The Fruits of Anarchy

Justice, Freedom, Grace--these three--and, biblically, the greatest of these is Grace. Necessarily is this the case because, biblically, both Justice and Freedom are actually gifts (or creations) of God's Grace. And thus, though our arky-faith theologies of liberation are so very strong on Justice and Freedom, even in this they are biblically flawed, for the fact that they do not have (and cannot admit) the reality of Grace to serve as source and context.

Biblically, "justice" is the end result of God's making things right according to his definition of "right"--and "freedom" is Paul's "For freedom Christ has set us free." It follows that both biblical justice and biblical freedom, from the outset, are assumed to be consequences, or end products, of God's work of grace. Apart from grace, justice and freedom are impossible goals.

For a starter, then, we need to work at the concept of "grace." At several different points, Paul calls grace a "gift." And that's fine; grace always is a gift and, by definition, cannot be anything else--such as a reward. Yet we should be careful not to turn the phrase around to say that any and all of God's gifts are of the character of grace. To do so weakens grace by broadening it out over too much territory.

When we think of God's "gifts," for instance, or say a table "grace" (a poor word for what it identifies), most often we proceed to thank him for the blessings of this good earth (for health and strength and daily food), for family, friends, etc. Now those are all certainly fine gifts; they are your many blessings that should be counted one by one. Yet, if we stop with those, we have not yet touched what Scripture intends by grace. To avoid confusion, we would do well to identify those things as "blessings"--the fruits of God's "beneficence"--and reserve "grace" for that gift of God which goes a whole level deeper and represents a radically different quality from these.

My Dictionary of New Testament Theology tells me that, clear back with the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for grace identified not simply "nice gifts for nice people," but rather the rescue operation of pulling out those who were far gone--even if they had created the predicament for themselves, even if they had rejected the Lifeguard's advice and been insulting to him in the process.

In Romans 5:12-18, the apostle Paul gets the New Testament concept of grace even more closely defined. There he suggests that grace is God's restoring us to life after we have committed suicide--made ourselves dead--with our sin; our defiance of God; our unwillingness to accept his love, help, and guidance.

Obviously, Paul cannot be thinking simply of physical death when he includes himself and his alive and breathing readers in the words "so death spread to all men because all men sinned." His thought, certainly, is that all of us are already dead. I take him to mean, therefore, that--as far as having any chance of making it on our own, of being able to avert the degeneration of ourselves and our society, of having the capacity to get ourselves alive again through self-invented means of artificial respiration--by any of these indications we are as much as dead. Unless there should come the grace of God, we're dead.

In that situation, we have no grounds at all for expecting that such grace will be forthcoming. In dying as we all have done, we simply have been getting what we asked for. After we have treated him so badly, God is under no obligation at all to jump in and rescue us, no obligation at all to give life to those who have already refused it from him in preferring their own brand of death.

I--along with Paul and Henry F. Lyte--am ready to affirm that "change and decay in all around I see." From where I stand (and from the newspapers I read) it seems plain that we live (if you can call it that) in the midst of a dead (or at least far from "living") humanity. Indeed, who can dispute the strong note of Scripture that, were it not for innumerable past rescue operations of God's grace, the human race would not have survived as long as it has? No, Paul is right: In Adam--that is, on our own, on the basis sheerly of our own inherent piety and power--none of us, either individually or corporately, shows the ghost of a chance of making it. We are the dead and the dying.

Thus, in an earlier chapter, we examined arky faith's modus operandi which sees history in terms of human moral accomplishment--and, over against that, the anarchical modus operandi which sees it in terms of death and resurrection. Implicit in that analysis is also a social justice that could be both defined and established without recourse to any concept of God's grace over againstone that can't come otherwise than through God's grace. We implied that ressurection is perhaps the one word in the dictionary that can be spelled in no way other than g-r-a-c-e.

Similarly, in our previous chapter, Onesimus's first try at freedom (through the arky method of rebelling and running away, the freedom that proved so much less than satisfactory)--this freedom did not call upon or make any use of grace. Yet, of course, in his second try at freedom (in the completely unarkycal action of voluntarily going back) Onesimus was doing nothing other than throwing himself upon the grace of God. Clearly, only that freedom founded upon grace proved real.

Both arky faith and Christian Anarchy are committed to "justice," but only anarchy understands that justice needs grace. Both arky faith and Christian Anarchy are dedicated to "freedom," but only anarchy understands that freedom, also, needs grace. Paul, then, gives us another presentation of grace that may explain why, in our arky faith, we so often find grace unwelcome and even threatening.

