Posted by: rogermitchell | April 8, 2017

political theology or economic theology (6)

In my second post on this topic I pose the question “Does an unsubsumed oikos paradigm lend itself more to an egalitarian, incarnational approach to social relations than the polis paradigm, or is there an unsubsumed application of the polis paradigm that might be complementary to it?” My reading of Agamben up to this point leads me to conclude that an unsubsumed polis or city paradigm would simply apply a similarly unsubsumed oikos or household paradigm at a city, regional or national level.  This would look like the loving transcendent trinitarian oikos set out in the immanence of incarnation worked out in our homes and cities. Chapter Four of The Kingdom and the Glory, “The Kingdom and the Government,” helps explain why this has proved to be so problematic. The problem is rooted in the bifurcation that has occurred between “the kingdom” and “the government” at least in part as a result of the mystification of the oikonomia.

Agamben begins by introducing the figure of the wounded or mutilated king (roi mehaignié) from the legend of the Grail. He suggests that the figure “contains a kind of anticipation of the modern sovereign who ‘reigns but does not govern’” (p. 69). He then moves to examine the origins and implications of this formula in the early twentieth century discussion between Erik Petersen and Carl Schmitt. While Schmitt had located this separation of kingdom and government in the seventeenth century, Petersen found it in the dawn of Christian theology. Agamben suggests that despite their disagreements, an essential solidarity exists between them. “Both authors are, as a matter of fact, earnest enemies of the formula. Peterson, because it defines the Hellenistic-Judaic theological model that lies at the basis of the political theology he intends to criticise; Schmitt, because it provides a symbol and a key word to the liberal democracy against which he wages his battle” (p. 73). By the way, Hollerich brings clarification to Petersen’s apparent rejection of the polis paradigm when he points out that the kind of political theology which Petersen is against identifies political with monarchical, and is impossible within the context of an egalitarian trinity as revealed in the oikonomia mustērion “now made known” in incarnation. (

Agamben traces the genealogy of the separation of kingdom and government through a wide range of sources.  He starts with Numenius who had such an impact on Eusebius of Caesarea, before locating the philosophical paradigm of the separation in Aristotle’s Metaphysics. Quoting Aquinas’s commentary that “the separate good of the universe, which is the first mover, is a greater good than the good of order that is found in the universe,” he identifies the way that Aristotle defines transcendence in terms of separation and autonomy and immanence in terms of order, of the relation of everything with other things (p. 80). He then tracks back to Augustine to affirm that there is no simple separation but “immanent and transcendent order refer back to each other in a paradoxical coincidence which can nevertheless be understood only as a perpetual oikonomia, as a continuous activity of government in the world, one that implies a fracture between being and praxis and, at the same time, tries to heal it” (p.89).

What is important to notice here is that this fracture and paradox is necessary only if the oikonomia is inverted as mysterious but not if it embodies a relational culture revealed in the incarnation. So when Agamben returns to Aquinas and the way he develops a theory of providence in his commentary on the pseudepigraphic Liber Aristotelis de expositione bonitatis purae it is very important to keep this in mind. Agamben highlights the way that Aquinas’s theory of providence articulates the relationship between transcendence and immanence, general and particular, on which the machine of the divine government of the world is founded (p. 97). He then gives the historical example of Pope Innocent IV’s decretal Grandi which recognised King Sancho of Portugal’s brother the right to govern while his incapacitated brother held the kingship. “In other words the radical case of the rex inutilis lays bare the twofold structure that defines the governmental machine of the West. Sovereign power is structurally articulated according to two different levels, aspects or polarities. It is at the same time, dignitas and administratio, Kingdom and Government” (p. 99).

It is hard to overestimate the deeply subliminal impact of the separation of kingdom and government on all our thinking. It impacts our expectations of divine help in our personal wellbeing and security, and legitimates the democratic deficit between the promise and reality of good government. The distinction is so normative that it legitimates both totalitarianism and liberal democracy. What is important to remember here is that the theories of providence that set out to resolve such disjunctions and that underlie our contemporary democracies are in turn attempts to work out the separation between kingdom and government that is the consequence of the mystification of the oikonomia. This is the subject of the following chapter, “The Providential Machine” which we will consider in the next post.

