Friday, November 23, 2007

TO CONFRONT THE STATE


My friend, Bishop Leland Somers, suggested I read the book by the famous Jacques Ellul [Pictured], entitled, "Anarchy and Christianity." (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1991.) And I'm very glad I took his advice!

In this book, Ellul shows the commonalities of interest that exist between "anarchy" and "Christianity" as they confront assorted social issues. Although he's not in any way trying to convert anarchists into Christians, he's engaged in showing the dynamics of our shared struggles against the oppression of the State; how the Christian perspective, collectively articulated and lived prior to the Synod of Arles in 314, before the institutional Church's co-optation by the State that has caused it to become its handmaiden ever since, saw the State, power, and all political institutions as essentially corrupt, regardless of whether they were "left" or "right."

Ellul correctly distinguishes Christianity from religion; shows through logic and dissection of certain biblical texts that have hitherto been used to justify "respect for authority," how subservience to secular authority was never meant to trump God's call on our individual lives; all political authority is, at its very core, corrupt, setting the stage where the rubber meets the road in our taking to heart Jesus' telling us that we must be willing to lose our lives for His sake.

Here is a brief excerpt from this excellent book that I hope will whet your appetite to read it:

"All the churches have scrupulously respected and often supported the state authorities. They have made of conformity a major virtue. They have tolerated social injustices and the exploitation of some people by others, explaining that it is God's will that some should be masters and others servants, and that socioeconomic success is an outward sign of divine blessing. They have thus transformed the free and liberating Word into morality, the most astonishing thing being that there can be no Christian morality if we truly follow evangelical thinking. The fact is that it is much easier to judge faults according to an established moralilty than to view people as living wholes and to understand why they act as they do. Finally, all the churches have set up a clergy furnished with knowledge and power, though this is contrary to evangelical thinking, as was initially realized when the clergy were called ministers, ministerium being service and the minister a servant of others." (pp. 6-7)

Although the institutional Church is largely a handmaiden of the State, and has adopted its values of power and control; frequently adapts its theology to be in accordance with conventionally defined "morality" and the status quo from which the powers that be are quite handsomely rewarded, "Christianity" is its exact opposite!

Jesus was a non-violent revolutionary, Who saw secular power as more of an object of ridicule than anything to be taken seriously, and Ellul hammers this point home in a very refreshing way, given his inimitable insights into hitherto distorted biblical exegeses that have historically served the State quite well, and have all too tragically supported the truth of Marx' statement that "religion is the opiate of the masses."

Although Ellul doesn't deal with LGBT rights in this book, the matters with which he deals are very much relevant to the struggle for full and equal civil and sacramental rights for everyone; we are not to let religious and secular institutions be voices to be taken seriously when the Great Liberator has set all of the captives free!
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2 comments:

Ally said...

This book would be perfect for a paper I'm working on right now. Thanks so much for writing about it, Jerry!

Jerry Maneker said...

Hi Ally: I'm glad it will help you. I'm sure you'll like the book, and it's only 105 pages, including the appendices. He's a first rate scholar, and writes very lucidly and enjoyably.