Posted by: rogermitchell | December 26, 2013

the authority of love

Thank you to all my long suffering friends and guests who keep visiting this blog in hope of new material!
There have been several draft posts recently that never made it online, as I’ve worked away at material I’m still struggling to make sense of. This question of love as authority was the subject of discussion at a kenarchy study weekend here at the friary two weekends ago. I think I eventually made clear what it is that I’m trying to clarify, but only just!

As we have been reminded once again this Christmas time, in the words of the ancient prophecy “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”(Is 9:6).
Basically it is the practical nature of this loving government, or authority, that I have been focusing on for many months, work that now needs to culminate in two current writing projects: my contribution to the coming collection on Discovering Kenarchy, and a chapter for a Catholic collection of essays on Kenotic Authority. Both are due in January together with the intensive teaching weekend of the Political Theology for Peace postgraduate distance learning module that I am convening here at Lancaster University PPR Department. So I have quite a bit on my plate currently!

While working on all this, I encountered a delightful Muslim woman who has been previewing kenarchy and summed it up in conversation with me as “emptying out religion.”
By religion she clearly meant what I have called transcendence subsumed, or colonized, by sovereignty. Viewed in relation to this, the authority of love trumps the authority of sovereignty by undoing it. So it is not a competing form of authority, but a totally different kind. Love is a totally different kind of authority to sovereignty and ultimately undoes it altogether because it empties it out completely. Instead of an authority demanding obedience because it’s so much bigger, older, wiser or holier than me, we are talking about an authority that I follow because its love for me and through me motivates me to love others in the same way that I am loved.

My current thinking suggests that there are five key qualities of the authority of love all of which result from the first. This first is a relational encounter with love.
From this the other four all flow: this love disarms the powers, undoes empire, empowers the powerless and substantiates a new humanity.
Today we begin at the beginning and I hope to cover the four subsequent qualities over the remaining few days of 2013/ first few days of 2014.

1. A relational encounter with love is both the beginning and the end of the authority of love.
It is rooted in an encounter with a love that exceeds and overflows love for self to include one’s enemies to the point of death itself. It is not a policy or a program, let alone a system. It is embodied in the whole story of the incarnation and its climax in death and resurrection. This measures an unquenchable authority that ultimately carries all before it not because it insists on its own way, but because it willingly embraces the worst that any alternative force can do. This is what the cross is all about. It is the willing embrace of the worst deterrent or punishment that anyone can, will or might put in place to stop someone from acting in such a way as to ultimately damage or contradict the perceived self-interest of society.

It is the decision to love one’s enemies in a way that willingly embraces death at the hands of the existing political system if that is the outcome of loving others.

I have already blogged on this, but I am seeing more and more the significance of the of the way that Jesus introduced the cross from the start of his public teaching as the essential measure or symbol of what it meant to follow him, long before he began to point towards it as the literal and inevitable culmination of his life. In this way Jesus’ death and resurrection measures the heart of the practice and consequence of the government of love. It is heart of kenarchy from which all the further characteristics of the authority of love flow.


  1. Thank you Roger, I think that hits to the very heart of the matter. Love on that scale is difficult, if not impossible, for us to make sense of. We are so immersed in sovereignty that we instinctively resist such thinking. We easily recognise courage of sacrifice in others but I would suggest that for the most part we find it very difficult to embrace the deep lessons such acts teach us.

    For me it is only the “relational encounter with love” that starts the revelation working in our minds.

    Suffering, cruelty, pain and oppression are, tragically, often the best teachers about the authority of such love. People who respond with love in the face of such horrors find themselves understanding and perceiving it’s authority the best. It can and often does lead to the most spectacular demonstrations of sacrifice.

    It is what happens to the human mind and thinking as love is enacted in such circumstances that gives us great hope for the future. In this we see human behavior transformed beyond belief and recognition.

    There are enough practitioners out there to learn from and embrace what they glimpsed but we can only understand it fully if we learn to see the folly of sovereign power. Your unraveling of a couple of millenia of dodgy church thinking help tremendously in this process.

    Jesus provided the ultimate sacrifice and the early references to the cross showed he knew exactly what he was doing and where it would lead him. The gospels come alive when viewed through such a lens.

    Another practitioner of Kenarchy that has firmly caught my attention in the last 18 months is Etty Hillisum. A contemporary of Anne Franke that few have heard of. However this young girl in her mid twenties learned and was transformed by exactly what you are talking about. The exciting thing is we have an excellent record of her journey and achievement which is worth a look at.

    I look forward to your thoughts on the other qualities.

  2. Thanks for the comments Doug. Do you have a link for folk who want to follow up on Etty Hillisum on line?

    • Hi Roger,

      A good place to start is Carol Lee Flinders book,

      Becoming Etty:
      The Brief Incandescent Life of Etty Hillisum

      The following website provides various leads to follow and explore,


      • I am just starting to read an Etty Hillesum book that has just been posted to me as I requested from amazon.

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