In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about the overwhelmingly wonderful "visions and revelations of the Lord" he had received. But, he recognizes, these very blessings easily could make him feel self-important and think too highly of himself. So he says, "To keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me."

Two points here are plain:

  1. "Grace" is an utterly theological concept. Ultimately, of course, 'The power of Christ" is the power of resurrecting the dead, the power of bringing back those who are far gone. No more than Paul could manage the taking of the "thorn" from his own flesh can the world devise its own equivalent of grace that would effect a "de-thorning" of itself. No, grace comes from God or it isn't grace at all.
  2. The only possible receptor of divine grace is human weakness. As long as anyone is feeling elated about himself, self-confident and self-sufficient, there is no way he will even consider the possibility of grace--even if God be perfectly ready to proffer it. One simply cannot know the grace of being rescued, of being resurrected from the dead, if he hasn't been willing to admit that he's out of his depth, that he's in trouble, that realistically he's dead. No, human weakness is the one true counterpart, the only possible receptor, for divine grace.

Arky faith, we now will see, is actually prohibitive of grace on both these counts. Earlier we made the distinction between the political (that which operates entirely in terms of human possibilities and probabilities) and the theological (that which operates solely from the premise that there is a God whose presence makes a decisive difference even in public affairs and the course of history). Arky faith (by definition, the belief that the outcome of history is determined by the victory of good human arkys over the bad ones) is essentially political in nature. So arky faith can't manage any real concept of "grace," because grace can have no source other than God and arky faith is ultimately a faith in human possibility rather than in a gracious God.

Yet Paul's second point is even more directly relevant. Because arky faith presupposes struggle and contest as the given means of the good's victory in history, the arky vehicles of that good as much as always must operate out of strength. Weakness (or sin) is the last thing a contending arky can afford to confess of itself. Yet self-defensiveness, the strong assertion of one's own righteous deserving, is the hallmark of our age, whether on the level of the individual or of our corporate arkys. Because either "justice" or "freedom" (as we are wont to define them) lies precisely in "fighting for your rights," gaining what you or your befriended constituents deserve, the requisite action must be that of establishing at all costs the moral strength and superiority of your own good arky over against the guilt and moral weakness of the opposing bad arky. Obviously, in such a setup, even the idea of grace will be a threat to the very possibility of justice. For me to admit in myself any sort of weakness, defect, or sin calling for the ministrations of God's grace would also, in effect, be giving ammunition to my enemy. To admit that I am dead and that this death is what I truly deserved would be to put me out of the contest completely. Arky faith simply cannot afford the idea of grace.

This "gracelessness" shows up on another level as well. God's grace toward us (what we shall call "vertical grace") clearly is meant to spin off as graciousness among ourselves (what shall be called "horizontal grace"). Of course, horizontal grace is not at all the same phenomenon as vertical grace: we humans have neither the power nor the will that can rescue or redeem another, and certainly nothing that can actually resurrect the dead. Indeed, we might do well to identify the horizontal variety simply as graciousness and reserve the term grace for the vertical variety alone.

Nevertheless, there is a likeness and a relationship. "Graciousness" is the awareness of our own weakness that makes us willing to go easy on the weaknesses of others, the awareness of logs in our own eyes that makes us lenient regarding specks in other people's. Graciously, we are ready, now, to be patient with them, understanding of them, nonjudgmental toward them, forgiving of them, willing to overlook what we otherwise would be inclined to make a big fuss about. And there is a second side of graciousness that is just as important. It is the readiness to recognize and appreciate all the graciousness that has been shown me--perhaps even by some of my enemies.

The connection between divine grace and human graciousness is a direct one. Finding the idea of grace subversive of our efforts toward justice, we have never truly been open to the experience of God's grace toward us. And never having really known grace there, we don't know what it calls for or feels like on the horizontal plane, either. Living in a social dogfight in which everyone is out to get the bone to which he knows he's entitled, we find horizontal graciousness to be just as inappropriate as the vertical sort. We live in a world that has no room for grace.

Of course, when it means being gracious to people we like, there's no problem. Yet grace is truly grace, not where it comes easily, but only where it comes very hard indeed. (And don't suppose that we are such nice people that God must find it easy to be gracious toward us.) But I must say I have been frightened at times to discover how mean and just plain graceless good Christians can be toward the bad people they have come to designate as "enemy."

