Sometimes I find it embarrassing to be a Christian. The popular image of Christianity is one of judgmental, anti-gay, anti-abortion, often sexist, anti-science people who moan about being persecuted every time they don’t get their way. Atonement theory is assumed, though not necessarily in those words. But there is no doubt any real Christian believes Jesus had to be tortured and die so that God could forgive horribly sinful humans.
The reality, though, is there are many different ways of being Christian, many different ideas about why Jesus died and how Christians are called to live in this world. There is incredible diversity out there. Lynn and I have explored some diversity of thought here in this blog. We have both been searching and doubting and questioning for some time. Yet sometimes I am still surprised to stumble upon a new way of thinking. Nearly every time I hear of a different way of thinking about faith, I learn something. There is often a kernel of wisdom amidst the wackiest of thought processes. In the next few blogs I will be exploring some of the strains of thought which differ greatly from the common image of Christianity put forth in our media and our society.
My most recent surprise has been to discover Christian Anarchy. It sounds like a scary title and indeed some of what I read was disagreeable. However, there were some real gems to this line of reasoning. Christian Anarchy centers on the idea Christians are called to follow only Jesus and not the rulers of this world. Christian Anarchy is highly critical of the state and systems which support it. There is an emphasis on freedom. The less helpful version of this emphasizes the kingship of Jesus and is criticized (rightfully so IMO) for simply replacing one form of tyranny for another. But, in “That Holy Anarchist: Reflections on Christianity and Anarchism,” Mark Van Steenwyk draws a different picture as he writes of Jesus as the unking. Writing of Jesus’ kingdom he says,
“...it is an unkingdom. ...For where the President of the United States insists on a troop surge, Jesus calls people to love their enemies. Where dictators seek to secure their own power and prestige, Jesus calls people to serve one another and lay down their lives for friends.” Van Steenwyk goes on to say Jesus as unking subverts kingship rather than simply being a more powerful, better king.
I don't think I am going to embrace anarchism anytime soon. Some of the criticisms of state agencies seem to paint with a pretty broad brush and the practical applications are bit perplexing at times. But I do appreciate the criticism of oppression and tyranny and the ways Christianity has supported those in power throughout history and presently. I appreciate the emphasis on following Jesus as a way of life over a system of beliefs. I also appreciate the different point of view which looks at all our relationships and interactions for signs of oppression or coersion. At the end of his book Van Steenwyck lists several possible practical exercises indicated by Christian anarchy:
Recognizing how oppression has played a role in the history of the places we live, considering our role in places we live with an eye to our own power, experimenting with a gift economy (which I take to be about letting go of false ideas about everyone having earned what they get), developing practices of silence and communal discernment (such as consensus based decision making but also listening and learning from each other), and entering into real relationships (free of agenda) with the marginalized.
All off these seem valuable suggestions which might help us to find a new perspective and to be more aware of how we have bought into the ways of the world over the ways of Jesus.
There are many perspectives on following Jesus which have something to teach us. Christian Anarchy is one. In future blogs I will explore more of these and hopefully expand our minds, helping to free us from the confines of stereotypical Christianity.
by Sheri Ellwood
by Sheri Ellwood