The un-Kingdom of Jesus

Mark van Steenwyk on the un-Kingdom of Jesus from The Holy Anarchist:

Christ’s kingship is inconsistent with traditional structures of power; and for this reason, Jesus tells Pilate that “My kingdom is not from this world” (Jn 18:36). Passages like these have, unfortunately, fostered an ineffectual other-worldliness among Christians. And they have been used to legitimate “real-world” kingdoms. Jesus rules some magical sky-kingdom, while princes and emperors can dominate flesh and land. 

But Jesus’ reign isn’t other-worldly. It isn’t apolitical. It’s just political in a radically different way… 

So, when Jesus said his kingdom wasn’t of this world, he wasn’t understood by Pilate or by the Jews or by his earliest followers as talking about the afterlife or some abstracted spiritual truth. Based upon the lethal response to Jesus (and the early reactions to Jesus’ movement), the “Kingdom of God” was understood as a challenge to Caesar and his reign. Their two kingdoms clashed… 

The social, economic, political, and religious subversions of such an un-reign are almost endless – peace-making instead of war mongering, liberation not exploitation, sacrifice rather than subjugation, mercy not vengeance, care for the vulnerable instead of privileges, generosity instead of greed, embrace rather than exclusion.

So, what DOES this unKingdom look like if it’s not domination, not of war or exploitation, subjugation or vengeance, neither privilege, greed nor exclusion?

Maybe it looks like a place where values are changed and transforming. Where we love others as we love ourselves because we love God.* Where the prisoners and the poor and the outcasts and the marginalized are prioritized – where the peacekeepers and the meek are elevated, where the hungry and thirsty are fed, where the prisoners are set free, where strangling financial debts are forgiven, and love is the law of the land.

Maybe it looks like Jesus’ sermons and illustrations. And maybe the opposite of that is worldly.

King of Montenegro and Lt. Gen. Sir E.H.H. Allenby

*Rather than the current manifestation of American Churchianity where we often say we love God and use “love” as a semantic weapon against others, telling them that, while we “love” them, they must conform to our dominating standards of what it means to be right or human or good. Which is not love at all, only greed and selfishness.

More about Christendom

Post-Note at bottom

Last week, our friend Kurt Willems blasted our post “Christendom Against the Kingdom of Godon his popular Pangea blog. The post has to do with the bass-ackwards approach to politics that much of Christianity has done for the last 1700 years or so. Certainly with the empire-ness aspects of the Catholic Church, the racist Inquisitions, how missionaries were used to conquest and dominate culturally and socially, the Holy and Bloody Wars between the Catholic and Protestant churches and between different factions of Protestants, the Crusades, Calvin’s Geneva, etc, we can see how Christendom – the idea of an earthly kingdom ordered by what leaders imposed was “God’s will.”

One of the primary benefits of the US, however, is the intentional separation of church and state. The nation was largely founded by religious refugees. Many had forgotten the roots of their exodus from Europe and hounded those of other faiths or even doctrines within the larger faith framework, but the Constitution itself guarantees a good amount of religious freedom. Including the freedom to keep the church undefiled by the state and the state undefiled by the church. Which makes it all the sadder that this is happening here, now. What the Dominionists and others like them want to do is to kick that provision to the side in order to create an insane theocracy.

This isn’t a new fad. And though it may be from the fringes, it seems to be moving more to the center. I see Rick Perry’s Prayer Convocation as evidence that more and more of the mainstream of Evangelicalism is accepting of this theocratic language and signage. Certain elements of Evangelicalism (by which I mean, largely white, largely apocalyptic in its tenor and preoccupation) have always, of course, leaned toward the conservative side. But either that was very loose and not organized (such as the resistance to the Civil Rights movement by both Southern and Northern churches) or organized from the top-down (by Falwell, Dobson, Schlafflys, etc).

