Posted by: rogermitchell | October 11, 2013

Jesus is fully political

One of the biggest obstacles to understanding Jesus, is our failure to understand how political he is. Much of my work involves explaining this, and uncovering the mindsets and reactions that make it so difficult for many people to grasp it. I know that my vocabulary and grammar is sometimes complex, but I’m still of the opinion that it is the content of my writing that people who find me difficult to understand are really struggling with. Above all it is the idea that Jesus is political, and that to be a disciple of his makes us political too!

Of course I don’t refer primarily to party politics, but to the political itself. As the Readers Digest Oxford Complete Wordfinder puts it, “public life and affairs as involving authority and government.” In Greek polis, from which we get politics, referred to the ancient Greek city-state. Politics now refers to the way that people behave towards each other and are organized and the underlying thought patterns and social structures that uphold these things. Nevertheless it is silly to think that the politics of Jesus will not impact our assessment of today’s political leaders and their parties. They did in his day and they do in ours.

There are 4 main reasons for concluding that Jesus is fully political:

1) He introduced himself publicly by announcing the presence of “the kingdom of God” when another government already existed. This was the government of the Roman emperor Tiberius Caesar, who already described himself in terms of a god with a kingdom. The “good news” or “gospel” of the kingdom of God was an immediate challenge to the political status quo or existing politics of the day from the start. It still is.

2) Jesus’ way of government is so radical that it challenges the very nature of authority itself. The kingdom of God, or what some of us these days refer to as kenarchy, is not so much an alternative to the present arrangement as a completely new politics. Instead of authority being through the dominance of law, war and money developed over centuries via the sovereign power of monarchy, republic or representative democracy, true authority turns out to be expressed by pouring out oneself and all that one has in love for others, even one’s enemies.

3) This alternative authority is demonstrated in the stories of Jesus as working out peace for the whole human race in at least seven distinctive directions: These are instating women, prioritizing children, advocating for the poor, identifying with the marginalized, caring for the creation, freeing prisoners and caring for the sick. It’s not hard to see that this kind of authority is very different to the main motivation of current Western politics that makes the first priority the freedom of trade and success of financial markets to the extreme benefit of the rich. Anything else comes after that.

4) The culmination of Jesus’ life demonstrated the climax of his political authority in confrontation with the power of empire. Our current Western political system is a direct descendant of Roman imperial power. Jesus’ death and resurrection is the proof both of the destructiveness of current politics then and now, and of the power of love to overcome it. This is the politics that Jesus and his disciples are all about. He and we are fully political.

As ever I’d like your comments please. This challenge to the normative views of so many so-called Christian and secular people needs to get out there!

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Responses

  1. I think this is a clear message Roger, and one I enjoyed reading. I have one or two observations.
    Jesus’ political manifesto begins with a strong call to repentance, with an emphasis too that ‘My kingdom is not of this world’. If we are to salt and light the social and political structures of society, we have to have something of that heavenly city with foundations running through our blood. The real battle is with the deeper spiritual powers that are behind the human face of government, and I’m not sure that political activism in and of itself is enough. Totally committed to incarnational theology of love and peace towards people, but we still need to bare the face of the lion towards the spiritual glue of evil that creates so many of these Babel towers of injustice.

    Simon Orton via Facebook

    • Yes, Simon, I agree. But repentance is so often portrayed as an inner experience related only to personal morality. The problem with many people is that they don’t see “the spiritual glue of evil” in the deep structures of society or the way they manifest in the everyday decisions of those in authority. As a result many professing Christians are passive participators if not active supporters of an inhuman system without realizing it. I am unashamedly a pentecostal-charismatic. If we are truly filled with the Spirit of Jesus then how can we be any less political activists than him?

  2. I’ve just finished reading “Why Nations Fail” and there the authors demonstrate that the cause of national failure is extractive economics led by an elite. What so often happens in a revolution is that one elite is replaced by another sometimes with the same political ideology and sometimes with one that appears radically different (Russian Revolution for example). Historically, many revolutions that involved the church were nothing more than a change in elites with extractive economic institutions remaining in place. So the fact that Jesus practices politics in a completely different way, upends the order that allows for elites to extract their wealth from everyone else, is critical. In fact it is the only true revolution. c.