Posted by: rogermitchell | March 20, 2017

political theology or economic theology (5)

In chapter three of The Kingdom and the Glory “Being and Acting,” Agamben sets about demonstrating where the inversion of Paul’s “economy of the mystery” into “the mystery of the economy” takes us. It results in a separation between being and doing, principle and behaviour. As Agamben puts it, “distinguishing the substance of the divine nature from its economy amounts to instituting within God a separation between being and acting, substance and praxis” (p. 53).  He rightly, in my view, points to the theological shibboleth of creation ex nihilo as a result of this separation (p.56). He also suggests that the Arian dispute is best understood as a manifestation of it, and not really about chronological precedence or a problem of rank between the Father and the Son but “rather a matter of deciding whether the Son – which is to say, the word and praxis of God – is founded in the Father or whether he is, like him, without principle, anarchos, that is, ungrounded” (p. 57).

Agamben goes on to show that “the fracture between being and praxis is marked in the language of the Fathers by the terminological opposition between theology and oikonomia” (p. 60).  He cites first Eusebius of Caesarea and then the Cappadocians, particularly Gregory of Nazianzus, as examples of two modes of oikonomia in relation to Christ. As I have pointed out in Church Gospel and Empire, for Eusebius this meant downplaying the gospel testimony to the point that he barely mentions it in preference to a Christology rooted in imperial sovereignty. For Gregory, theology refers to the application of “lofty names to the divinity, and to that nature in Him which is superior to passions and incorporeal” whereas economy means “all humble names to the composite condition of Him who for your sakes emptied Himself and was Incarnate” (p. 61).

Agamben concludes that this Patristic distinction continues to impact contemporary theology in terms of the opposition between an immanent and an economic trinity. On the one hand is the mysterious trinitarian Godhead, on the other is the loving relational trinity that extends egalitarian love and justice into the world through creation and redemption. A tension that Agamben tellingly suggests reduces God’s providential government of the world to a kind of bipolar machine (p. 62). Understanding this, I suggest, is highly relevant right now and lies behind the current so-called “post-truth” era where governmental will and authority are separated from personal and corporate ethics.  If knowledge is necessarily relational, then character and action are integral. If, however, the being of a person is separable from their actions, then truth is uncertain.

My thesis indicates that the empire assumption subsumed our theological understanding of divine being. Agamben traces the way in which oikonomia came to incorporate the same subsumption via the inversion of “the economics of the mystery” into “the mystery of economics.” So instead of the oikonomia revealing the nature of the God who acted well, a separation is introduced whereby a God beyond morality does good rather than is good. I emphasise again that one of the reasons that people find it hard to grasp the importance of this is that they have long assumed a mysterious sovereign God who does whatever he wants and whose ethics are secondary to his power. God, apparently by definition, does what he wants rather than necessarily acts out of love. It seems to me that resolving this disjunction is one of the most urgent tasks of contemporary theology. This is why I find Thomas Jay Oord’s work so attractive. His insistence on connecting God’s being and acting in terms of essential kenosis goes a long way towards accomplishing this.

Posted by: rogermitchell | March 18, 2017

political theology or economic theology (4)

Why am I once again immersed in Agamben before getting down to writing on the politics of love?

Before I go further with these posts and dig into the division between being and acting that Agamben traces in the story of the oikos and its oikonomia in the background to western thought and behaviour, I want to explain why I am doing this. Why is this important? It is because Agamben grasps the deep-structural concepts that underlie our language, understanding and actions and exposes their roots. I am convinced that love is basic to everything, and that a society based on it is not only possible, but essential for the overall wellbeing of the human race. However this is not obvious to most people, or if it is obvious it is nevertheless generally regarded as not possible. I believe that this is because we take for granted utterly basic assumptions about both social and political relationships. It is these assumptions that are the greatest obstacles to our communication. Paradoxically, we need a particular genre and vocabulary to uncover these assumptions. The combination of the covert assumptions and technical vocabulary make these most important of all realities quite difficult to get your head round. But we absolutely must attempt it if we are to recover and release the language and behaviour of love.

