Malcolm X once said, “I’m for truth, no matter who tells it.” Can you say the same? Even if that truth comes from people who call themselves “anarchists”? Christian anarchists hold that the temptation to mold society through political power is the very temptation that Jesus rejects (see proponents of Christian anarchy such as Alexandre Christoyannopoulos). Let’s stipulate, for the sake of discussion, that this is true. I agree that Christians are not to mold society through political power per se. Our aim is to submit to and join with Christ in molding, changing, and transforming society, i.e. people, through the ministry of God the Holy Spirit as citizens of the kingdom of God.
I also aim, however, to capitalize upon the political power available to us as American citizens so that 1) Christians might use their freedoms to follow the dictates of their conscience and 2) the church might be less-hindered from governmental constraint in carrying out it’s mission. I support Christians wielding political power so that they might constrain the government’s overreach and abuses. Any authentic transformation of society entails the changing of hearts and minds. This is a task I would reserve to the ministry of the church rather than the state as the church is messenger of the Gospel.
The philosopher and Christian anarchist, Jacques Ellul, believed that “a person can exercise political power only if he worships the power of evil” since “all powers, all the power and glory of the kingdoms, all that has to do with politics and political authority, belongs to the devil.” Must one worship the power of evil if they are exercising political power to preserve free speech and open discourse? These are politically powerful acts but not necessarily evil. The free exercise of religion ought to be defended politically so that the Church may be about it’s work.
The Christian anarchist view that the temptation to mold society through political power is the very temptation that Jesus rejects can actually serve as a rebuke of the statism of the religious left. It is the religious left in America who seek to advance their vision of the kingdom of God through government dictate. The “least of these” are to be served through the mechanisms of the state. The religious left seek more programs and bigger budgets which should never be cut or curtailed. After all, the government is doing the work of the kingdom.
Turning Ellul’s assertion on it’s head, progressive Christians believe one is worshiping, not the power of evil, but God himself through the exercise of this sort of political power. For the Christian left, political authority in the hands of the state does not belong to the devil. It is the means by which the Church fulfills its mission. History reveals, however, that the government makes for a very bad church.
Conservatives are not immune from the false hope of political power, either. Many conservatives view the electoral process as a means of impeding and perhaps reversing social decay. If we can just get the right candidates in Congress and the White House, if we can get the right Supreme Court justices, if we could repeal these laws, if, if, if. The next election is how we are going to turn things around.
Ellul had something to say about this, too. In this particular section from “The Subversion of Christianity,” Ellul is critiquing the revolutionist response to class conflict but the basic truth applies to all political persuasions.
Trust in no human means, for God will provide (we cannot say where, when, or how). Have confidence in his Word and not in a rational program. Enter on a way on which you will gradually find answers but with no guaranteed substance. All this is difficult, much more so than recruiting guerillas, instigating terrorism, or stirring up the masses. And this is why the gospel is so intolerable, intolerable to myself as I speak, as I say all this to myself and others, intolerable for readers, who can only shrug their shoulders.
Seeking political power is idolatry for Christian anarchists. I do not go that far, but there is a good lesson to be learned from the Christian anarchist critique of political power. Engaging the political process does not have to be idolatrous, but we ought to ask ourselves if the way we are treating politics is revealing a misplaced hope.
Christians ought to serve Christ and others through many forms of social engagement including political avenues but Ellul’s admonition ought to instruct us in our engagement, “Trust in no human means, for God will provide.” The politics of the Christian left and right would look different if more of us placed our hope in whom it belongs, not just for our own personal salvation, but also as we decide how best to serve others.