One small example will show what I have in mind. Some time ago now, President Reagan spoke before a conference of professional women and, obviously in an effort to be friendly and complimentary, said something to the effect that women are to be credited with having civilized the race, getting the poor, barbaric males out of the cave and into some decent clothes. Whether the president's remark was a boo-boo or not, it was received any way but graciously. Rather than being willing to overlook anything, those women plainly were intent to pick up on anything they could make a scene over--which they proceeded to do.

Had the speaker been a woman and made the remark, the likelihood is that it would have been greeted with laughter and applause. Had it been made by almost anyone other than President Reagan, even if the wording were perceived as being a bit awkward and insensitive, it would have been graciously overlooked. No, plainly it was not the remark but the identity of the speaker that brought forth viciousness where there should have been grace.

You see, long before the president entered the room, these women (whether rightly or wrongly) had him identified as a "bad guy," "the enemy." And according to the rules of arky contest, when you spot a weakness in the enemy, the thing to do is latch on to it, dramatize it, and exploit it to his humiliation and loss. Otherwise, to practice graciousness--overlooking and forgiving an adversary's weakness--would be to miss a good chance for casting the first stone, passing up a made-to-order opportunity for exposing his wickedness and advancing one's own righteous cause. Is it not true that today's enthusiastic fight for justice and liberation actually brings with it a loss of felt need for God's vertical grace, at the same time introducing an ugly gracelessness that poisons our horizontal relationships?

However, in contradistinction, my earlier book, again (Towering Babble, chaps. 6-7), includes a detailed study of the biblical traditions of justice and, by implication, freedom. "Justice," there, turns out to be nothing like our fight for equality and human rights, our good arkys gaining power over and demolishing the evil ones. No, that concept of justice is seen to be an inheritance from our secular juridical tradition--which is not to deny that it may well be the highest concept of justice of which political thought is capable. But, biblically and theologically, "justice" is the situation created when the one true "Judge Jehovah" renders a "judgment" that has the effect of "justifying" and making right whoever and whatever needs "justification." The biblical concept does not presuppose an adversary alignment and nowhere has in view this business of one set of "just" people breaking the power of another "unjust" set. In consequence, directly contrary to the political concepts of justice and freedom, the theological ones find grace not to be excluded but deliberately and necessarily included.

Just a couple of the texts cited in that study can be taken as typical and used to make the point here. Isaiah 1:21-27 is pointed and powerful:

How the faithful city
 has become a harlot,
 she that was fill of justice!
Righteousness lodged in her,
 but now murderers.

Your princes are rebels
 and companions of thieves.
Everyone loves a bribe
 and runs after gifts.
They do not defend the fatherless,
 and the widow's cause does not come to them.

Therefore the Lord says,

I will turn my hand against you
 and will smelt away your dross as with lye
 and remove all your alloy.
And I will restore your judges as at the first,
 and your counselors as at the beginning.
Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.

Zion shall be redeemed by justice.

Notice that, with the rebellious princes on the one hand and the fatherless and widows on the other, we have the makings of an oppressing-versus-oppressed class distinction. Unfortunately, there being on hand no "theologian of liberation" to spot it, to raise the class consciousness and instigate the class warfare, nothing of the sort develops. Even more unfortunately, Judge Jehovah's moral standard being what it is, everyone is found guilty and there is not left the makings of a holy arky, a Justice and Freedom Party he could elect to contest the arky of evil. With no help to be had from any of us good people, God sees no alternative but to create justice in his own theological, anarchical way.

It is plain that that way does involve punishment, retribution, and the breaking of the power of the evil arky. However, because that evil arky is universal in membership, God's is an entirely different action from one human arky taking it upon itself to wreak righteous judgment upon another. It is precisely in this regard that Markus Barth once explained why the New Testament forbids us to act as judges toward one another, demanding rather that we leave all vengeance to God.

Even Isaiah's "punishment language" makes clear that the ultimate intention behind it is cleansing; and the progress of the passage then moves to a redemption that could as well be called "resurrection." What Barth pointed out is simply that, in our justice-making zeal, we humans rate among the best in passing out righteous condemnation, damnation, and punishment. However, when it comes to the justifying finale of redemption and resurrection, we just do not have the wherewithal (haven't the remotest beginning of a wherewithal). So, if there is no chance of our seeing the justice-process through to its justifying conclusion, we would better let God do it his way from the outset.