The core insight of my research is the recognition that the most significant building blocks of human life in our western world, what I call the deep structures, have been subsumed by unhelpful assumptions about the nature of authority and the shape of organisation. These assumptions suppose that self-orientated and hierarchical relationships on the basis of power, money and gender are necessary to the authority of government and the organisation of households. These assumptions displace and even exclude the possibility of love functioning as the fullness of authority and the proper shape of organisation. Two of the key words associated with authority and organisation are polis associated with city, and oikos associated with household.  So this is why Agamben’s work on their background and genealogy is so important. The aim of these posts is to arrive at a point where the city and the household are restored as a frame for outworking the way of love. So for those of you who are bothering to attempt to follow my exegesis of Agamben, thank you, and please engage as far as you are willing and able, because where we are heading is, I fully believe, where the zeitgeist, the future, the essential kenosis, the kenarchy at the heart of everything is taking us.

So your engagement, interaction and comments are very welcome.

Posted by: rogermitchell | March 15, 2017

political theology or economic theology(3)

Agamben argues that the concept of oikonomia in its basic pre-dogmatic, pre-theological formulation as “praxis ordered for a purpose” gradually disappeared in early church teaching (The Kingdom and the Glory p. 30).  He writes “It is the strategic operator that, before the elaboration of an appropriate philosophical vocabulary … allows a temporary reconciliation of the trinity within the divine unity”(p. 36). Temporary, because with what Agamben describes as “the Nicene-Constantinopolitan dogmatics” and I refer to as the fall of the church, “the oikonomia will gradually disappear from the Trinitarian vocabulary, and will be preserved only in that of the history of salvation” (p. 36).  My argument in Church, Gospel and Empire is that this ‘fall’ was the occasion when subsumption came to a head, and theology itself emerged as the carrier of an imperially compromised polis. What I understand from Agamben here is that this same subsumption was experienced by the concept of the oikonomia and from then theology mystified both politics and economics.

It is interesting to note that whereas the loss of the simplicity of incarnation in the inversion of ‘true’ and ‘mysterious’ in relation to the body of Christ happened a millennia after the fall of the church, the inversion of ‘the economy of the mystery’ and ‘the mystery of the economy’ paved the way for it. This Agamben shows in his careful exegesis of the second century writings of Tertullian and Hippolytus of Rome. As he summarises, “There is no economy of the mystery, that is, an activity aimed at fulfilling and revealing the divine mystery; it is the very ‘pragmateia,’ the very divine praxis, that is mysterious” (p. 39). This resulted in the mystification of the trinity. Instead of trinity being a simple outcome of the mystery hidden in God being made known, it is mystified in such a way that sovereignty can remain within it (p. 42). This is something that I draw on Beatrice to argue, also in Church, Gospel and Empire (p. 51).

From Nicaea on, the trinity consists in a theological formulation mystified by sovereignty and oikonomia was no longer seen to refer to the pragmatics of how the loving divine household is shared with the body of humanity.  Agamben cites Clement to show how it came to refer instead to the mysterious machinations of divine providence in history (p. 44). Highlighting Clement’s conjunction of oikonomia and providence (pronoia) Agamben points out that Clement “initiates the process that will lead to the progressive constitution of the duality of theology and economy, the nature of God and his historical action” (p. 48). This he goes on to explore in chapter three “Being and Acting.”  Suffice it to say here, that this rupture is the result of mystifying the pragmatics of God’s love with the baggage of subsumed sovereignty and justified all manner of unloving acts in his name. Agamben quotes Photius to show that by the sixth and seventh centuries oikonomia is already beginning to take on the meaning of Agamben’s famous ‘exception,’ (p. 49) the hidden conditions in which law and history can be suspended in order for the covert principle of sovereign power to be upheld.

