In the midst of the revival of certain controversies, in the UK and elsewhere, concerning the relationship between the Church(es) (or religious institutions in general) and the state, it may be helpful to consider what a ‘religious’ rule itself would even look like, consider whether it has been tried, and along the way look at the current controversies in light of the theo-political stance expounded on here in brief. David Cameron’s recent remarks concerning the role of faith in the UK’s national heritage and practice shall be our guiding map for this tour, though not our straight-jacket. Initially, leave it to former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, to tease out in a clarifying way our terminology when we argue about the ‘Christian’ status of a nation. Williams argues, that the UK is neither a ‘Christian’ nation, nor a non-Christian nation, but rather a ‘post-Christian’ nation. Williams means by this that while the assumption of Christian practice on the part of the population can no longer be assumed, that the memory of the UK’s obvious Christian heritage and practice still haunts our contemporary discourse. A further delineation is made between the concepts of a ‘Christian nation’ and a nation of Christians. Williams argues that while the UK is quite obviously not the later, that it is the former as can be seen in history, the constitution, and the state Church of England. Let’s however expand these categories by asking two distinct questions: (1) Would a nation full of Christians necessarily be a ‘Christian nation’? and (2) Is having God or the Bible mentioned in your constitution or whatnot sufficient for a nation to be a ‘Christian’ nation? The first question can be addressed rather quickly, with an affirmative ‘no’. Quite obviously the constitution and make-up of the state could be deeply contrary to the make-up of the population. It is the second question which is much more problematic for within it are the contours of an outworking of a Christian political theology. It will be argued here that a proper Christian theo-political stance can invigorate the revolutionary and transformational impulses felt throughout our current era. Chris Hedges, in his piece, “The Rhetoric of Violence”, while disavowing violence, recognizes our need for militancy, when he says,

“Our inability to formulate a coherent, militant revolutionary ideology, meanwhile, leaves us powerless in the face of mounting violence. We wander around in a daze. We lack the toughness and asceticism of the radicals who went before us—the Wobblies, the anarchists, the socialists and the communists. We preach a mishmash of tolerance and Oprah-like hope and exude a fuzzy faith in the power of the people. And because of this we are run over like frogs blindly hopping up and down on a road.”

It is suggested that only a strong theo-political definition of a ‘Christian’ state/polity can properly lead to some of the following conclusions, shared by many perceived to be on opposite ends of the spectrum of opinion: (1) The separation of church and state is not only good for the state, in terms of what it wishes to pursue, but also good for the church in its pursuits, and should be maintained. (2) No attempts at a Christian state in the past could be considered faithful to the Christian tradition, and in fact must be treated as heretical. (3) The best thing many of ‘radical’ traditions such as anarchists and socialists can do for their movement is in fact embrace the Christian tradition as a reclamation of an immense resource for thought and transformation from the very powers they oppose, who use the very same resource. The make-up of a ‘Christian’ nation/polity based upon widely held Christian doctrines is, it is suggested, the answer to these three conclusions.

            In Cameron’s remarks we can see the domestication and the abuse of the Christian tradition when he says, “…greater confidence in our [UK’s] Christianity can also inspire a stronger belief that we can get out there and actually change people’s lives, and improve the spiritual, physical and moral state of our country, and even the world.” Notice the role that the Christian faith has taken, it is that which can help us with our goals as a country. The Christian faith is the supplement to the goals of the state, it is a useful utility. But since when has the Christian faith needed a secular endorsement? Does God need a associate? Does God need help? Does God need a patron? The Christian faith answers these questions with a violent ‘no’. The goal of states by their very nature is self-preservation through coercion to maintain, spread, and keep its vision of the ‘good’ for society. The early Christian movement, as a thoroughly Jewish movement, saw itself as a counter-movement to the universal claims of the Caesar and the Roman empire, by loudly proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15), and that the vision of the ‘good’ of the state was against the vision for justice of the God of Israel. God and his people need no patronage. It is with this basic conviction of the Christian faith that the first conclusion of a thorough theo-political stance, that is the separation of church and state is made. Not only should the church stay outside of the state because the state itself would be corrupted by the interests of a party that has no concern necessarily for the state’s interests of self-preservation, but also because the state would corrupt the vision of the ‘good’ of the church in its proclamation of the Kingdom of God, by confusing and infusing such a vision with the vision of the ‘good’ as created by the state. The first aspect of a thorough theo-political stance then is the reign of the one God of Israel in the exclusive Kingdom of God over the world.

            The exclusivity of the reign of God, most centrally, is not a reign exercised through the reign of particular authorities, at least by the time of the arrival of the Kingdom of God. The rulers of the world could no longer claim, with the arrival of the Kingdom of God that they were the unquestioned agents of any particular gods for the execution of justice upon the world. The arrival of the Kingdom of God was not a revelation that while things may look bad one should trust that God is in control ‘behind the scenes’, but precisely as the confrontation of the powers of this world, “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4), with the arrival of the God of Israel to Zion in install his rule and power to the exclusion of our say so. In this sense, the Kingdom of God is not a democracy. While many historical examples could be drawn upon to illuminate the dangers of confusing the rule and authority of any human beings with the rule of God, a more humorous examples may be taken from College Humour, of all places.