However, the major point to be made is that, where political justice necessarily is prohibitive of grace, theological justice, God's justice, is as much as synonymous with grace. God's justice is not a program that has the party of the innocent-oppressed contending to get what they deserve; it is a program that has every party involved being justified (made right) quite apart from anyone's deserving anything. "God's justifying of whoever and what all will accept it": call that "justice," call that "freedom," call that "grace," call that "resurrection," it all comes to the same thing. Admittedly, the Isaiah passage opens with a justice of God that damns Zion. Yet that in itself leads to and concludes in the line proclaiming that justice shall also redeem Zion. If I may say so, such "grace-justice that redeems"--that is indeed one rare justice--one hardly to be found among us or even our holy arkys, one obviously to be found only in the God who invented and controls both justice and grace.

A second citation--this one from Isaiah 45:19-23--will make the concept of "grace-justice" even more explicit. Biblical talk of justice always has reference to "Judge Jehovah" as the one whose "judgment" eventuates in the "justification" of the guilty defendant. Accordingly, the mental imagery which may be in the background of all biblical justice talk (and which moves into the foreground with some frequency) is that of a trial transpiring in Judge Jehovah's courtroom. And that is a Hebrew courtroom, we need to bear in mind, not a Graeco-Roman or Western one--there's a difference. The following picture is one of the Bible's best--one that Paul brings over into Philippians 2.

I the Lord speak the truth,
I declare what is right.
Assemble yourselves and come,
 draw near together,
 you survivors of the nations!
They have no knowledge
 who carry about their wooden idols,
and keep on praying to a god
 that cannot save.

Declare and present your case;
 let them take counsel together!
Who told this long ago?
 who declared it of old?
Was it not I, the Lord?
 And there is no other god besides me,
a righteous God and a Savior;
 there is none besides me.

Turn to me and be saved,
 all the ends of the earth!
 For I am God, and there is no other.
By myself I have sworn,
 from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness
 a word that shall not return:
"To me every knee shall bow,
 every tongue shall swear."

There is enough juridical terminology scattered throughout this passage to make it certain that the courtroom metaphor is meant to control the whole. There is only One who is qualified to serve as Judge of all the earth, who not only can say what justice is but also is capable of bringing it to be the actual state of affairs. The defendant in this instance is not God's own city, his own people unfortunately gone wrong, as was the case in our previous text. No, here the defendant is that truly no-good outfit of "the nations," "the Gentiles"--the absolutely evil arky that had regularly oppressed innocent Israel, that Israel continually had to be fighting, whose damnation and destruction Israel sought as "justice."

The Judge knows very well that this defendant is as guilty as can be--guilty of the number 1 sin and ultimate injustice of trying to evade the Judge by setting up wooden idols and praying to gods that cannot save. Apparently this defendant has already taken some punishment in consequence; he is identified as the "survivors of the nations." Even so, completely contrary to Israel's own sense of arky justice (passages like this one just cannot be explained as creations of Israelite culture), the Judge introduces himself not simply as "Judge (righteous God)" but as the Judge who is likewise "Savior." Who can say whether "justice" or "grace" is the more prominent theme here, when the two are, in effect, congruent?

But the courtroom--indubitably the place of judgment--is here presented as also being the place of grace and salvation. It is the place where not merely the "oppressed" can hope to find justice, but where the ends of the earth (including, of course, the "oppressors") can be saved by turning to the Judge (who, we are quick to grant, was, in the same trial, also their condemner). That Judge's final, sworn decree is that his courtroom will stay open until every knee bows in recognition of the fact that he is the Judge whose grace-justice not only can but will and has saved and justified to the uttermost.

"There's no denying that what you've just shown us from Isaiah is a wonderful theological vision. The trouble is that it is so theologically idealistic as to be entirely irrelevant to the real political world in which we live and in which we must do our seeking of justice. The evil, oppressing arkys against which we must contend are themselves so totally impervious to anything like 'grace' that, in the struggle, it would be sheer foolishness for us to try anything like a gracious approach to them. Really, it's too bad; yet the fact of the matter is that the world is so locked into the ways of power-justice that we have no alternative. Isaiah's will have to remain what it is, a wonderful theological vision."

