“Anarchy now?” she asks politely.

image courtesy housingrights.com“The function of an ideal is not to be realized but, like that of the North Star, to serve as a guiding point.” – Edward Abbey

If there is anything about me that makes people think I’m a complete wingnut, either of the eccentric but harmless variety, or more in the dangerous-to-our-way-of-life mode, it’s my insistence on speaking positively about Christian Anarchism.  I mentioned C.A. in a comment on another blog last week & immediately got a few “What the what?” kind of reactions.  Someone asked me if I was hoping for the kind of government they have in Somalia.  Yep.  That’s exactly what I’m going for.

One commenter (Hi, new friend!) came to this blog to ask me to define Christian Anarchism.  This reminded me that I stink at defining it.  But if I’m going to insist on using the term in any positive way, I guess I’ve got some splainin to do.

The only post I’ve ever written on the subject was this one.  In it I shared the story of Striker telling one of her teachers that her mother was anarchist, leading to a request from the teacher that I explain myself.  A very reasonable request, and I tried to oblige.  But I didn’t share my entire response to the teacher here, and so I will now.  It’s very light and not at all a fulsome explanation (as if I could give one!), partly because this was written, after all, for my child’s teacher.  I didn’t want to be the cause of the teacher giving Striker the stink eye all year (guilt by parental association, you know), nor did I want to accidentally wind up on an FBI watch list.

So here’s what I wrote to the teacher:

Dear Mrs. _____________:

I understand that (Striker) said something about my political views and left you wondering about them. I wonder about them myself sometimes, so that’s understandable. 🙂

You can’t understand my posture toward anarchism without knowing my primary commitment to Jesus Christ. That’s not to change the subject – my entire political philosophy springs from being a follower of Jesus.

When I use the word “anarchism” we need to have some common definition. I’m not talking about advocating chaos, disruption or the violent overthrow of anything. I’m using anarchism as a posture of critique toward ALL power structures (not just governmental), and advocacy of (in so far as is possible) decentralized systems built around truly free decision making.

So let’s start here.

“Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” (Mark 10:42-45)

Jesus rejected authority used to “rule over” or oppress others. The passage above is one of my favorites, but he certainly expressed the same idea in other places.

Jesus also rejected violence as a means of control. He instructed his followers to turn the other cheek, overcome evil with good, and love their enemies. I’ve never heard a good explanation from a Christian who supports the military on how you can both love your enemy and kill him. But what government in human history has NOT used violence and coercion to acquire and maintain it’s power? I believe that when Christians endorse state-sponsored violence they show that their fundamental allegiance is not to Christ, but to the state (needless to say, that’s a controversial view and annoys a lot of other Christians, but we’re still family, as far as I’m concerned).

So here, already you can see that I share the perspective of many anarchists. Many, not all, are pacifists as I am. And all anarchists are committed to critiquing power structures. I’m with them there. But again, my ideas spring from my faith, not the other way around.

My position doesn’t require a complete rejection of democracy (far better than most forms of govt. through history!). I can and do live quite cooperatively with the government. But I do believe that if/when the government asks something of me which violates my conscience or my faith – my obligation is NOT to obey the government. I am voluntarily cooperating with the government. I do not recognize it as having any absolute authority over me.

This is too long, but it’s such a complicated subject….so I’ll tell you that I’ve been strongly influenced by Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement, and also by the writings of John Howard Yoder, Jacques Ellul and William Cavanaugh.

Finally, here’s a passage clipped from a post I wrote a few years ago. It might make some sense of what I’m trying to say. I was writing about a seminar I’d attended, led by William Cavanaugh.

“The point on which I really fixated, though, was the “migration of the holy from church to state”. Why is mistreatment of the flag called desecration? Because we’ve sacralized the flag. We have created a civic religion using liturgy and ritual. When does respect for your country cross over into idolatry? Perhaps when Barak Obama declares America the “last best hope for the world”. Or perhaps when President Bush called America the “city on a hill”, or declared that there’s “Power, wonder-working power in the kindness and goodness of the American people.”