The relevance of all this for today, in our postsecular world, is to call for an unsubsumed paradigm of oikos to be aligned with an unsubsumed paradigm of polis. Both economics and politics need to be recovered from the centuries of empire and set free from the delusion that overall wellbeing comes through sovereignty.  Only a reconfigured, incarnational, economic and political theology can help us achieve this.

Posted by: rogermitchell | March 8, 2017

political theology or economic theology (2)

Mike Love’s comment on the previous post shows how prevailing the paradigms of oikos and polis are. He points out from his reading of Warren Magnusson’s Politics of Urbanism: Seeing Like a City that Magnusson suggests the oikos as the paradigm within which human relatedness can flourish peaceably, rather than the polis, which he sees as gendered and prone to war. But it sounds like Magnusson recognises that there is an unhelpful use of oikos as well as a positive one: “In turn the economy cannot be human centred and autonomous but must be seen within the wider ecology of the whole of creation.” This seems to be a recognition that there is a way of seeing the economy that is, in my terms, “subsumed by sovereignty,” and remains in tandem with the polis paradigm. I haven’t read Magnusson and hopefully Mike can give us some more insight into this from his own reading.

If there is an oikos paradigm or a set within it that carries the same peace through sovereignty assumption as the polis paradigm, then is not surprising that it can give rise to an imperial biopolitics. As I quoted in the previous post, Agamben describes this as “the current triumph of economy and government over every other aspect of social life.” Agamben would appear to underline this further in the initial paragraphs of “The Mystery of the Economy” (chapter two of The Kingdom and the Glory). Here he points out that both Aristotle and Xenophon recognise the distinction between the house and the city. Quoting both Aristotle’s Oeconomica and Politics, where the distinction is already obvious, and Xenophon’s Oeconomicus, he distinguishes between the polis which is the sphere of the politician and the king, and the oikos which are the sphere of the house and family.

However, Agamben emphasises that the oikos for Aristotle and Xenophon and their contemporaries is no modern single or extended family group, “but a complex organism.” Aristotle divides this into three groups: “‘despotic’ relations between masters and slaves (which usually include management of a farming business of substantial dimensions); ‘paternal’ relations between parents and children; ‘gamic’ relations between husband and wife.” While these relations are distinct from the legal governmental relations assigned to the polis, they have, as Xenophon clearly defines, an administrative nature that has to do “first and foremost, with their ordered arrangement” (Agamben, The Kingdom and the Glory, pp. 17-18). What is clear here is that the oikos paradigm, while distinct from the polis paradigm, carries the same hierarchical assumptions.

It follows that polis and oikos are part of the same wider subsumption of thinking about sociopolitical relationships by what I call “the peace through sovereignty” model. This makes Paul, when read through an incarnational lens, radically counterpolitical to what’s come before. An oikos mystified by assumptions about despotic relationships, hierarchy, paternalism, and the like is immanently de-mystified by the kenarchy of Jesus and Paul, the “oikonomia mustērion” now made known (Eph 3:9) where imperial relationships between slaves and masters, parents and children and husbands and wives are subverted by love.

So for further discussion, as we proceed, does an unsubsumed oikos paradigm lend itself more to an egalitarian, incarnational approach to social relations than the polis paradigm, or is there an unsubsumed application of the polis paradigm that might be complementary to it?

More on Agamben’s insights on this, particularly in relation to early theological formulations of the trinity, over the coming days…

Posted by: rogermitchell | March 7, 2017

political theology or economic theology (1)

Preparatory to writing on the politics of love, I’m currently immersed in Giorgio Agamben’s The Kingdom and the Glory. As is generally my experience with getting my heart and head around his writing, I keep finding the need to return to the beginning. This is decidedly easier with his shorter works, indeed it is an advantage for the reader that I have tried to follow with my own shorter books. Anyway, this to explain why I am back on page one. And Agamben himself can hardly complain about being exegeted on the basis of his first page when his The Time That Remains is proffered as an exposition of Paul’s epistle to the Romans and is likewise focused on Paul’s initial statements in Romans chapter one!