This Dominionist/Hierarchist movement isn’t spread by the old medias of idiot boxes and radio. Preachers and famous “child psychologists” – though they may lead credence to the events – are not the primary forces behind this. And though Evangelicals are being possessed to lead the way here, it seems more like a slow movement that has now caught stage and is using momentum from other anti-government (and often, anti-minority or anti-poor not to mention anti-feminist) movements. Whereas the Moral Majority took a nose-dive from publicity in recent years, the Dominionists and Reconstructionists (a subset of Dominionism) seem to have been waiting in the wings and growing in power for decades. And they’re not idle. If/when they lose this election, I have a feeling that they’ll just feel MORE empowered.
Post Note:
Seems that Slacktivist has also been thinking of the Dominionists and Reconstructionists recently. He quotes an excerpt from a book by a disciple of the godfather of Christian Reconstructionism, Rushdoony, that states:

So let us be blunt about it: we must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political, and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God. Murder, abortion, and pornography will be illegal. God’s law will be enforced. It will take time. A minority religion cannot do this. Theocracy must flow from the hearts of a majority of citizens …

Yeah, so that’s some scary…

Christendom Against the Kingdom

But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant,and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:25-28

To the earliest Christian community, the cross was not just a symbol – it was an ever-present death device of cruelest torture. It came to mean for them, though, sacrifice and love and suffering and dying-to-death and the greatest act of love. To the early Christian communities, the cross was a way of co-opting the empire’s tools and using them against it – declaring an anti-Empire, a Kingdom of Heaven, present but not yet fulfilled. This faith community had turned the strength of the Empire – fear and subjugation – on its ugly head.

Stained Glass Lamb

photo © 2006 James Thompson | more info(via: Wylio)

This is what Jesus called the Kingdom of Heaven (alternately, Kingdom of God). Whereas Rome sought “peace” by war, Jesus sought it by creating it through workers of peace. Whereas Rome had no mercy for the poor and meek, Jesus saw them as cornerstones and royalty within his Kingdom. The Kingdom is subversive to the ways of the world: greed, war, destruction, male and white dominance, tribalism. It overcomes them by way of resistive love.
Christendom, on the other hand, is Dominionism, with a capitalControl. It is the co-option of subversiveness. It’s The Family. It’s the Moral Majority and the Religious Right. It’s Michele Bachmann Overdrive. It’s Texas Governor Rick Perry cutting tens of thousands of jobs and slashing millions from Medicare while claiming that it’s God’s will. It’s putting bible verses on weapons. It’s the neo-Crusades making their way through oil-rich Muslim-dominated lands. It’s the continual envisioning of women and non-whites as inferior creatures. It’s using beliefs about sexuality as a way to hurt other people in the public sphere who do no harm. It’s blaming the poor for their problems and turning them against each other. It’s the Inquisition, the Reformation Wars, the Crusades, the Conquistadors.

restored quadriga atop Brandenburg Gate ►pale-verdigris gateway build-up (“horses'-herma”) in gloomy night◄

photo © 2008 Karl-Ludwig Poggemann | more info(via: Wylio)

Christendom is the things of the world wrapped up in the *image* of the cross. Their appropriation of the cross is a banner, a flag, a usurping of the vocabulary of the Prince of Peace to serve the interests of those which the prophets have resisted and questioned. In Christendom, the cross, and the banner of the cross, is equal to – or even submissive to – the national flag. It does not side with the subjugated sinners and publicans, but with the empire and its players. It doesn’t free tax collectors from their own slavish corruption, but empowers them to do evil for the state – as long as the state serves their “Christian” purposes.
It’s okay, for instance, for a nation to wage war on another nation and murder hundreds of thousands of civilians as long as the leader of the first nation is a God-fearin’ and prayin’ Christian and the second nation is filled with idolatrous heathens.
But that’s not the way of the cross; it’s not the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God was inaugurated with this word:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” (Luke 4: 18-19 and Isaiah 61:1-2, NLT)

The Kingdom was personified through Jesus’s ministry. Through renewed eyes for the blind, aid to the hurt, food for the starving, legs for the lame. It releases the captives and proclaims favors on the poor, meek, humble, hungry…

The Kingdom of God, unlike Christendom, does not seek political dominion, because it has no interest in ruling over others. The Kingdom of God seeks to serve, to restore, to redeem, to heal, and to rescue.
THAT’S the difference.