I disagree. The above objection actually sells God short. In rebuttal, allow me to present another "trial" story--this one under the title "The Grace of the U.S. Government." And if the pairing of "grace" with "the wicked, oppressing arky of the U.S. government" strikes you as the height of outrage and ludicrousness--well, that only shows you need to keep reading.

Of course, what immediately must be said is that grace is the wrong word and that what I actually have in mind is "The graciousness of the U.S. Government." As a Christian anarchist, I am under no illusion that any human arky (including the church) can so nearly approximate God as to communicate anything remotely resembling justifying, redeeming, resurrecting grace. Obviously I have in mind only the spin-off of horizontal, human-level graciousness--though goodness knows, even this much is an entirely rare commodity in the setting of arky contention for justice. Specifically, then, my story is meant to show how the practice of true Christian Anarchy can lend an air of graciousness even to political arky confrontations normally marked by contention, accusation, and ill-will. Christian Anarchy seeks justice in a spirit entirely different from that of arky faith.

I actually have better reason than most to think very ungraciously of the U.S. Government. I've been under its gun. Actually, it was son Enten rather than I personally who was under the gun, but I was standing close enough to be mighty uncomfortable. We are speaking, of course, of the government that indicted him for following his conscience in declining to register for its military conscription. It then put him through a full-fledged (and highly publicized) federal trial where, before the world, he was found guilty and convicted as a felon.

I was in the courtroom as a witness for the defense and was closely informed regarding all the action outside the courtroom. I can speak for one who has been done to as a designated "enemy" of the U.S. Government. All the official papers bore the heading: THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA versus ENTEN VERNARD ELLER. This was the setup for a power struggle in which all the power was on one side--and in which all the right to define and enforce justice was on one side, too. As an arky contest, this one didn't promise to be a very fair matchup. At least with David against Goliath, the kid wasn't pacifistically inhibited from slinging pebbles (or mud).

Let it be clear that, as I now proceed to speak of the graciousness of the U.S. Government, I am in no way legitimizing that arky as being of God, am in no way suggesting that it is above criticism. Shortly following the trial itself, I published an article in which I made my witness-protest, speaking to the points at which I felt the government to be dead wrong--such things as the calling of a registration that is of no practical military value; calling a registration in the absence of any perceived emergency; enacting legislation that does not recognize or make any provision for religious conscience; and, in a way completely disproportionate to much more serious crimes, making non-registration a felony punishable by five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Yet that is only half the story--and sheer honesty (quite apart from any graciousness on my part) demands that the other half be told as well.

(I am choosing, now, not to name anyone by name--except Enten, of course. It is not that I am reluctant to give credit where credit is due, but that I very much do want to give credit where it is due. Thus, it is not so much that we are dealing with a number of exceptionally nice individuals who should be credited by name. I will be quick to confess that neither Enten nor his father belongs in that category. Rather, we are dealing with an exceptionally nice God who ought at all times be named by us; to that end, I am keeping the human names in the background.)

First, it must be said that, all the way through, Enten spoke and acted toward the government in an entirely gracious manner. His non-registration was totally a theological act of obedience to what he understood to be the will of God--and not at all the political "civil disobedience" of mounting a power protest against the wickedness of the state. He made no effort to call attention to his "just cause" or to try to make the government's cause look bad. We are grateful that Enten was enabled to act so and thank God for making such conduct possible.

Enten knew, of course, that his Bible forbids him from going to law. So, not having perfect freedom in that matter, he did the next best thing and prohibited his attorneys from mounting, on his behalf any sort of legal challenges to the law or the actions of the government. His idea was that the trial should deal exclusively with his act of non-registration and the rationale behind it--and not be turned into contention with the state. As is quite understandable, the attorneys were not a little frustrated--and so opened their case by complaining a bit to the judge and explaining that the defenselessness of the defense would be owing entirely to Enten's Christianity and not to any lack of adversarial will or skill on their part.

However, the judge figured a way to get around Enten's peccadilloes (and thus show that it was he, and not Enten, who was running this trial). At the conclusion, in announcing his findings of fact, His Honor also took opportunity to educate Enten's attorneys and everyone present by listing the challenges and arguments he thought might be effective with a judge if he were a defense attorney (and if Enten were to let him mount them). It could be that the judge was a little jealous, thinking that in this particular case it would have been more fu to be on the defense than to have to be the judge. He did speak of the "agony" of judging this one--though I didn't feel too sorry for him, knowing that many other of the participants were undergoing agonies of their own.