Agamben proposes two paradigms underlying “the global arrangement of Western society”. The first he characterises as political theology “which founds the transcendence of sovereign power on the single God” and the second as economic theology, “which replaces this transcendence with the idea of an oikonomia, conceived as an immanent ordering – domestic and not political in a strict sense – of both divine and human life.” He sees political philosophy and the sovereignty of modernity as deriving from the first paradigm and modern biopolitics (“the current triumph of economy and government over every other aspect of social life”) as deriving from the second (Agamben, The Kingdom and the Glory, p. 1.)

Thus far my work has regarded the second of these paradigms as continuous with the first, and the shift from the first to the second as the result of rejecting a subsumed transcendence without the sovereignty by which it was subsumed. I therefore regard biopower as the consequence of applying sovereignty to the immanent secular sphere while the cultural trappings that surrounded premodern transcendence continue to affirm sovereignty but without any counterpolitical transcendent authority. I can find no reason to backtrack on this. But, as ever, I continue to find Agamben a fertile source for insight into the genealogy of our contemporary crisis.

My question as I explore his thesis is what can we learn from his proposal of two paradigms in this way? For I also propose two historical paradigms, which I have characterised as “peace through sovereignty” and “peace through kenarchy.” So of particular interest to me is the possibility that economic theology can be aligned with what I have called the love stream, but that biopolitics regarded as the triumph of economy and government properly belongs with the first paradigm, because government is still viewed as the exercise of sovereign power.

However, I do think that Agamben is onto something in his exposure of the inversion of what Paul terms “the economics of the mystery” in Eph 3:9  into “the mystery of the economy.” My hunch is that this is similar in impact to the 12th century inversion of the corpus verum and corpus mysticum exposed by Henri de Lubacs. Just as the latter allowed for the mystification of transcendence away from the gospel testimony of Jesus and his body, so this earlier inversion paved the way for the mystification of the loving this-worldly transcendence encapsulated in Jesus’ prayer “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” As a result the practical outworking of Jesus’ economic theology has been mystified by all manner of ceremonial and imperial glory to the exclusion of the glory of love.

More to follow….

Posted by: rogermitchell | February 1, 2017

Stuff I’ve written makes sense of what’s happening right now

The following section of my book The Fall of the Church (Wipf & Stock 2013) summarizes the conclusions of my research set out in more detail in my book Church, Gospel and Empire: How the Politics of Sovereignty Impregnated the West (Wipf & Stock 2011). I make five points which are all playing out in front of our eyes. Given that the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation coincides with Brexit and Donald Trump, the failure of the Reformation to truly change things and reverse the Constantinian sovereignty delusion is written large. The inability of the nation state to safeguard the poor and marginalized is exposed for all to see and the fact that fascism and so-called liberal representative democracy are on the same political spectrum is exemplified by the extremes of Brexit and Donald Trump’s America. Neither state communism nor global capitalism can help us now and the real hope for future peace is neither a partnership in sovereignty nor the misguided secular attempt to separate sovereignty from transcendence but the rediscovery of a politics based on a radical transcendence free from sovereign power. This is what I wrote in 2013:

“The simple narrative of the subsumption, or colonization, of transcendence by sovereignty that I am putting forward here, strikes at the heart of all the favored shibboleths surrounding the four defining events of modern Western history referred to above. It also challenges what I perceive to be the fifth, newly emerging one.

To begin with it sets aside the view that the Protestant Reformation brought about a fundamental reform of the Western church and society. While recognizing that the Reformation introduced many to a direct experience of God and made significant inroads into the absolute politics of the sovereign hierarchies of church and empire, this soon transitioned into new forms of hierarchical power represented by the sovereignty of the People, the nation state, and the new capitalism that undergirded it.

Secondly, instead of viewing the nation state and its supposed separation of church and state as a positive development, it sees the nation state as the dependent child of the partnership of church and empire. From this perspective the assumption that the Western democratic nation state upholds the separation of politics and religion is an unjustifiable deception.

