Posted by: rogermitchell | October 15, 2012

Culturally invasive mission

I began writing this post last week while way up in the north of Canada in Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, the home of the Inuit. They invited me to help them understand what happened to the gospel between the coming of Jesus and the colonial package that Anglican and Catholic missionaries brought to the Arctic. Inuit are another extraordinary group of aboriginal people whose language, culture and at times even their children, were removed in the name of Western, so-called Christian civilization. Like so many others, their grace and grasp of the love of God despite it all is quite astonishing.

While grappling with how best to communicate the fall of the Church and the difference between love and empire I came up with the following description of what empire is:
“Empire says my culture is better than yours, my strength is greater than yours, and our leaders are superior to yours. If you submit to us, take on our culture, work for us & keep our laws we will bring you peace and blessing.”
Love, on the other hand, says
“We give you what is good in our culture to complement yours, our strength to partner with yours, and our leadership gifts to collaborate with yours. Will you receive us, cooperate with us, love us and work for peace and blessing for the people and planet together?”

It seems to me that if our culture is infused with the incarnation, our strength is the life-laying down love of Jesus and our leadership is kenotic then those we meet will encounter God and discover those parts of the good news they haven’t known yet. What do you think?


  1. Sounds cold Roger! The climate that is not the comment!
    To me that hits the nail on the head in terms of our approach. I think in serving the world these days we have double task to achieve. We have to unwind generations of misrepresentation of Jesus and what he was really about. Then, with no more concern for ourselves than simply allowing God’s spirit to flow, allow our spirits to mingle with those we seek to serve and together open ourselves to our joint need of revelation, grace and kindness.

  2. I agree! With both definitions. Couldn’t have put it better myself…

  3. Great Roger, fully understood that and agree totally

  4. I love your “What Love Says” counterpart to this excellent summary of the Empire Spirit (which I used in Meadowvale yesterday morning).
    I’m still really carrying around our Nunavut experience…

  5. Great framework for empire / love. History would have been different… and maybe the future?

  6. What a great way to express the difference between what the Empire Spirit says, and indeed promises but ultimately fails to deliver on, and what love says!

  7. i think that’s brilliant. i totally agree. where my questions start is how then to provide a framework strong enough to support and help those coming out of old idolatrous, false god, dysfunctional relationship etc situations into a new life in christ which has to go counter to their prevailing culture and family mores.

  8. Well, the questions that then start for you are precisely those that kenarchy aims to deal with. Hopefully the forthcoming Kenarchy Course, the first of which will start here in Silverdale next January, will help. Crunch questions requiring serious research will then be passed on to the Richardson Institute with which I am working here at Lancaster University starting with the 2013-2014 academic year.

  9. What will the Kenarchy course look like? (as in timing etc)

    • The course is likely to be a monthly overnighter (Fri/ Sat) running for nine months from January. Details, including costs, in a week or so..

  10. I love it of course! but we’re all so selfish, it’s challenging to not assert ourselves or our point of view. What happens if the other people are working in an empire-type way and don’t really want to do the other side of the partnership?

    I really like how you phrase it – especially with the hope that people can find out about God’s goodness through it. What if they just think we’re nice and collaborative as a lot of people are now these days? How do we overcome being impotent?

    • Hi Phoebe, I like the two points/ questions!
      (i) If “the other people are working in an empire way …” then, as I see it, that’s where the cross comes in. We suck it up into our own hearts and on into the heart of God. It costs hugely but is how God and the gospel works. Becoming good at this is the key to the whole. It’s what the atonement worked.
      (ii) “What if they just think we’re nice and collaborative as a lot of people are now these days?” I’m thinking that if you are right, which I think you are, about people today, then we should be encouraged that our prayers are getting answered and the gospel is working in new ways. At worst we are seeing lots more sons and daughters of peace around. This is not a problem, but an encouragement that we are on the right track!

  11. I’m fascinated that you choose the term ‘collaboration’. Wouldn’t a kenarchic approach be ‘service’ instead? I realize even the term service (servant leadership for example) has been corrupted by the imperial spirit but I do think your choice was interesting. Collaboration occurs between equals. One is a servant to one’s superiors.

    Beyond the wordsmithing though I think we have a lot to think about here. What does this look like in an approach to the planet. In the imperial system there is nothing and no one more marginalized than the planet itself along with all other species. That is why we often dehumanize and animalize other humans in our language in order to impose the imperial system on them.

    And what does it look like day to day? I work in academia, an imperial system if there ever was one. How do I work differently from others who support the imperial spirit (knowingly or unknowingly)?

    Oh, and of course, there are gender issues raised here. We see it in the politics of reproductive choice all the time. What does that anti-imperial, kenarchic approach look like between men and women?

    Too many questions. . . but a great definition Roger,

  12. Hi Cheryl. Your point about the choice of words is an important one. You introduced the point about choice. This is still a key for me. There is often debate about it, but I believe choice is key. God is God, but he chose not to use his superiority to dominate or demand service. Instead he gave his power away by creating ‘in his image.’ He didn’t have to do this, but by choosing to do so he created humanity in the image of the collaborative trinity. So we have egalitarianism by gift and not by ‘right.’ But we do have it! I think this leads to a humble collaboration, not one arrived at by the gradual multiplication of sovereignty until we all have ‘human rights’ as my thesis and book traces. Your passionate questions about the rest of creation, are resolved for me by us showing that same quality of grace to the rest of creation.

    • The word collaboration may be important in that if we collaborate on something, for example I, as say the gospel representative in the process, maintain my humanity. This can be expressed as a quiet and sure dignity even in the face of the imperial spirit residing within the other, those with whom I seek to collaborate. As such, it acts as a simple rebuke to the imperial spirit and calls upon the other to respond rightly to my own and her/his own humanity. Kind of reminds me of Martin Buber’s I and Thou. Note: I read that book 30 years ago and have prayed daily since then that Christ stand between me and any others with whom I interact. It is the presence of the Holy Spirit between us that allows for real collaboration and release from the imperial spirit. c.

  13. Great definitions! Apart from anything else, they are so accessible/understandable – a ‘way in’ that lays a good foundation for both books, I would say. I agree that using the rights words is so important. As I suggested in an earlier post, words can be chosen which serve empire in their inferences and tendency to assume or usurp control. I remember an amusing incident where a Brazilian friend (you will remember Paulo B, Roger) not long in the UK, whilst teaching repeatedly translated the Portuguese word for commitment (‘compromisso’) quite understandably as ‘compromise’! This mis-translation amused those who knew him, while slightly unnerving the general congregation of listeners. Of course, it changed the meaning of much of what he was saying 180 degrees! But it was intriguing to listen to and sometimes the new version sounded better! ‘Compromise’ is usually seen as a bad word amongst Christians and ‘commitment’ good. But it all depends really, doesn’t it? Commitment to what? Compromise with what? Compromise really lies within the language of dialogue, negotiation and collaboration – a completely foreign language to those serving empire, but should be natural to kenarchic speakers!

    • Hi Phil, thanks for this. I’d forgotten Paulo’s understandable mistranslation! But I agree with you that the word compromise is by no means all bad. Increasingly, I would say, it’s the clue to loving collaboration and explains God’s dealings with the human race. We need to follow in his compromising steps towards one another, and even towards the law-temple-monarchy system. Paul’s “from now on we regard noone from a human point of view” (2 cor 5:16) implies this. Mike love seems to be developing this with his use of the word “disregard” with reference to the obstacles people and system place in our way. As |I develop in the final section of Church, Gospel & Empire. Jesus demonstrated against empire at the right moment, but walked within it when loving necessity required it. This is how we empty it of power.

  14. I really like the definitions, but I can’t help feeling that something is missing. I also wonder if the idea that through this people will discover the good news may be a little over-optimistic. Just to put some context on this, I am part of a church that once thought that because of our love for one another, people would want to become Christians and join us. They didn’t. They just thought we were weird. So, I think that your definition of love could end up with people just thinking we are New Age hippies rather than encounter God. Which I guess is also why I think there is something missing in the definition.

    • Hi Ken,
      I think I hear you. However I have had a life time of evangelism and church planting of the more overt kind, including the “people will be drawn by our love for each other” approach. In my experience it doesn’t work, a fact that partly motivated my research. So while the old mental and social patterns still tug at me, and perhaps at you too, I am deliberately resisting them because I believe them to be vestiges of a viral fall that hinder the good news and its genuine spread. As you can tell from the ecclesia video above, I simply do not think that the gospel has anything essentially to do with joining a particular constituted group of believers. I believe that this centripetal (pulling in) idea of the church is the oppositie of its true nature. Which is why the internalised love thing becomes stale and toxic after a while, and such groups usually split up or die out. If the church is understood as a centrifugal (spinning out) network of relationships, necessary to a body that exists for the good of the whole family of humanity, then the gospel is first of all inclusive, and not about us and them. Seen in this way repentance is away from an exclusive, imperial attitude to the world.

      • I love the comments on this and other threads. The collective wisdom and insight takes me ages to understand at times. It is way above my academic level of CSE education. However if I might be so bold. Surely the definition here simply describes the attitude and approach. In itself is that not complete? What needs to be worked out next is application. That, possibly is missing but I’m not so sure, it seems clear to me.

        Last night out of nowhere I was taken back 40 years to a 10 year old boy listening to and inspired by Come Together, the musical by Jimmy and Carol Owens. I loved it, lived it, and even as a 10 year old wept over it. I begged to take part in the local production but was refused. I was too young. I was just a child.

        I listened to it for the first time in 40 years last night and was astonished to find myself moved again like that 10 year old. Now I am in a very different life and world but the same heart surges. I have worked in many expressions of church in the intervening 40 years but found all of them missed the point in one way or another. Pretty much as you describe Roger. Pretty bleak times some of it. I was lucky enough to lead two of them to death.

        Now I find myself in a leading role in a seemingly selfish and mean company owned by a seemingly selfish and mean man. All the stuff I worked at faithfully in church I am now driven to outwork here. I fight daily the spirit of meanness and have seen things slowly change. But sometimes I am forced to do some wacky stuff to bring in the kingdom. All the stuff we sang for years and never did much about it.

        For example, for months I have pressing for payrises for my blokes (justice). Excuses hiding behind difficult times etc have all been offered. “Yes” he acknowledges “fully deserved but not now one day” Finally in a pique of exasperation I have thrown down the gauntlet. If you really can’t afford it (I know he can) take it out of my wages. Hmm a bit foolish maybe, obviously the guys must never know but he will and will have to deal with the exposure of his meanness. At the same time you have to love him because he is trapped by his distorted morality and love of money. At the right times I can help him with that.

        So what of the 10 year old boy? I see clearly now I was snubbed unnecessarily, bless them. Health and Safety no doubt!!! I was filled with passion to get involved. I never thought that much about it since then but it has hindered me throughout my life. They taught me my passion was not enough and I believed them until last night. What nonsense!

        Suddenly I see clearly God’s grace is bigger than my master’s meanness and I will therefore prevail. (Please don’t think me that big and brave though, I know him and he will cough up) In the meantime those without power will get justice and what they are due.

        Obviously none of this is evangelism as I was taught but then honestly as I look at that 10 year old boy I think Sheesh they sold me up the river. Put away your passion and learn what it’s all about first!!! What other nonsense have I picked up from my teachers along the way?

        Thank you Roger for helping to sort our thinking out. Without a doubt we need a new approach.

        We can and will change the culture without talk of conquering and all the other crap of empire. It may hurt a bit at times but it will lead to some interesting conversations I think!

        I hope this is what you are talking about? If I have gone off track I apologise.

  15. I really appreciate these comments of yours, ‘passionate’ (I don’t know what else to call you!)

    • Thanks Phil, and no Doug, you haven’t got off the track from what we’re talking about. You are right on it!

  16. Dear Roger, I’ve been thinking over the concepts I feel you’re getting at “While grappling with how best to communicate the fall of the Church and the difference between love and empire”. i wondered have you done any cross over study in related areas but outside theology to see what has been researched and works/doesn’t work and how best to communicate it? i feel that if you want to communicate with and help bring growth in the church (what ever we take that to mean) maybe the word “imperial” may be a little aggressive and dare i say it judgemental and therefore alienate the very people who in practice should be your best allies. there seems to me to be a lot of management style theory around but there is some good research that has been done as a result of it. maybe some of it could help “root” the kenarchy ideals in practical examples. one of the key theories i found is “non-hierachacal structure” and along with the ubiquitous wikipedia pages on leadership and management styles i found this one to be quite a good summary and link to others it may help clarify what exactly you mean by empire in practice and find ways of seeing what alternatives actually work in practice. I really really want kenarchy to work. God bless you. Yours in Christ, Liz

    • Hi Liz, Thanks for such practical comments. Some of what influenced me to head down the path of investigating empire were the honeycomb type management models we encountered when trying to find new ways of structuring the ecclesia. Back then I was involved in experiments in church planting, and flat models were helpful, and I certainly favour them as far as possible for all types of organisational endeavour. But the problem as I still see it, is the hidden structures on which these helpful relations generally sit.
      I think the critical moment we are in is one for exposing the deep structures that oppose the gospel of love and the complicity of the people of God in their formation. I am surprised that more people don’t find my work judgemental and aggressive, but relatively few seem to, so I’ll keep pursuing the loving motive and risk the fall out!

      • I have no doubts at all about your loving motives. I’ve actually seen the word “imperial” used a couple of times recently in primarily negative and destructive ways. It’s a concept that’s been around a little while now and as I’m sure you’re aware can be used in way that is mainly knocking as opposed to your way which is principally to put something positive in it’s place. I’ve also sort of accidentally been witness to a couple of conversations on fb among national level british christian leaders who I greatly respect and who i am more or less certain are not the people who your work is directly aimed at, but they are ending up on the defensive within “christendom” because some people are knocking all “church” hence the discussions about throwing the baby out with the bath water. one of the sticks that is being used to hit them with is the word “imperial” . i dont suppose you can do anything to stop this. i just want your ideas to be as accessible as possible so that instead of the destructive forces that want to divide christians into having to take sides, those who have positive things to contribute can come in to augment not destroy what we already have.

        i was part of a new church for the first time in 1975 in lincoln. it was wonderful. but it feels now like history is repeating itself – that again we’re in search of some of the very things we were looking for then which had come with the charismatic renewal. what happened to “bind us together”? priesthood of all believers ? humble elderships ? did we get swallowed up by other influences who, in wanting “restoration” made much stronger and exciting leadership, but unwittingly put in place the opposite of the we’re all in this together work that God was also doing. Are we incapable of mending leaders so they can be more confident in anointing, without crushing the mending that had been happening amongst “laity” who had also been learning to walk in anointing too. ?!

  17. Jesus went to the cross knowing that many would not receive him. “While we were yet sinners,” right? There was always an “if” involved on the part of those who were to receive. As Darrell and I were sitting here talking about your post, we wondered what we might say trying to explain this. We wanted to add more risk into your statement on what love would say. Something that might begin with, “If you will…” or “We see your gift and hope you may be able to receive ours…” Making sure that there is “free air,” as Penn would have said, to dissent as well as consent. Seems like there is pressure in your question that begins with “Will you” because to refuse may be implicating with the idea of freedom to dissent (and may lead to being marginalized). To remain in community even if we don’t agree or collaborate is powerful demonstration of love.

    Therefore, we would want to take out the word “collaboration” as it is a signifier for Western time driven agendas. If I understand native, island people, which with we are familiar, they are event driven and a “let’s see what happens after we hang-out a while” attitude.

    In any event, your post has provoked us to think more on this.

    Oh, and one more thing. Empire also says we have more money than you (which I suppose is summed up in strength) but we would add it to distinguish between physical might.

    Love to you!

  18. Thank you Lorrie and Darrell for these insightful comments. They have got me thinking to such an extent that I’m going to reply in a new post, rather than simply commenting here!

  19. Hi Roger, thank you very much for coming up to Canada’s north, looking forward to meeting you again.

    • Thanks Vera,
      It was an honour to meet with you. I, too, look forward to the next time!

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