This humorous cartoon is not meant to give an actual portrayal of God according to any theology, but what would happen if God had a boss, and what would happen if God’s power were abused for human ends. The utter ridiculousness of the proposals in this cartoon, it is argued for here, is how all attempts throughout history of people trying to get God to sponsor their version of the ‘good’ should be viewed. Tragic and ridiculous. Those on the underside of power especially can perceive this, as did the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem did in 2003. In 2003 both George W. Bush and Tony Blair began the infamous war in Iraq, with what they believed was theological sanction, but what was almost not reported at all was that the Church of the Nativity banned for life both of these men from their sanctuaries because in the eyes of the church while Bush and Blair were Christian in name and word, they were nevertheless heretics of the worst kind and war criminals.

            It is with this in mind that our second conclusion, that of the impossibility of the ascription of ‘Christian’ to any past attempts to create a ‘Christian state’, needs further explication. In academic discourse normally self-identification is the sole criteria for something or someone to be included into a category, e.g. Osama Bin Laden declared he was a Muslim, therefore he was a part of Islam. In academic discourse this is a perfectly fine way to proceed but for the adherents of any tradition or group of thought such as Islam, there is an attempt and a need to delineate between those who are faithful adherents to their self-proclaimed tradition and those who are unfaithful to it, thus excluding themselves from the tradition. Self-proclaimation is not enough for adherents to the tradition. The question then is who or what has the authority to make such delineations within the tradition. While the Christian tradition there are a few sources it is arguable whether there are any as influential and important as the standard Christian Bible. Drawing from this source then, Psalm 146 can be seen as an excellent articulation of what has been thus far called the theo-political stance,

“Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.” (Psalm 146:3-4, NRSV)

The above quoted passage can be said to be a strong consistent strand within the standard Christian Bible. It is this exclusive rule of God and not the rule of God through any man who will perish, that could strengthen Christian theology to not only distance itself from atrocities done with the means of state power in the past, but also in the present. This distancing is not the distancing of responsibility, for the Christian tradition, even the faithful Christian tradition, can be and must be held responsible for its own perversions, but it is the distancing of the necessity to identify perverted Christian tradition as normative Christian tradition. Can we not see this perversion and even a laissez-faire approach to Christian theology in Cameron’s own statement of his adherence to the Church of England?

“I am a member of the Church of England and, I suspect, a rather classic one: not that regular in attendance and a bit vague on some of the more difficult parts of the faith. But that doesn’t mean the Church of England doesn’t matter to me or people like me; it really does. I like its openness, I deeply respect its national role, and I appreciate its liturgy and the architecture and cultural heritage of its churches.”

As if the Christian tradition, and being a faithful adherent to it, can be reduced to an aesthetic appreciation of church architecture! But of course for the ruler of a “Christian” nation, being a faithful adherent to the Christian tradition can be reduced to being a tourist. It is here then argued that all attempts at self-proclaimed Christian states with mortal human rulers both past and present are heretical if one takes a strong theo-political stance which includes the exclusive rule of God through no other meditator. The second aspect of a thorough theo-political stance then is the exclusive reign of the one God of Israel in the exclusive Kingdom of God over the world.

            But whence the third conclusion proceeding from a thorough theo-political stance, that of, the reclamation of the Bible and the Christian tradition as resources for revolutionary thinking? G.K. Chesterton in his masterpiece Orthodoxy, made an extremely important observation concerning the doctrine of Jesus’ divinity, when he said,

“That a good man may have his back to the wall is no more than we knew already, but that God could have His back to the wall is a boast for all insurgents forever. Christianity is the only religion on earth that has felt that omnipotence made God incomplete. Christianity alone felt that God, to be wholly God, must have been a rebel as well as a king…now let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt.”

Now why is this important? Well, it is clear that around the global there are recurring surges of rebellions, uprisings, revolutions, occupations etc… all expressing the deep discontentment much of us feel against the current global order of the world. The noticeable trouble to most observers however is the inability to create mass social movements or even protest effectively, as can be seen in the embarrassment of Anonymous or the performance art of Pyotr Pavlensky against the Russian government and many other examples. Furthermore, most of our markers of ‘social progress’ are incapsulated in the useless transformation of artistic images for the purposes of gaining a bigger audience for an exploitive market, such as G. Willow Wilson’s new Ms. Marvel. From which reservoir shall we draw from for our resources and inspiration for real transformation? Echoing Chesterton, a theo-political stance would draw upon the energy and leadership of Jesus Christ, who was the son of man not destined to perish, like the other princes and ideologies, according to Christian theology, and who stands beside us in our present groanings of our enslavement (Romans 8:22-27). If we need to use ‘secular’ language to describe the form of protest found in a theo-political stance in our era, it would be, in an inversion of Audre Lorde, that we should dismantle the master’s house using precisely the master’s tools: the Bible, and Christian tradition. It is precisely in this sense then that our exploration of a theo-political stance comes to the reclaiming of the term ‘theocracy’. Theocracy in ‘secular’ discourse refers to governments that are run by people who think they are gods, such as John Calvin’s Geneva or the present Iranian regime. As has hopefully been explored here, theocracy is not the rule of men who think they are gods but rather the exclusive reign of the one God of Israel in the exclusive Kingdom of God over the world, whose king is Jesus as our fellow revolutionary, our fellow partner in rebellion against the global order of social injustice and sin as now present.

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