Thirdly, rather than regarding the Second World War as a defining fight between an evil fascist empire and a now free West, it contends that the difference between Nazi Germany and the previous empires of Europe was only one of degree. It asserts that its mistake was to attempt the same kind of colonial superiority in the homelands of Europe that the previous European empires had exercised in the more distant continents of Africa, Australasia, and America. Fascism and so-called liberal representative democracy are on the same political spectrum as each other.

Fourthly, it makes the same point about communism and capitalism and suggests that the only fundamental difference between communism and capitalism is that one relies on a socialist form of sovereign power whereas the other relies on a capitalist form. Hence it is to be expected that the collapse of communism in the East, far from vindicating the superiority of the capitalist system of the West, prefigures its inability to deliver the still-expected peace and its own rapid and inevitable decomposition.

Finally it challenges the postmodern insistence that a total break has occurred between the modern world of certainty and moral absolutes and the postmodern world of relativism and pluralism. Based on their opinion that the former disciplinary society was dependent on an enduring transcendence for its operation, Foucault and others with him tried to protect postmodernity from any resurgence of the oppression of Christendom while retaining some hope for a coming peace. Actually the insight and the hope of prophetic thinkers like Foucault and the neo-Marxists could be strengthened by the recognition that biopower is simply part of the genealogy of church and sovereignty. Once we recognize that the subsumed version of the salvation story has consolidated the idea that sovereignty must be bought at the cost of violent victimhood for there to be peace, then it is not hard to see how the nation state ends up devouring itself and its people in order to sustain its sovereignty. As Foucault explains, human life, or biopower, has become the raw material of the machine that drives the Western political system.

From this standpoint it is possible to see that our contemporary conundrum is more than the result of losing Jesus’ loving kenotic lordship, forming a consequential conflictual partnership in sovereignty, and then blaming each other for the destructive fall out. It also presents contemporary evidence of the final destination of the pursuit of sovereignty. Instead of a place of peace, sovereignty reduces humanity to the fodder of the Western capitalist system. Here, the only real value of human life is to supply the circular routine of feeding the sovereignty that oppresses it, and in order to preserve the domination system, I become its victim. The marginalization and powerlessness felt by Christians and secularists alike is coming neither from transcendence nor the fear of it but from the age-old belief that human beings need sovereign power to fulfill their present and future hope for peace. It is a false hope consolidated in the subsumption of transcendence by sovereignty, its embrace by the church, the West’s subsequent narrative of domination, and its various attempts to escape its oppression until its final descent into biopower. It is the message of this book that the real hope for future peace is neither a partnership in sovereignty nor the misguided attempt to separate sovereignty from transcendence but the rediscovery of a transcendence free from sovereign power.”

If you’ve not read The Fall of the Church yet, you can get it by emailing me at or from if you are in North America  If you are in the UK you can get it from

Posted by: rogermitchell | December 24, 2016

My Mum Priscilla Lily Mitchell

We buried my Mum the day before yesterday, she died just short of 103. Mum has been an extraordinary woman. Her indomitable spirit, rooted in a challenging and difficult childhood, tempered with a conscious encounter with God at the early age of eight has made her a highly significant other to many, from her first 30 years in Wimbledon, 10 in Stony Stratford, 58 in Hemel Hempstead and the last 5 in Silverdale and Arnside. We celebrated her life and gave her a good send off at South Hill Church Hemel Hempstead before burying her alongside my Dad in the local cemetery. There were some moving tributes, and many have asked for a record of the poetic tribute given by my son Chris. For those her knew her it encapsulates something of her remarkable personality. For those who didn’t it may resonate as a beautiful summation of a particular kind of lady!

If you like to read and enjoy it click this link: nana

Posted by: rogermitchell | November 11, 2016

We need love now more than ever

I’m not surprised that Donald Trump won the American Presidential election. It is evidence again of the new political space, now approaching a chasm, that has been opening up between the rich and powerful and the rest in the Western world since the economic crisis of 2008.