So in the middle of session 2, I began to think about the Pledge of Allegiance. I’ve been uneasy with it for awhile, ever since I genuinely paid attention to the fact that I’ve been making a loyalty oath to a political system. In my heart, my life, I want no king but Jesus, and I want to no association – political, geographic, ethnic – that transcends the Kingdom of God. The tension goes far beyond a pledge, of course. The question, as Shane Claiborne says, is not are we political, but HOW are we political. Still…baby steps. First of all, I want my words to actually mean something. I won’t say something I don’t mean and pass it off as a harmless ritual. And so, for my part, no more pledging the flag. That’s just one baby step, but for me – if only for me – it’s one baby step toward the kingdom.”

I hope this helps!

Sharon Autenrieth

Here’s the deal:  I sometimes call myself an “anarchist sympathizer” rather than a straight-up anarchist, because I’m such a compromiser.  But I really and truly think Dorothy Day was on the right track, and so is Shane Claiborne, even though he gets mocked a lot these days.  The idea is not to overthrow the society in which we find ourselves, but to build new societies within the shell of the old.  These are societies in which every voice is honored, every enemy is seen through the lens of the gospel, rights and responsibilities are shared, the needs of the community are met by the community, and all authority belongs to Jesus.  I’d like to think that sounds like church; I’m sure it sounds like the Kingdom of God.

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About Sharon Autenrieth

Wife, mom to 5, homeschooler, Christian Education Director, idealist, malcontent, follower of Jesus.
This entry was posted in church, politics, religion, spirituality and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to “Anarchy now?” she asks politely.

  1. The new king on the block indeed challenged not only the rulers of the Gentiles (Mk. 10), but also the rulers of the Jews: the scribes and Pharisees (national authorities of the law of Moses, the “constitution” of the kingdom of Israel, and lording it over the local synagogues); and the chief priests (national authorities over the capital city and temple, growing richer and richer by banking on the worship of ordinary people).

    Jesus contrasted his kingship and kingdom (of disciples) with the kingdoms of earth, beginning with the kingdom of Israel.

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    • You’re right, Lucas, that the established authorities in Israel were confronted by Jesus’ teachings. And they took it about as well as the established authorities have ever since – which is to say, mostly they rejected it or tried to explain it away. Human nature seems pretty consistent in that regard.

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  2. jubilare says:

    Hi! 🙂

    There is a lot of food for thought in this for me. Thank you! There isn’t much for me to disagree with, save my wariness of labels/movements which probably means I have even more anarchist sentiments than I ever realized. Much food for thought indeed. I feel the need to make a read-through of the New Testament, looking specifically for Jesus’s interactions with and the Apostles’ advice on power structures.

    Again, thank you for the clarification!

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  3. -Sedona Sam says:

    Oh, that poor, poor teacher. I’ll bet her eyeballs are still rolling in her head.

    p.s. I don’t think ‘fulsome’ means what you think it means

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  4. Hmmm…might have been a better word. But I checked – because I do often pick words up from hearing them in use, and can be misled; it’s not too far off. You can describe something in “fulsome detail”, i.e., copious or abundant. That’s the idea I was going for, so I think I at least got close.
    I never heard back from the teacher, but my daughter had a good year with her. I don’t seem to have caused any permanent damage. 🙂

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  5. Hollie says:

    hmmm….

    The problem, I think, may lie in the word anarchy. To me, Christian Anarchy seems like an oxymoron. Anarchy by definition means without ruler. (I do realize this fits your position.) The connotations that I have when one says anarchy are not pretty. They are states of lawlessness, chaos, confusion, without rule, but also, without order and without protection for the weak. It is a state in which one who is weak can be “overruled” and abused.

