Posted by: rogermitchell | March 20, 2011

kenarchic politics (4) confronting the powers

This is where the guidelines move on from the obvious and into the confrontational and controversial! By the powers here I am referring to both the political “powers that be” and the spiritual entities behind them, what the apostle Paul refers to as “the rulers of this dark world” and “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12). The gospel testimony depicts Jesus confronting both the devil and the political and religious leaders of his day. I realise that many of you reading this and sympathetic to these guidelines are of various political and religious hues or none. You may be uneasy or unclear about this distinction and the way it takes the devil literally. You may be more inclined to Walter Wink’s position in his insightful books where he doesn’t distinguish definitively between natural and supernatural powers (see for example his Engaging the Powers). We can work with that. But my position is the more distinctly supernatural one, which I take the testimony of Jesus to be partly about and confirmed by my own experience and that of many close colleagues.

So this guideline follows Jesus’ example of confronting the powers in the way that earlier posts on the temptations and more recent posts on Jesus’ demonstration in the temple and the contentions that it inflamed have already pointed towards. It challenges head-on the familiar traditional interpretation of Peter and Paul’s advice to “be subject to the powers that be”. It reckons that this advice is only relevant once the primary example of Jesus’ confrontation with the human and heavenly domination systems is followed. Only then are we in the position to cooperate with earthly rulers. Peter and Paul take this for granted as their own confrontations with the political authorities demonstrate (as in Acts 4:19-20; Acts 23:3). While this engagement with the powers is emphatically not about the use of physical force against flesh and blood, it clearly does involve civil disobedience and can involve violence against property, as Jesus’ example in the temple makes clear.

Like Jesus, and Peter and Paul after him, we need discernment to identify the right time for public, overt opposition, how to go about it and the appropriate issues to make it clear that we are not submitting over. The first three guidelines for kenarchic politics make clear that these will relate to our commitment to giving children, the creation and the poor the priority in the distribution of power and resources. Particular ways in which government policies fail to protect these three essentials or do them damage, will expose the appropriate times and ways for direct confrontation. Once these have been acted on, and only then, will it be time to treat the earthly powers in an opposite spirit to their own by granting them kenarchic respect and honour on the assumption that now the problems have been exposed they will want to do something about it. So our submission is then in expectation of their readiness to act worthily, but we will revert to further peaceful but not law abiding confrontations if they don’t act rightly. It is this love for our potential opponents and enemies that ultimately brings the victory over the heavenly powers as Jesus’ daily behaviour and his death and resurrection proves. And if it leads to our own unpopularity, loss of position, or death, then we learn to consider it a privilege along the lines Jesus described when he said “Be glad on that day and leap for joy” (Lk 6:22-23).



  1. okay Roger – this is where I definitely feel challenged. Not so much by you but by the students I teach everyday. How can I teach this generation of young adults and not get radically involved in civil disobedience for their sakes? So far, I have not. Part of me is not ready – still trying to behave like a good ‘middle class’ citizen, and I have not felt like there was the moment for me to step out yet. So I wait for the right moment.

    I take heart from people like Jim Hanson and Wendell Berry – elders (and Berry understands himself as a Christian) along with Bill McKibben (another Christian but since he is my age I won’t call him an elder . . .yet) who have taken those steps. Hanson, the top scientist at NASA has allowed himself to be arrested in protests against mountain top removal. Berry recently occupied the governor’s office in his home state of Kentucky on the same issue. And of course, McKibben has been out front leading on ecological issues for some time. I remain challenged. I hope when I feel the call on this I’ll be able to put aside my middle class, middle-aged woman, eldest daughter good behaviour and get out there.

    I also take heart from a comment I read from the Wisconsin labour protests. A young high school student, a girl, was exaltantly telling a reporter that she had already taken part in 30 protests and wanted only to do more!

    Lead the way younger ones. We need to learn from you.