As I see it, that crisis was evidence of the failure of the sovereignty delusion and the biopolitical system with which it has culminated. As I expose in my research, peace does not come through sovereign power exercised by the rich and powerful through violent military force, diplomacy, law and money in its various transformations throughout the history of the West. This despite the late twentieth century attempts of the Chicago economic school of neo-liberal capitalism embraced by Thatcher and Reagan to let loose the supposedly benevolent hand of the market to create billions of pounds to provide loans to global companies, the commercial property sector, the financial services sector and private property mortgages. That led to rampant globalisation and resulted in primary and secondary industries shifting to where the highest profits could be made.  At the same time it created a property bubble that inflated house prices to the point that mortgages were so large that those at risk through the globalisation shifts, job losses and income insecurities could no longer pay the interest. So the banks and government-backed mortgage companies like Fannie Mae in the USA were threatened with bankruptcy together with the nation states who were their direct or indirect security. Hence the government bailouts, austerity, foreclosures and cuts that have left significant sections of society either actually outside the mainstream socio-economic world or at least consciously struggling to stay within it.

The tragedy is that for those who desperately desire change both in the UK and the USA, and voted for Brexit and Trump, the assumption remains that gaining or regaining sovereign power is the means to achieve it. But it’s not, and Trump with his tower of wealth cannot make America great again in sovereignty terms any more than Brexit will benefit the socially and economically disenfranchised of the UK. The truth is that what is happening is the long drawn out death of empire and there’s no stopping it. Actually this is not all bad, although there will be much pain in the short term.

But there is another way, and the constant recourse to sovereignty simply emphasises how much we need to find it. We need to cultivate this now enormous emerging political space not with the dark forces based on scapegoating perceived aliens and enemies and reconfiguring sovereignty for the promotion of me and mine, but with a completely different kind of power. Rather we need to recognise that the sovereignty system is incapable of bringing peace and is now in terminal breakdown and embrace another direction and lifestyle within and despite it.

Today the Richardson Institute for Peace Studies (the RI) are holding an Infrastructures for Peace day here at Lancaster University with the express purpose of exploring and strengthening other ways than sovereignty with which to cultivate the emerging new political space. Since 2013 the RI has taken up the concept of positive peace developed by Johann Galtung to pre-empt the kind of conflicts currently rampant in many parts of the world. Via the RI Critical Thinking Group we are working to develop a culture of positive peace locally across the region of Morecambe Bay as the means to transcend our current impasse and cultivate the new political space that has opened up. My friend and colleague Dr Jim Paris has laid out our strategy in his two helpful papers that trace the outcome of our meetings and discussions over the last two years.  Based on Galtung’s approach we are working for:

  1. A well-functioning government
  2. A sound business environment
  3. An equitable distribution of resources
  4. An acceptance of the rights of others
  5. Good relations with neighbours
  6. Free flow of information
  7. A high level of human capital
  8. Low levels of corruption
  9. Securing development within and between regions and states that recognises the limits of the earth’s resources

The aim of the day is to progress a culture of peace locally by profiling and developing infrastructures that facilitate the terms of positive peace in Morecambe Bay and to be a catalyst that will inform and encourage others.

One key initiative which we hope will help further these goals locally is the newly forming Morecambe Bay Poverty Truth Commission with its wonderful strap line “nothing about us without us is for us” which exists to place first-hand experiencers of the social alienation we are talking about here at the head of the movement for change.

But  alongside all this I am becoming increasingly convinced that kenarchy is an important potential component of positive peace. It is very encouraging to have both national and local community partners of the RI joining us for the Infrastructures for Peace day who have completed the Political Theology for Peace module that specifically investigates and evaluates this.  (Still time to enrol for this coming Lent Term). While based on the Western Christian narrative it deals with the displacement of the kind of love that the neo-Marxists Hardt and Negri call for in their analysis of the Western sovereignty system in order to motivate a new movement among the multitude. John Burton, one of the early pioneers of Peace Studies and founders of the Conflict Research Society called for a return to the same in the final years of his life.

