Posted by: rogermitchell | September 2, 2011

The pretence of church/state separation

In a well meaning but, I believe, misconceived article in yesterday’s Huffington Post entitled ‘The Politics of Jesus in 2012,’ Rev. Chuck Curry continues to affirm the need for the separation of church and state

I regard his views as misguided, despite his obvious concern for the common good, because my research into the relationship between church and empire indicates that at the deep structural level both share the same DNA. It appears that this has been the case since the marriage of church and state in the fourth century. The modern Western nation state is the progeny of this ill-conceived marriage. At its heart lies the assumption that rule or dominion, what has come to be understood as sovereignty, is necessarily expressed in hierarchical domination whether configured as monarchy or republic.

It is my contention that this is manifestly not the politics of Jesus. His politics don’t fit the DNA of church or state. The only reason it appears to make any sense to speak of church/state separation is because from the fourth century on both church and state are seen to depend on the same expressions of power. It is only from this perspective of power that it is meaningful to talk of a separation of powers. However, if Jesus is all about a totally different kind of power then to talk of separating out the power of church and the power of the state into their own particular spheres makes no sense. Jesus’ inverse, contrary kind of power empties out the sovereignty of church and state. This is why Paul Fletcher describes Jesus’ politics as (im)political in the subtitle of his book Disciplining the Divine (Ashgate 2009).

Jesus’ kind of power, or what can be described as kenotic love or kenarchy, belongs in every situation, church as well as state, for the purposes of emptying out sovereign power. This, as I understand it, is the nature of the incarnation and is fully revealed in the cross and resurrection. It is the nature of the divine and its expression and is the distinctive task of the ecclesia at all times and in all places. The exercise of this power is the embodiment of the good news, the gospel, and emphatically cannot be separated from the church, the state or any other expression of Western politics, party-political or otherwise.



  1. I was always perplexed by the separation of state and church as if things exist in separate spheres anyway. Our faith should run seamlessly through what we do. Seeing it in terms of empires makes more sense of how you can separate something.

  2. Funny how the separation of church and state is a huge discussion in the USA right now. Primarily because, due to Enlightenment pressures, the constitution declares that the state cannot support a religion. In other words, there was to be no state church in the USA like England had which allowed room for the dissenting churches in the land. So now you have the religious right who deny separation of church and state though they seek to run the place as some more or less theocracy. And you have the folks who absolutely fear that (rightfully so) and seek to enforce a wall between the two no matter how short and thin. And of course, you are right, the surface discussion never deals with the real deep structures underneath it all.

    Since my era of study has been the Early Modern era in Europe I am well aware of the struggles that took place between ecclesastical authority that had established itself as the supreme sovereign authority after the fall of the Roman empire and the feudal lords which eventually gave way to the development of the nationstate where both church and feudal lords became partners with and submitted to the greater authority of national monarchies. The nationstate could not have emerged without the wholehearted support of the church, catholic and protestant. They are deeply intertwined no matter what various national constitutions say. The clothes they all wear may be slightly different today (or not so much) but what’s beneath remains the same.

    Jesus is such a challenge because he came against, in his actions and words, that impulse to rule through entrenched, formalized, often violent, powerful and wealthy hierarchies where a few reap the power and wealth and the many clean the toilets, mop the floors, and take care of the children (I’ve always found it interesting that we devalue children so much that we generally underpay those employed to care for and educate them). Jesus stands against all of that which, as a humourous aside, makes me wonder about the move to turn our traditional visual image of Jesus into something more muscular and brawny. I have no real attachment to traditional images but why do we need a Jesus who looks like a tatooed biker now? What kind of power and rule is that about?

  3. here’s a good article today on Alternet that explains the whole Christian dominion movement and its lessor offshoots and the impact on American politics. I think much of this is what others are reacting too in their affirmation of separation of church and state.

    The interesting thing about all of this is how the rejection of democracy (and we can certainly argue the merits of democracy) for theocratic reasons now aligns with a long-term program by right wing wealthy business owners and others in the US to also destroy democracy. It is seen as a problem to be dealt with.

    While it all comes perilously close to conspiracy thinking the quote from the former Supreme court justice is astounding. Yup, obviously America has too much democracy and that has to be stopped. If this article is true then the US is much further down a bad road than many thought.

    But, of course, this all goes right back to that early marriage of church/empire and now this latest manifestation of the forces and their alliance.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: