Posted by: rogermitchell | February 25, 2013

The importance of civil disobedience

I have been promising a number of pithy statements about kenarchy in these weeks leading up to the Kenarchy Course while I am busy chasing the publisher’s deadline for the coming book The Fall of the Church

So another pithy statement about Kenarchy is:
Kenarchy restores civil disobedience to its crucial place in the practice of justice and equality.

Three accounts of Jesus’ actions in the temple bare this out. It’s important to remember that the temple in the gospel narratives does not mean simply the religious centre of first century Jewish life. The high priestly family of Annas & Caiaphas were the puppet representatives of Roman power in the south of Israel, just as Herod was in the north. So what happened in the temple implicated not just the Jewish authorities but the power of Rome behind them. Jesus’ first responsible act was to question the authorities in the temple, in the context of disobedience to his parents (Lk 2:42-52). Then John’s account of Jesus’ demonstration in the temple at the beginning of his public ministry specifically records his attack on the already strong alignment of the sacrifice system with monetary exchange (Jn 2:13-16). Finally, the synoptic account of the second demonstration in the temple at the end of Jesus’ ministry, compares Israel’s original covenant of blessing for the nations with the violent economics of empire described by Jesus as robbery (Mk 11:15-18).

Jesus public life was framed by acts of civil disobedience
At both the beginning and the end of this sequence the public challenge to the status quo was followed by a period of what can be called radical submission. Radical, because it proceeded in the aftershock of Jesus’ clear positioning of himself counter to the established authorities; submission, because rather than establishing himself in an alternative sovereignty he responds to their reactions in a loving spirit. This political rhythm of radical subversion and radical submission resounds throughout the Jesus’ story and is basic to kenarchy.

Once the church had become aligned with empire anything the Spirit of Jesus taught that was contrary to this was bound to be very difficult to receive.

So the teachings of Jesus or the apostles that seemed to vouchsafe the status quo were strongly emphasized. Hence Jesus’ advice to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” and Peter and Paul’s similar encouragements to submit to “the powers that be,” (Mk 12:17; 1 Pet 2:13-15; Rom 13:1-5) were applied without taking into account the radical acts of subversion that preceded them (Mk 11:15-17; Acts 4: 18-20, 23:1-5).

Without an understanding of the necessity of civil disobedience a genuinely egalitarian and just politics is outside the scope of the imaginable, let alone the possible.

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Responses

  1. The other day I read an account of a franchise here in North America. It employs trained bakers as its main product is bread and sandwiches. It markets itself on the quality of the bread products. So the bakers matter. But the bakers are drastically underpaid and frequently asked to do extra without compensation. So the bakers sought to organize and unionize. They have been massively opposed by the owner of the chain who explained to them, in a mandatory meeting, that as a Christian he loves them all and regards them as family. He was hurt that they felt abused and went to organize themselves. However, he was not so hurt that he fixed the problems or raised their pay. He then spent millions to legally oppose the organization of the union. As one baker explained – the owner had a different bible from the baker. c.

    • As you know from your own extensive experience, it’s all about the mindset or worldview people bring to their understanding of God, the Bible and life in general. Francis Schaeffer often used the word presupposition to describe it. He had plenty of his own as it turned out! Basically this guy is a serious example of how the partnership of church and empire is still operating. But if we make Jesus and the gospels our hermeneutic or interpretative lens through which to configure from God and his way in the world, its the poor and the multitude that we need to identify with and serve. We need to mobilize for the poor when the time is right, and civil disobedience is an important part of it. I think the church in Britain should have taken to the streets in protest when Margaret Thatcher was taming the unions. Sadly we did not.

      • I agree with you Roger – how things would be different if the church would give up its idolization of all things empire and actually follow the person it names as Lord. What really got to me in the comments by the good Christian owner was the line about the employees being his family. That was the same line used to justify slavery for many in early times in the USA. Nothing much seems to have changed. c.


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