organised activism of the kind of associations and individuals described above. While I would prefer not to use the word sovereignty to describe this because the baggage it carries can too easily conceal some of the same top-down assumptions as the vertical system, the attempt to extend our understanding of legitimate political authority to include the consociational is a crucial move. I’d rather call it consociational democracy, or better still relational democracy and configure it around the key contemporary concepts of “authority with” contained in the slogan “nothing about us without us is for us”.

So how is this about love?

Democracy defined simply in terms of the statecraft authorised by our current electoral system is highly resistant to love. The kind of sovereignty that has undergirded the history of the West has displaced the politics of neighbour love and well-being for the poor embodied in Jesus and replaced it with the selfish idea of peace through the sovereignty of the rich and powerful. As a result, our Western system has ultimately resisted all attempts from good and true people to change it from within, whatever their party allegiances or otherwise. While I don’t believe we should give up trying, as I have made clear in my recent contribution to AltVisions (http://altvisions.org/inseminating-love-recovering-christian-myths-for-deep-structural-political-interventions), consociational, relational democracy for the common good provides the space for genuinely loving politics. As Luke puts it in the final sentences of his book “Democratic politics thus conceived is a work of love. Absent love and it does not work.”

Comments please!

Posted by: rogermitchell | May 28, 2019

Brexit and Loving the Enemy Other

As I see it, love to be love requires an other. As I have often pointed out, this is what makes it necessary for God to be trinity if God exists and is by nature love. If God is not a plurality of persons then God has spent eternity loving him, her or its self. And if you have ever spent any time with someone who only loves themself, then it feels like an eternity! So we need to love the other, and the politics of love is an inclusive politics configured around love for the others, not love for myself. As the Jesus story makes clear, to love one’s neighbour as one’s self is not the multiplication of selfishness but the inclusion of myself in an exercise of loving the other. Trinity and incarnation put the corporate, the plural, first, not the self first. There is only one commandment “love one another as I have loved you.” This is why I have suggested elsewhere, that the myths of trinity and incarnation are so suitable for remythologising the contemporary political discourse in our post-secular West. [See my recent article “What Are the Politics of Love?” in the latest edition of Global Discourse Journal https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/23269995.2018.1512034, free pre-print version on my Academia site https://wtctheology.academia.edu/RogerHaydonMitchell, and my contribution to the AltVisions blog http://altvisions.org/inseminating-love-recovering-christian-myths-for-deep-structural-political-interventions

Configuring love politically is no easy task. As some of you may be aware, we are currently in the middle of a series of conversations about how to promote a culture of love and kindness here in Morecambe Bay https://reimagininghealth.com/love-people-part-1/. One of our speakers last week gave a great overview of British social history to the present and in the process of this she gave the BBC and the current political establishment a bit of a roasting. I agreed completely with her point and it was highly relevant to our experience of pursuing social justice here in the Bay. But it also highlighted for me the challenge of loving the other, particular the other whose politics is emphatically not about love and kindness or its promotion. As a result I volunteered to take an open space slot on the topic of loving the opposing other in the conversation that followed later in the day in which there was a brief but helpful interchange of applied thinking which has continued with me ever since.

Putting it bluntly, what about the enemy other? And in case ‘enemy’ seems rather harsh as a description of one’s political opponents, it’s worth remembering that the context of the incarnation story positions the enemy as precisely these. So it is not the case of easy love, calling one’s enemy one’s friend or configuring a society with which we all agree, enemies included, but rather treating the enemy in a loving way and configuring a society where love is the political culture in which one’s enemy is valued as a human being. There are some issues in which one must take sides, not least when one’s opponents are advocating a society in which the vulnerable suffer.  Such issues include the austerity cuts and the benefits changes of the last two or three governments. This makes them the enemy of the poor, consciously or not.  Brexit is likewise the enemy of the people despite the fact that many who vote for it don’t see it that way.  Point 94 of the UN Special Rapporteur’s UK Report on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights (23rd April 2019) states: “If Brexit proceeds, it is likely to have a major adverse impact on the most vulnerable”. I agree. https://undocs.org/A/HRC/41/39/Add.1

To redeem Brexit, a change of direction is now needed. Last time I blogged on Brexit I was discussing how it might be redeemed. All along I have recognised that there are good, if from my perspective misguided, people who voted to leave the EU. I also recognised that the referendum, however mistaken and ill-suited to a binary first- past-the-post process, was a democratic exercise won by the Leave campaigns. Given that the incarnation narrative that I apply as a hermeneutic is one about entering into and bearing with others’ wrong decisions and not giving up on them in the process, my conclusion was to go with Brexit despite the presence of xenophobes and enemies of justice at a leadership level among the Leavers. Of course the Remainers have some selfish players but the overall positioning is not the politics of selfish sovereignty in the way that is front and centre for many Brexiteers.  But since my earlier post important things have changed. The European Election results have revealed new space opening up three years on from the referendum. It is clear from these results, that despite the success of the Brexit Party, the remain vote is now significantly ahead. So redeeming Brexit as I see it now involves taking sides and facing up to the injustice both behind and in front of it and working for loving ways out of it that remedy the reasons for it.

Insisting on our own way is not the way of love.  But now that the parliamentary log jam is so huge and no constructive way forward without real damage can be found, then advocating a public vote on whatever outcome is put forward by the government, be it leaving with another deal, no deal or not leaving at all seems the only just and loving way ahead. But it must then be accompanied by a national healing conversation towards a fairer society for all the inhabitants of these islands. It will certainly require serious leadership and some of the best skills available. However it is doable with the will to achieve it.  This is the path that I now favour and any agency able to cultivate such a conversation has my backing, whether it be a citizens assembly, https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/local-citizens-assemblies-could-break-our-political-deadlock-but-the-government-have-vetoed-them/ an initiative of the art of hosting and harvesting meaningful conversations https://www.artofhosting.org/home/, a wider version of the conversation Hope not Hate held on immigration https://www.hopenothate.org.uk/national-conversation-immigration/ or something new. For this I pray!

 

Posted by: rogermitchell | April 22, 2019

Remythologising politics

I was recently invited to blog for the exciting Alt Visions Blog that Tim Stacey and Fernande Pool have set up  in order to highlight alternative visions in the public sphere – visions that break with convention to bring new hope for living well together in a divided world. You can find my post on Inseminating Love: Recovering Christian Myths for Deep Structural Political Interventions here http://altvisions.org/

 

Let me know what you think!

Posted by: rogermitchell | February 10, 2019

Redeeming Brexit

Anyone familiar with my past blog posts and more recent posts on Facebook and Twitter will know that I continue to regard Brexit as a mistake. However, it is pretty certainly a mistake that is now going to be made. So how to redeem it?

1. Two things to recognise. The first is that Brexit is the product of our deeply flawed parliamentary democracy. As my published research and writing make clear, this is the progeny of the old partnership of church and empire where the rich and powerful always dominate. The second thing to note is that the debt based capitalist economy that this partnership gave rise to, and our established system is dependent on for its survival, is in terminal crisis. These two factors, an inadequate democracy and an unsustainable economy, have opened up the new political space that the mistaken 2016 referendum was in part a response to.

2. The new political space. I have been writing about this for several years now, and some of the best work on it can be found in the recent special edition of Global Discourse Journal 8.4 on “Cultivating New Post-secular Political Space” of which I was the guest editor [ https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/rgld20/current ]. All six articles and responses are well worth a read. For those who are unable to access the Journal for free via a university or college library, my contributions to the journal are also available for free via my Academia site [ https://wtctheology.academia.edu/RogerHaydonMitchell ]. The  challenge is to seed the new space with positive possibilities, and it is with that in view that I am looking for ways to redeem Brexit, which will otherwise be an ongoing cause of poisonous growth corrupting this new political space.