However, at no point did government representatives show anything but respect and honor toward Enten. At no point did the government try to strengthen its case by accusing him of malice or by trying to blacken his reputation. Now, the government knows how to do that, of course--knows how to play "adversarial put-down" just as well as the peace movement does. The government could have done that. The fact that it did not can be credited only as horizontal grace.

I think I am correct that never in the course of the entire case was Enten confronted by an armed officer of the law. He was never arrested, handcuffed, or held in any sort of custody. Such, of course, is hardly accepted procedure with accused felons. It was indeed gracious of the government to recognize that a show of force was not appropriate in Enten's situation.

The closest thing to an officer of the law would have to have been the FBI agent in charge of the case. He was the witness for the prosecution in proving that Enten had not registered (although the trial time could have been cut in half simply by asking Enten whether he had). During the agent's cross-examination by the defense, the attorney asked him whether he had met Enten personally, and could he identify the defendant in the courtroom as being the non-registrant. In answering, the agent let drop the fact that he had a daughter who was a student at Bridgewater College along with Enten. (He didn't say whether he had used her as a spy and informant to report on Enten's wickednesses.) He then went on to support his identification of the defendant in this way: The agent, it turns out, is an elder in the Presbyterian church where he resides. One Sunday he was at church when the Bridgewater touring choir gave its concert. He noticed Enten's name on the program, figured out (I guess) who was the most criminal-looking kid of the bunch, and went up and introduced himself during the picnic that followed.

This whole story came from the witness employed by the government to show Enten to be as guilty as possible. When I related it to a colleague who teaches in our University Law School, he opined that to voluntarily introduce this sort of information before the court and the press was indication enough that the government wasn't all that serious about nailing Enten to the wall--which is indeed a graciousness.

There were two prosecuting attorneys in the trial, both of whom had earlier interviewed Enten, politely and caringly warning him of what could happen if he continued to turn down extended offers for him to register. At one point the judge asked Enten whether he hadn't even made friends with the prosecutors. Enten would almost admit "friends" but wasn't quite ready to go to "bosom buddies." However, one of those prosecutors opened the trial by averring that the government was not in any way questioning the sincerity of Enten's conscientious objection, the legitimacy of his religious views, the right of any group to advocate pacifism, or, in particular, the integrity of the Church of the Brethren and its position.

The other prosecutor closed the government's case with these words:

Everyone in this courtroom by now knows that the young man has not registered, and that his decision was made over a long period of time. I gather that everyone is persuaded that his decision was made intelligently, it was made by him carefully, and it was made with a considerable amount of counseling. The government does not today, and has not, challenged the sincerity of this young man's convictions. We do not claim or believe for one minute that the beliefs he has presented are a sham. We are persuaded he does indeed hold them.

Now, when, in any trial, the job of the prosecution is to prosecute--to put the defendant in the poorest possible light and make him out to be as guilty as it can--this sort of testimony comes through as high-level graciousness. Indeed, at some point in the proceedings, a journalist friend of Enten's who was seated in the press section (which took up the whole of the jury box and half the gallery) overheard the veteran Associated Press correspondent whisper, "This is the strangest trial I've ever seen."

The high-water mark of prosecution graciousness came in its cross-examination of the defendant. Instead of trying to score points against him, the prosecutor spent the time handing points to him. He began by expressing appreciation for the candor and openness Enten had shown all the way through and got from Enten the agreement that the prosecution had been "up front" in its turn. It was he, the prosecutor (and not the defense) who put it into the record that, even before Enten had been indicted or was under any sort of legal obligation, he had provided the prosecutors with his summer itinerary so he could be found without difficulty.

Although both in the press and from the public Enten had been accused of being a publicity seeker; it was the prosecutor (and not the defense) who revealed to the court that, early on, there had been a telephone conversation in which the defendant and the prosecution agreed that neither would seek media attention in making a public issue of the case. He then volunteered that Enten had fulfilled that pledge and received Enten's confirmation that the government had, too. Here, I suggest, the government was recognizing an all-important distinction between Enten's Christian Anarchy and the holy-arky "civil disobedience" with which it must regularly contend. The arky effort needs media coverage as the empowerment of its challenge to government wickedness; Enten wasn't challenging anyone, so neither needed nor wanted any help from the media.