    • Thanks for your usual razor clarity!

  3. I’ve read both your books on this and as a non academic who left school at 15 I have struggled with the language a bit but that aside I felt a resounding great yes to what you are saying. I now have questions to ask about my own alignments and ways of thinking! The renewing of my mind?… Thank you. Looking forward to the next book! Duncan

  4. Big thanks for such encouragement. The next book “Discovering Kenarchy” is a collection of contributions from practitioners. I just do the intro and first chapter. It’s well on the way and should be out sometime in the first half of 2014.

  5. Thanks again, Roger, for this. Though I found some of the academic language of kenarchy challenging, using the more common vernacular can also be problematic – not so much for its inherent difficulty, but because it means borrowing language which is often over-used, tainted and loaded with cultural baggage to communicate something that is fundamentally different at root. I find the idea of the ‘kenarchy of God’ a helpful term compared and contrasted with the more common term ‘kingdom of God,’ as a way of introducing the whole idea of kenarchy. Perhaps a term like ‘kingdom politics’ might arrest the attention of some to get passed their ingrained aversion to the idea of Jesus being political, as if to talk about the ‘politics of Jesus ‘ is some kind of betrayal of the originary Gospel message, when in fact it IS that message!

  6. The main challenge as I see it, is how do we get this message out there without it being seen as ‘Political’ as opposed to political. Jesus faced this challenge himself and I guess that was part of the point…but in my mind, especially with the current drive in the media to divide left vs right, that this would quickly be seen as a ‘Marxist agenda’ (and in part it certainly reflects neo-Marxist thought) and therefore dismissed by many ‘Christians’ who are so entrenched in western priorities.

    An example which horrified me recently, upon hearing of the atrocities caused by traffickers in the chocolate industry, one Christian clearly moved by the information and challenged to do something could only articulate the following ‘but if I change my shopping habits or lobby government and we stop these people from exploiting children they will only find another way to exploit them…and then I’ll have to change something else’! This was then used as a reason for not doing anything as it was too big an issue to deal with. Life is ‘Not Fair’ I have heard Christians say, some people ‘have’ and some ‘have not’ and it’s not long before you are hearing echoes of our Conservative government’s rhetoric, making this message suddenly become very Party Political.

    Malcolm

  7. Where the way of Jesus challenges party politics of left or right, we can’t shy away from it. And it seems to me that “woe to you rich,” “blessed are the poor” and “love your enemies” do tend to the left and not the right. But the spirit with which we love and challenge is key.

  8. I love the idea that ‘true’ authority comes is 6 general directions – ref-*They’re instating women, prioritizing children, advocating for the poor, caring for the creation, freeing prisoners and caring for the sick.* for which I tried to categorize some of the activities I have been involved in for the past 2 weeks. Some of the things I did can hardly amount to one direction, and have had been influenced by the value of money. However I feel something that needs to be recognised by all is the value of their time, and their direction, which, if they can point it to one of these virtuous outcomes, be it caring for the sick or priortising children, can truly make the world a better place. X

  9. I’m simple enough to believe that if we pursue these directions we can shift the economic foundations of capitalism, but not so naive as to think it won’t cost us personally in the process!

  10. An interesting look at religious women and their political actions to care for creation. c.
    http://grist.org/living/nuns-with-a-new-creed-environmentalism/

  11. So free market capitalism is the enemy? If that’s the enemy then you are for big government. And in what society has that ever worked? If we didn’t have the free market we would be like every other socialist society where if you are the bottom you stay there. What’s wrong with someone getting rich???? I’m not rich. But I don’t want some software engineers’ money. I didn’t earn it. That person happened to make something everyone wanted. In a socialist society there would be no motivation to innovate because government controls everything. It is true that if you work hard in America you can make a life. Why would people be coming here from other countries if capitalism is so bad?! That’s why they come!! Yeah some people take advantage of the system but that doesn’t mean the system is awful. People take advantage of everything so it means we just throw it all out???


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