Today I shall make a call for a politics of love more strongly than ever.  Our current situation in the West demands it.  Nothing less will deeply transform our socio-political culture.  As I’ve previously made clear I really like Thomas Jay Oord’s definition of the word for love found in the testimony of Jesus where he calls us to love our neighbour as ourselves. “To love is to act intentionally out of sympathetic/ empathetic response to God and others to promote overall wellbeing.” As I have emphasised in Discovering Kenarchy this love needs to extend to our enemies real or supposed if we are to transform the increasingly conflicted social world of the sovereignty delusion. But we need more than a theoretical definition, or moral imperative. We need to discover love as the apostle Paul describes when he says that love has got him in its grip. We need to discover love as power, as an actual socio-political cultural force.

Posted by: rogermitchell | October 1, 2016

God is about mercy, not sacrifice, and no sparrow is forgotten!

I originally posted this piece back in 2011. I notice that it is still of interest to recent clickers and surfers on this blog and think it may be helpful to current students of my Westminster Theology Centre module on Peace, Reconciliation and the Politics of Jesus.

Here are the key statements of Jesus on which I wish to comment: “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mat 9:13) and “Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God” (Luke 12:6).

In order to get to the heart of Jesus’ take on the whole idea of payment and appeasement as a means of relating to God, I think it will help to look at these two sayings of Jesus together. There is something so crucial to his deliberate subversion of the whole empire domination system here, that motivates him to tell the Pharisees in no uncertain terms to “go away and learn what this means.” I suggest that this is central to the mindset change that Jesus wished to accomplish in the incarnation. After all, the sacrifice system and its outworking takes up a significant part of the law and the prophets which he claimed to fulfil.

In a previous post on katargēsis and the temple (April 29th 2011) we have already considered the way that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection brought the whole temple liturgy to an end. He did this by carrying through all that was good from it into his own life and subsequently that of his body of followers. So by insisting that the Pharisees, who were seeking to maintain the law and liturgy, learnt the deeper implications of his desire for mercy not sacrifice, it follows that he was implying that at a deep structural level the temple system itself was about mercy, and not about sacrifice. So what was sacrificed was not about payment and appeasement at all, but about mercy, or as alternatively rendered, compassion. It is very important to get hold of this.

Jesus is not saying that because God is sovereign, and we have offended him by not recognising his authority and keeping his law, we are under his angry condemnation, but then the sacrifice system provides a secondary way of mercy by paying off his intrinsic sovereign offence and anger. It is rather that his mercy is what defines him and not his offended power. God is not an angry God needing to be appeased. He is a merciful, compassionate God desiring mercy and compassion to be shown to all and lived out by all.

Looked at this way the sacrifice system is revealed by the teaching and attitude of Jesus, to be about the primacy of God’s mercy and in need of being re-understood in this way. This is where the sparrow comes in. Because if even “a sparrow that falls” moves God’s heart, how much more does a pigeon, a lamb, a goat or a bull, and even a sheaf of corn. The issue is clearly not monetary value but emotional, creational compassion. Sin is revealed as that which elicits God’s compassion, not his anger, condemnation and offence.

With every sacrifice throughout the whole tabernacle and temple period, God’s heart was shown to be overwhelmed by the effects of human sin, and to be bearing it together in his own heart with the bodies of living manifestations of his own deeply loved creation. The purpose of the sacrifice was not to appease God but to demonstrate and carry away the effects of sin. Sin viewed in this way is that which is unloving and unmerciful, and hurtful of God’s own compassionate heart and creation, not what offends God’s person, hierarchical position or sovereign rule.

This takes a long time to grasp, because God’s sovereignty and its offence is the teaching about God that lies at the foundation of Christendom with its marriage of church and empire. But it is not this kind of God that is revealed in the incarnation, and it is in the light of the incarnation that the Christian disciple is called on to understand and interpret life and the universe, particularly the Old Testament, and not the other way round.

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