Then, the judge--as much a representative of the U.S. Government as anyone else, recall: Almost as soon as the defense had its turn, while I was on the witness stand, the judge interrupted with a comment indicating that he saw the case as I was interpreting it--as having nothing to do with how good or bad Enten might be, but as a conflict between religion and the law.

Later, in the process of supposedly "examining" Enten, the judge got turned around actually to initiate an argument and help the defendant formulate it, namely, that Enten didn't even have an opinion as to whether God willed anyone else to join him in not registering, and that, in effect, he was not representing any power bloc and wanted no part of any. Here again, as I understand it, the government was pushing a second all-important distinction. "Civil disobedience," of course, is eager to recruit participants and amass supporters as a show of power. Yet, not even being in a power game, Christian Anarchy says only, "I must be obedient to what God wants from me--quite apart from what anyone else thinks or does."

In the formal announcement of his conclusions, the judge--as a finding of fact--said this: "I find further that, as of this time, he cannot conscientiously register with the Selective Service System." Of course, Enten had been catching all sorts of flak about being unpatriotic, a traitor to his country, and whatever. It may have been with this in mind, then, that, during the sentencing, the judge made a point of saying: "It seems to the court that this is a classic clash between your religious beliefs and the law of the land. I'm sure you love your country. I'm positive of that fact. I'm sure you love the people of this country." And his final words in the courtroom that day were these: "I think the defenses you have raised--or the defenses you haven't raised and so forth--have made you certainly an honorable person within the eyes of this court. And I think that your appearance here underscores that."

There is more graciousness in the trial that could be reported. But when the person customarily addressed as "Your Honor" in effect bestows that title also upon the defendant he has just found guilty, that's grace (or at least a high level of human graciousness). There's nothing requiring a judge to undercut his own verdict by explaining it away, saying in effect: "I have to find you guilty of a felony, Enten; but I am ready to say loud and clear that I don't consider you a felon in any sense of the word." You tell me whether, in that trial, Enten was convicted or acquitted.

In his decree, the judge set as one of the terms of Enten's probation that, within ninety days, he must "comply with the registration requirements." For this part of the story you need to know that both of Enten's attorneys had, over the years, had close associations with the judge. Also in the picture is a man we shall call "the Shadow"--a good friend of mine, a Brethren attorney who had also been a longtime friend of the judge and who consequently was in touch with him throughout the case.

As Enten's time for compliance was running out, through the Shadow the judge leaked to Enten that it was 99 percent certain he would go to prison. However, when Enten did not comply, at the hearing the judge simply changed the terms of probation to two years of public service work. In a press interview given on that occasion, he was quoted as saying: "I wasn't going to give him a prison sentence. He's just different. He's a very special person."

Now Enten's attorneys had expressed their opinion that the judge really thought Enten would break down and register. However, the Shadow says flatly that the judge was certain Enten would not. And the Shadow knows. I'm sure of one thing: that particular judge would have a hard time living with himself if he knew he was responsible for powering Enten into acting contrary to what he felt was the direct leading of God. That judge would have leaked his threat only in the confidence it would not be heeded. What was going on throughout was "Christian graciousness."

Then, just as Enten was getting well started on his work project in Virginia, his sister was to be married in California and wanted him as a member of the wedding. He arranged with his employer for an absolute minimum of leave, missing only a Thursday and Friday at work. When, then, Enten applied to his probation officer for legal permission to make the trip, Mike said, "Well, if you're going so far, why don't you stay longer?" You can be sure Enten took him up on his graciousness; he was home for a full week.

At one point in the trial, from the stand the defendant thanked the judge for the "ease" he had felt in the courtroom. Rather than "ease," he could well have said "freedom." Ellul started us out in this book by suggesting that Christian Anarchy is dedicated to our finding "freedom by wresting it from the powers, "shaking an edifice, producing a fissure, a gap in the structure." I have no quarrel with that; in most of our exercise of anarchy the story will probably end there. However, when, into that fissure, that gap, there comes the grace of God--when divine grace spins off into human graciousness--there is no telling how far the freeing-up can go.

Enten found freedom in the very process of being convicted--praise the Lord! But wonder of wonders, if that damnable old arky of the U.S. Government (which, always remember, likewise consists of human individuals, just as much as Enten does) didn't experience some rather impressive freeing-up of its own--praise the Lord!

