Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Ecclesiology I: Politics

3 Lent
One of the criticisms of your book [Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony] is that it is socially irresponsible to suggest that the Church quit trying to influence the government.

Willimon: Politicians love words like "responsibility." But once you accept something like the Gulf War in the name of political responsibility, then everything else goes down easy. We are the Church, and maybe the most "responsible" thing we could have done in the war with Iraq is to have said, "Here is a country ruled by a despot. We'd better make that a major area of evangelism this year, so we are going to send 1,000 missionaries to Iraq." That would have screwed up things beautifully. The government would have said, "How are we going to bomb Iraq with all those damn missionaries running loose?" And we would have said, "That's your problem. But if you hit one of our missionaries, there's going to be hell to pay." That is political responsibility from the viewpoint of the Church.

Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, Where Resident Aliens Live: Exercises for Christian Practice (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 114-15.
I don't post this because of any particular opinion I have about the war in Iraq, but because Willimon puts forth the very interesting notion that the Church should have it's own agenda and be it's own frame of reference regardless of the nation-states around it.

The Church of God is it's own ekklesia, it's own polis.


Anonymous said...

Very true.

beth cioffoletti said...

In Jesus times there really wasn't a separation between the political and the religious authorities - they were both in deep cohoots with each other.

Jesus' message was not to send missionaries around to convert people to a particular religion.

What I find in Jesus life is a profoundly daring and radical preaching against Roman occupation. That's why they killed him, isn't it?

beth cioffoletti said...

I had to read this passage again, Kyle, because it just seems so strange to me.

I guess I don't get it.

I do know that there were "missionaries" of a sort in Iraq for the 10 years preceeding the big shock and awe bombing. The US had imposed sanctions, and ordinary medicines, among other things, were not allowed into the country. A group from Chicago, "Voices in the Wilderness", were sending groups regularly with medicine to the hospitals there. A couple of the women would come to our little group every year or so, and beg for our support. They were still in Baghdad when the bombs started falling.

There is something so strange about the passage from "Where Aliens Live". Why are missionaries' lives more valuable than the native people of the country that is being bombed? How can we presume to hold this as some kind of bribe??

Like I said, I just don't get it.

Kyle said...

Thanks for commenting, "shoofoolatte."

I think Jesus was killed because of what he did in the Temple during Passover week, though he was certainly executed as an insurgent.

In the quoted passage, Willimon might be making the point that such a large and public move would reveal that the policies of the US Government consider American lives to be much more valuable than anyone else's on a very deep level; even more, such a move might have shown that many Americans believe this without realizing it.

The direct point that I think he was trying to make, however, is that the American church should not even take into account whatever the hell the American government is doing on the other side of the world or anywhere else as it goes about its Kingdom work. It would make the clear statement: "we will be in no way complicit in or supportive of your agenda."

beth cioffoletti said...

Thanks for your response, Kyle ... but doesn't silence make one complicit?

I really don't want to argue on your blog, I am trying to understand your perspective.

Beth (aka shoofoolatte)

Kyle said...

Thanks, Beth. I appreciate that.

Silence probably does make one complicit, and what I think Willimon was getting at is that this would be a blatant way of standing over against that.

And of course, as far as my own point, it is that the Church should have a deep understanding of itself as a separate polis, a different order and way of life that can be expected to be diametrically opposed even to a democratic and "religious" society like that of the United States.

naak said...

The church should be a polis? That is interesting. A polis refers to a city-state of ancient Greece. At least that is what I have always understood it to be. So the church is an independent state, yet under the control of what: the US or the world? If the US, are we not still controlled by the US and therefore should we not render to the US what is the United States'? If the World, who is over us? Your use of polis doesn’t make much since unless you have a different understanding of it than my dictionary.

Secondly, Willimon doesn't make any since in his argument. I had to read a book by him for OT Law and History where he is a totally passive. He didn't defend his thought on the subject, just said that we should be that way because of his interpretation of the Commandment "You shall not kill."

He seems to think that the church should have some global peace mission against the war in your quote, using missionaries to prevent the bombing of Iraq. I don't think that should really be the reason for sending missionaries to other countries. In addition, even if it was for the right reason, why didn't we do it years ago and why don't we do it to countries that the US has good relations with that are in horrible shape spiritually.

Don't Politicians have responsibilities? Isn't that why we elect them. Moreover, if they feel there is a threat, shouldn't they do what ever is needed to eliminate the threat? Even if killing the lives of people...whether American, Iraqi, Christian, or what ever else you can think of? To me it appears that he has an agenda that isn't found in Scripture.

And since when does the Church make treats? "That's your problem. But if you hit one of our missionaries, there's going to be hell to pay." That doesn’t sound very Christ-like to me...not very loving and graceful.

Here is a good question—does the Bible actually support national passivism? Should one nation allow another nation to destroy it with no regard to its citizens? If a nation sees a nation attacking another nation, does it have the right to defend the attacked nation? We aren’t talking about the church here…Christianity should never be spread with the sword. But, does that mean that nations should be defenseless against other nations which might be evil or ruled by evil men?

Here is another one—to what extent does the Bible call individuals to be passive? Should we do something to prevent our death if attacked? Should we do something to spare the life of another if attacked? Should we do any harm to individuals? If some one steals, should we just witness to them and let them go free? Should passivism be the standard for justice? Should all wrongs just be forgiving as we just sit back and remain passive to those who do wrong?

Maybe it is extreme, but where does this idea of passivism stop? Maybe this is some food for thought?

Kyle said...

No, man, I think it's a rant.

Christians are not equally citizens of a particular government and of the Kingdom of God. The Christian colony exists as it's own association with it's own values and its own "politics" and does much better to assume that a government is not going to work for the good of the Kingdom. I think that's the anabaptist in me talking, but I've always liked that little critter.

In the context of the entire book, of which this is a very short excerpt, that's the kind of thing Hauerwas and Willimon are going on about. I don't think he's said what you think, but ultimately I don't care what Willimon thinks; I was just using his illustration to express a point about the church being an alternative polis.