Posted by: rogermitchell | January 17, 2012

the ecclesia as counterpolitical activism in relation to the poor

Several people have asked what I mean by ‘counterpolitical activism.’ ‘Activism’ is probably the easiest to grasp. By it I mean a compelling motivation to do whatever the Holy Spirit indicates Jesus would do to achieve a particular manifestation of the loving fulness of kenarchy in a specific political situation. Using the poor as an example, this means actions, strategies and projects to empower the multitude of the poor in body or spirit to discover, develop and release their gifts and abilities to each other and the rest of humankind in and through the whole of creation. By ‘counterpolitical’ I indicate those kinds of actions that run counter to the typical operation of the domination system of sovereignty whether in its past or present macro forms such as the totalitarian state or its transformations in current so-called democratic nation states and global institutions of power, or its micro expressions in church, education the health service, judiciary, family and so on.

So to continue with our example of what I have termed the third priority of kenarchy, namely the poor in body or spirit, this will particularly involve the ecclesia in counterpolitical activism for the redistribution of wealth. As I have articulated in previous posts, Luke’s narrative of John the Baptist’s introduction to the kenarchy of Jesus states this clearly, and Jesus’ life and teaching represents its fulness. As the gospel testimony puts it, “The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise” (Luke 3:11). Jesus expands this to its fulness in relation to the hungry crowds when he says to his disciples “You give them something to eat” (Mtt 14:16). While it is common practice to qualify Jesus’ advice to the rich young ruler as only applicable to his specific situation, and I agree that Jesus does not advocate radical poverty for his disciples, I can’t hear the testimony of Jesus as anything less than a readiness for disciples of Jesus to release surplus resources to be sold and given to the poor (Mk 10:21). I simply cannot find a trace of private property in the scriptures in the absolute sense that is so basic to the empire system. Possessions of all kinds are an entrustment to be stewarded for the good of the creation and the community of humanity within it and not the right of the owners to maintain for the exclusive use of themselves, their family, tribe or people group.

Nowhere is this more pertinent than in relation to land. The return of the stewards to their original portion in terms of the Jubilee principle in ancient Israel as outlined in Leviticus 25 underlines this. The amassing of personal wealth in terms of land is prevented precisely because the equitable distribution of wealth is so fundamental to human life and well-being. It is extraordinary to me that it is not self-apparent from this that it can also be applied to the whole land of Canaan that Israel was given to steward. Seen in the light of Jesus’ teaching and applied today it should be obvious that it is to be shared with the stranger and fatherless and itself stewarded by its contemporary inhabitants, both Jew and Palestinian, for the benefit of the poor. This crucial matter of the redistribution of land is such an important part of the ecclesia’s function that I will continue to explore it in the next post.

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Responses

  1. My first thought on this one Roger was ‘well now he has stepped in it’. Property rights are fundamental to empire and I’ve noticed in some blogs on Martin Scott’s site, one of the issues that elicits many comments. And rarely does anyone go to where I understand Jesus to go . . . property is never a right, it is a brief responsibility of administration to be done with an eye to long-term sustainability (ie. caring for creation), for the well-being of all but especially those who lack in one way or another as it was a gift to us, it is to be used to gift to others. When I think on issues of poverty it is so clear that it is property rights that leads the way in causes. Prisons are full, schools fail, youth riot for lack of future, and seniors lack sufficient medical care because of the system based on property rights. And I know, that’s just within national borders, then there is the whole issue of transnational and international property rights and resource exploitation.

    I just returned from a trip to the dentist. It is something I could afford only because my work place provides a brief moment of benefits. And as I sat there with my mouth full of her fingers and tools, she gave me a talk on her frustration with the Ontario government and how they have cut welfare and payments for dental care to the poor. So instead of giving someone the care they need, such as a root canal (which if she does do it is never paid for), the only option is to pull teeth and deprive people of whatever teeth they have left which makes their lives increasingly difficult. She saw no hope in the situation as the government has indicated more cuts are coming. I couldn’t say anything (literally) except she knows my background as pastor and community organizer so she knows I am already in agreement with her. I guess when things get tough and resources get scarce the easiest thing to do is to cut out care for the poorest, after all their lives are difficult enough without finding the energy to protest their treatment.

    She was also frustrated because, as she explained, the material she was using in my mouth to fix a chipped tooth costs half the price in Italy and 1/4 in India that it costs in Canada. Yet Canadian law forbids her from bringing the same material into Canada from these other places where she could purchase it more cheaply and pass the savings onto her clients. So I now walk around with very pricey filler in my mouth that could have been done more cheaply in Italy or just about anywhere else. So much for the free market.

    Sigh,
    C.

  2. This is a great challenge – right to the core. Looking forward to the next post, as I think the pragmatics are what we have to wrestle with.

  3. Thanks for this post Rog. I am challenged each time I listen to Billy Bragg’s song about the Diggers “The World Turned Upside Down” and their battle with the landlords and the law (lyrics are available here http://www.sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/The-World-Turned-Upside-Down-lyrics-Billy-Bragg/3FDCA57DEAD8ECDD482570210029842E) . It is partuclarly interesting how poorly the church comes out of this story…

    The earth being a common treasury for all; There is enormous challenge in this for all of us, particularly where we have been called to, or find ourselves stewarding a great deal…


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