  2. Well, this looks to be your issue of the moment Roger in the UK:

    Hard to believe governments would make it a crime to give out a bowl of soup, yet they expect/hope volunteers will make up for all the cuts. What exactly to they think the volunteers would do? But of course, none of that is the point. Its the wealth transfer to the already wealthy that has determined all of this. Time for that civil disobedience – giving out soup to the homeless.

  3. Yes Johann Hari is an excellent journalist who generally has eye and ear on key issues. Not that you need a lot of insight to see what’s going on with the current Conservative led coalition. The tragedy is that I don’t think they realise that they are idealogically driven to blame the poor for poverty. I’m glad to say that there have been demonstrations this week: I don’t of course support the angry last comment in this video. But for sure this warrants civil disobedience. Anyone out there got more news on this?

  4. Not sure I agree that “The tragedy is that I don’t think they realise that they are idealogically driven to blame the poor for poverty”

    I Think its a clear strategy to blame the poor.All of these millionaires in Government about to tear down public service and the health service and hive it of to the private sector need a distraction.It is time to speak to the powers at be and civil unrest is a result of that.

    • Sadly you may be right. But my studies indicate that the privileged elite that currently run things are the product of such a deeply engrained worldview of western power that they honestly do think of themselves as good and intelligent people doing the right thing. The tragedy I refer to is of the way that the church and the political system have colluded to support and promote this immature and stupid understanding of the nature of power and money to the detriment of the multitude of ordinary people.

  5. The tragedy is when the church is so bent on empire and power that it no longer functions in a way that lets people know what is loving or unloving behaviour, or for that matter righteous or unrighteous behaviour. I refer to the latest uprising of American evangelicals. Seems the evangelical/fundamentalist politicos in the US have determined to take control of the presidency once again. They have been organizing extensively for the primaries and recently held an evening in Iowa (the first primary in the presidential election cycle) to host 5 would be Republican candidates (Democrats need not apply) to see what they would say. These candidates included Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House, currently on his third mistress made wife, and a man who devotes his life to fund-raising through financial scams and frauds (easily documented). I read this and thought – how is it that so called Christians can support this man? Especially without questions about his behaviour? Did I miss something? Quotes in the article indicated that the political evangelical organizers are bent on regaining and extending their power and see themselves as holding the keys to whoever gains the Republican nomination for President.

    To me this is a clear indication that the church in the US (less so in Canada but similar to some degree) is so committed to political power that it has forgotten its real Lord. Note too, that many of the more draconian policies that take away democratic rights and penalize the poor in the various states are initiated by Republican, Christian, evangelical supported governors.

    Do they know what they are doing? Of course. They are serving their masters – wealthy business people. Do they understand what they do is right? Yes, partly because the church supports them and encourages even more extreme legislation. Is the church serving its Lord? Depends on who you think it really believes in, I’m not convinced they know Jesus at all.

    Reading the article helped me make an important decision. I will never again in the future refer to myself as an evangelical. The word has too many political connotations and ethical deficiencies for me to want it around my neck.

  6. Thanks for this Cheryl, you are right on as usual. The word evangelical has slightly less confusing connotations in Britain and Europe, I think, and so I am still hanging on to it for the time being while working hard at changing some of the mindsets associated with it. By the way, if there is anyone out there on either side of the pond keen to defend the credentials of the word evangelical, I highly recommend Donald Dayton: Discovering an Evangelical Heritage (New York, Harper and Row 1976) which I found in a book discard bin in the British Evangelical Alliance offices! It is clear from that who the description really should belong to.

  7. I am not often moved to near tears but that article did it for me. I am so used to reading articles on poverty etc as it is part of my course and I do care that is why I am taking the course I am but not at an emotional level I guess. I remember going into Swansea at night with a group who give out food to the homeless and the care and concern they have for those on the streets, and to hear of the callousness of a law that would forbid feeding the poor breaks my heart. May it spur the ecclesia and break more hearts

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