3. Produced space and open space. In the course of conversation last weekend, my friend Mike Love emphasised the important difference between produced space and open space. The newly opening political space is bordered by the established political system.  It is this produced political context that is poisoned by the sovereignty deception of the partnership of church and empire and the debt based nation state construct that followed. So crucially, if we are to redeem Brexit by cultivating the new space opened up by it, then great care must be taken not to pollute that space with the toxins that it was at least in part a response to. Party spirit, domination, xenophobia, scapegoating and blame now need to be displaced by a politics of love.

4. Choosing the right words. Even the word redeem, that I have chosen carefully, needs accurate filleting to cut away the toxic baggage of exchange that it has been invested with via transactional theories of atonement consequent on the subsumed theology of empire. The God of the Jesus testimony is not a God demanding payment for sins committed but rather a Trinity who pour themselves out in love into the space produced by inhumanity and injustice in order to forgive and restore. To redeem, in the way I am using it here, means to make the inevitably chaotic consequences of Brexit the opportunity for love to flow. The only way this is possible is for those with a heart for suffering Others to use every means at their disposal to work collaboratively with them for social justice, in particular for women, the poor, children, immigrants, the natural environment, the sick and those in prison.

5. A new way of relating. What we must avoid at all costs is responding to Brexit with the same self-orientated attitude that has led to it, whether from the left or right. This is why I am overjoyed that initiatives like the Poverty Truth Commission are growing organically in many parts of the country at this time [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6Itr0NlNyY ]. Being with the Community and Civic Commissioners of the Morecambe Bay Commission earlier this last week as they wrestled with practical issues of social justice, and then later in the week listening to Community Commissioners testify to cross-party MPs up from Westminster to investigate the evidence of an exponential increase in poverty, filled me with hope.  Commitment to the loving, relational, co-production of mutual human flourishing has to be inseminated at the heart of the space now emerging from the crisis of our unraveling democracy and economy. In this way we may yet see the redeeming of Brexit.

Posted by: rogermitchell | January 8, 2019

God

I’m looking forward to being involved in the forthcoming Sparks event at Ashburnham Place. This year the theme is Other Land God Self and among other things I will be leading a session on God. As part of my preparation and in response to encouragement to blog more this year, here are the substantial points that I will be making. They focus around faith, hermeneutics, and politics.

Faith

I am a person of faith in Jesus. That is to say that I take the view that the Jesus of the gospel testimony is both the Jesus of history and the God of eternity, come to show us what God is like, what human beings are intended to be like and how we can be like it. The substance of this faith is both existential and rational. It is based on a choice I made as the result of experience and relationship, and the apparently historical testimony of Jesus confirmed it. I can’t prove any of it, I can only add my testimony to the existing testimony of the gospel narratives and the testimony of countless others down the centuries since.

Hermeneutics

I follow a Jesus hermeneutic. This means that I use the gospel testimony as the lens through which I understand and interpret God and everything else. This is quite simplistic, even childlike. I make no apology. I don’t insist on being right. I only offer myself and the practical theology that I derive from it as a catalyst to my fellow human beings. We are all hermeneutes of one kind or another, whether we recognise it or not. What I find interesting is what a different view of God Jesus gives us to that which has been central to religion generally and to the Christian religion in particular. The biggest difference is that this is not a sovereign God who must be obeyed but a kenotic tri-personal God who gives themself in love to all.

Politics

The politics of the West has largely displaced a Jesus hermeneutic and replaced it with an imperial one. Instead of the way for human society being peace through love it has given way to peace through the dominance of the rich and powerful. This was precisely the way of empire that the testimony of Jesus opposed, but which has been the genealogy of the Western world since church and empire embraced in the days of the Roman emperor Constantine in the fourth century. This has been so deeply embedded in the common mindset of the so-called Christian world that it continues to determine our interpretation of God and the political system that a sovereignty view of God has legitimated, even in its secular expressions. This system is breaking down and unless something worse is to ensue we need to configure, live out and commend the trinitarian God of love.

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