    As a Christian, I do not see myself as ever being without rule, but as constantly giving up my will to the ultimate ruler, which is Christ. I am just giving my first impressions here. So the two words just do not seem to fit. I do realize that you are talking within the realms of the current political structure. I think I am beginning to see more of what you are saying in that regard, but I may not be. I do not see how it would work effectively… As a follower of Christ I have a set of guidelines (I do not like the word rules for various legalistic reasons.), that take precedence over the laws of the state. Rules that deal with how I relate to others, how I am to act and behave. These are rules that I struggle with following even though the very Holy Spirit of Christ is living inside of me. I guess my question would be: How does this work in a fallen world where sin is the rule and not Christ? Since all do not follow these higher rules , how does one ensure that others are not abused?

    One thing I absolutely love about you, Sharon, is that you challenge my conventional thinking without rudeness. I am sitting here thinking…hmmm…so maybe it is not so big of a deal that they take under God out of the pledge. Maybe the pledge itself is a big deal. I have never thought about it. Just dutifully said the words like a good American should, right? But should a “good” Christian?

    Must think on this more….

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    • jubilare says:

      The word “anarchy” conjures the same images for me as well. I think of the fallen human progression from chaos to “might makes right.” In our sin, humanity is a race of oppressors driven by selfishness. In this, I see government as a necessary means of restraining evil. As a human institution, though, I know that government can and does also do evil. And that is where I think I agree with Sharon. Our citizenship is of a different Kingdom and frees us to confront the evils of earthly kingdoms.

      The Bible seems to me to show (I am no great scholar, mind) that earthly government is fallen but not fundamentally evil. I suspect that mankind was meant to exist in peaceful anarchy under the authority of God, and yet God, again and again, tells us to obey our earthly leaders where that obedience does not cross the will of our true King.

      All that ramble to say I think this issue hinges on something many Christians can agree on: Our kingdom is of Heaven and we have but one Ruler. Our ultimate allegiance is there. It does not follow, I think, that we must hate or rebel against earthly power-structures. It simply means that we answer to a higher power and we need to wrap our minds around what that means. I am trying to understand what that means, and I may not have the whole answer until I no longer need it.

      I have been reading the book of Daniel (and was doing so before this conversation started) and I am struck by how Daniel exists in an earthly kingdom and yet it is clear that his focus is on God. He executes his duties to that kingdom as if he is working for the Kingdom of God. And indeed, I think that is exactly what he is doing. This reminds me that, in my job, I ought to be working for the glory of God, not for my paycheck or my boss’s pleasure. If I can only remember this lesson day-to-day, it may change my life.

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    • I love that you commented on this post, Hollie! I want to give a response that is at least half as thoughtful as your comment, so that means it will have to wait a bit. Another busy day ahead. But you raise some excellent questions.

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  6. Bill says:

    I love this post. As a sympathizer with Christian anarchism myself, I get the same kind of reaction you got if I make that known. I like to think of anarchy simply as an absence of coercion. But most folks hear the word and conjure up images of wild-eyed bomb-throwers.
    A couple of other good books are Christian Anarachy by Vernard Eller and The Kingdom of God is Within You by Leo Tolstoy.

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  7. Bill says:

    Thought you might appreciate this quote:

    “There is absolute truth in anarchism and it is to be seen in its attitude to the sovereignty of the state and to every form of state absolutism. The religious truth of anarchism consists in this, that power over man is bound up with sin and evil, that a state of perfection is a state where there is no power of man over man, that is to say, anarchy. The Kingdom of God is freedom and the absence of such power. The Kingdom of God is anarchy.”

    Nicolas Berdyaev

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    • I do appreciate that one!

      I never addressed Hollie’s concerns about lawlessness and chaos, but this quote points toward my answer. We don’t live in a state of perfection, we know that. But we can, as Christians, be always gently pressing in that direction – in the direction of the Kingdom. And that direction is freedom from bondage to each other, and freedom from bondage to ourselves (“Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.” – Galatians 5:1, The Message) My attitude about schooling, as described in my last post, is in line with that. As parents we’ve been given the privilege to nurture our children’s growth but how we choose to do that is a matter of freedom.

      Well, now I’m just rambling. Thanks for the quote, Bill. It prompted me to go read a bit about Berdyaev and that’s made me want to read more. Fascinating person!

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