There was found the freedom for every person in that courtroom to be treated with the dignity and respect (and, yes, even love) due human individuals. There was found freedom from the necessity of conducting the trial as the arky contest: The United States of America versus Enten Vernard Eller. (As Enten told the press, the question as to who had won didn't make sense, because there hadn't been a fight.) There was found the freedom of the government to drop all the niceties of legal protocol ("the strangest trial I've ever seen") and play it simply as a group of concerned individuals addressing a common problem. There was found the freedom for the prosecution once to try its hand at producing evidence for the defense. There was found the freedom for the court to arrive at a conviction without creating wrath anywhere.

There was found grace. There was found freedom. And there was found justice--justice of a quality that the defendant could say to the judge: "I want to assure you that I would not condemn you if you were to convict me.... That is a choice that you have to make; and I admit that I am comfortable with you making it, because of what I have heard of you. And it is said that you are a just man. So I rest secure that, whether I am convicted or acquitted, you believe that justice has been served. And I'm comfortable with that."

All this, bear in mind, took its start from an anarchical action of refusing to obey the Big Arky's law. Nothing was found here that represents a legitimizing of the state, a recognizing of holy obligation toward it, any suggestion that it is above criticism. As I said, I even took the occasion to publish an article--done, I hope, in the rational persuasions of speaking the truth in love--which was my witness and protest against the evils and injustices of the draft registration law.

So, finding grace, freedom, and justice here manifest within the arky workings of the U.S. Government does in no way indicate that it is, in fact, a holy arky elect of God. Yet neither is there any counter-indication, that it is a demonic arky elect of Satan. No, all the indications are that it is simply a human arky--sometimes good, sometimes bad, and most times in-between (even as you and I--and probably in about the same proportions). Yet, even as in us God can sometimes find a fissure through which to introduce a bit of grace that frees us to be gracious (and even loving) toward that arky--so can he sometimes find a fissure through which to make it gracious in response.

Granted, Enten's U.S. Government trial and Isaiah's Judge Jehovah trial are not at all the same thing--yet they aren't totally dissimilar, either. My explanation of the similarity is not that the U.S. Government is like God, but that, ultimately, it was the same Judge conducting both trials--praise the Lord!

It is, of course, the presence in the trial of "human graciousness" that we have been arguing--and not necessarily that of the divine grace of God himself. Yet, at the same time, I certainly don't want to be guilty of denying that latter possibility. My reluctance is explained by the leeriness I feel around those who are so quick and self-confident in identifying what are manifestations of God's grace and what not; we humans are no more infallible in that regard than in any other. Yet in the trial, it must be said, God's grace was given every opportunity. Enten and company had a prayer meeting on the steps of the Federal Building before going in. When we got in, word came from the judge that he would be a little late. Enten's attorney (who well knows the judge) said, "He's probably in prayer with his pastor." That judge, it turns out, is basically a Sunday-school teacher for whom Sunday Classroom or Weekday Courtroom are all the same--he runs both the same way. In fact, I have reason to believe that considerable silent praying went on right in the courtroom itself (that's not unconstitutional, is it?). Granted, in Enten's trial we didn't do too good a job at maintaining our vaunted "separation of church and state"--but the point is that, although "human graciousness" is no proof, it can be a direct product of "God's grace."

Well then, we have portrayed justice, freedom, and grace as fruits of Christian Anarchy. Recently, two events coincided in time to impress me with the arky-faith equivalents. The first was the Republican Convention with its disgusting rush of conservative, evangelical Christians to ordain the Reagan Administration as holy government in holy tandem with holy church. Yet that is sheerly the zealotism of foot-kissing, collaborationist legitimizing, with nothing of truly Christian justice, freedom, or grace to be found in it or expected from it. For sure, the U.S. Government isn't that good--or the church, either, if it comes to that.

About the same time, there appeared an issue of Sojourners, a magazine of radical discipleship, with this headline on the cover, in large, colored, block lettering:

thousands of U.S. citizens
are promising massive public resistance.

If that is discipleship, it is the following of a Lord different from the one I ever heard speak; it represents a type of offense-causing entirely different from his. This is sheerly the turned-up volume of zealotism and revolutionist class warfare with nothing of truly Christian justice, freedom, and grace about it or to be expected from it. For sure, the U.S. Government isn't that bad, either--so bad that it now becomes "speaking the truth in love" to accuse and damn it for sins not yet committed.

It's enough to make one grateful to be a Christian anarchist, free to give God what belongs to God rather than having to choose between the holy-arky alternatives.

Copyright (c) 1987