Christian Anarchy 7

Chapter Seven

ANARCHIC THEOLOGY AND ARKY POLITICS

In his book on Karl Barth, George Hunsinger set out Barth's basic premise thus: 'Only if the two [theology and politics] are not confused--with each retaining its own integrity--can either have anything to say. Theology must not be politicized, nor politics theologicized." Certainly we found Barth himself confirming and carefully observing this principle.

Ellul makes the point just as strongly in reference to his own career and authorship:

Here was my approximate intellectual path from 1940 to 1959: Could I bring all of history, all of human invention into a Christian perspective? In other words, was synthesis possible? ... Neither synthesis nor accord was possible. Should we then give in to this other fault frequent in Christianity? Since synthesis is impossible, since antithesis is obvious, shall we exclude, condemn, damn? ... So I also had to accept that laws, morals, and political systems have their value outside of Christianity. (Season, pp.173-74)

Elsewhere in that book (p. 213) he speaks of "the irreconcilability of the revelation and the world."

It should be recognized that this is not simply a theoretical proposition on Ellul's part. His field of professional expertise is the history of institutions and politics (as well as biblical theology). If anyone would have been able to bring off the marriage of theology and politics, he is the one. And he had made the big try. His negative conclusion comes out of hard-wrought experience.

Yet long before, Kierkegaard could have told (and did tell) Barth and Ellul why the merger was forever impossible: "Politics consists of never venturing more than is possible at any moment, never going beyond what is humanly probable. In Christianity [on the other hand], if there is no venturing out beyond what is probable, God is absolutely not with us--without of course its following that he is with us whenever we venture farther out than what is probable" (quoted in my Kierkegaard book, p. 304).

That makes sense. If things are happening simply according to human possibility and probability; if nothing is going on that cannot be explained sheerly in human terms, then also to claim that God is present and active is meaningless. God's presence is either that which takes things beyond the merely human or it is nonsense to speak of it as God's presence at all. Given the fact that, by definition, politics deals solely in human possibilities and probabilities, it has no way of recognizing any reality beyond that human limit. And given the fact that, by definition, theology deals solely in the difference made by the presence of God, it has nothing to say if forced to speak from within the political limit where God is not recognized.

What it comes to is that theology and politics are controlled by two different orders of truth. Theology is true only to the extent that it is faithful to the gospel, faithfully communicating God's self-revelation in history (history with the divine difference) as that has been recorded and interpreted in Scripture. On the other hand, politics is true only when its proposals and actions are truly realistic and workable within the limits of sheer human possibility. Either order of truth is valid. Neither Kierkegaard, Barth, nor Ellul has any intention of putting down politics. Both theology and politics have complete validity as long as each stays within its own presuppositions. Yet every attempt at mixture creates complete confusion. At any given moment, a person must be clear and make it clear whether he means to be faithfully proclaiming the gospel of what difference God makes in the world or whether he means to be proposing what are the purely human possibilities of a situation. If it be assumed that these two come to the same thing, then the person is not speaking of God--who must make a difference, else there is no reason to bring him into the picture at all.

Ellul sees a further implication of Kierkegaard's distinction:

It was not a question of giving Christian responses or solutions [to the world's political problems] which would be absurd. How can we propose solutions derived from our faith to people who live outside the faith? But more important, the Bible is not a recipe book or an answer book, but the opposite: it is the book of questions God asks us. (Season, p. 73)

To recommend to an unbelieving world the ways and means of God as being the solution to its political problems makes about as much sense as selling people gasoline as the answer to their transportation problems when they've never seen an automobile.

The intent of this chapter is to demonstrate the sort of galimatias that results when we ignore the foregoing counsel of our wise Christian elders and try to speak theology and politics with the same voice. Our specific example is the theology of peace and the politics of peace. Our point is that they are not the same thing. Each valid--but only when we keep absolutely clear as to which is being done when. Theology will not translate into political terminology, because that would force it to be silent about God. Politics will not translate into theology, because it can't talk about God.

At this point, it gives me real satisfaction to be able to report that I have found this distinction between theology and politics--even between "the theology of peace" and "the politics of peace"--to have first and best been formulated long antedating the efforts of Ellul, Barth, and even Kierkegaard. The case is, regularly, when I get a good idea, I later discover that I had subconsciously cribbed it from one of these three. It is satisfying now to know that, as often as not, those fellows had cribbed their good ideas from Scripture (from where all the best cribbing is done).

The original thinker in this case was the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. Actually, he admits that he is cribbing from the Lord; but his Chapter 30:1-5 reads thus:

"Woe to the rebellious children," says the Lord, "who carry out a plan, but not mine; and who make a league, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin; who set out to go down to Egypt, without asking for my counsel, to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh, and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt! Therefore shall the protection of Pharaoh turn to your shame, and the shelter in the shadow of Egypt to your humiliation. For though his officials are at Zoan and his envoys reach Hanes, every one comes to shame through a people that cannot profit them, that brings neither help nor profit, but shame and disgrace."

Then, in verse 15, God reveals what his alternative plan would been: "For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, 'In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust be your strength.' But you would not."

Isaiah, here, was speaking to a political situation very like the one which we find ourselves today. The impending Assyrian invasion threatened as complete an end of Israel's world as nuclear holocaust threatens the end of ours. And the inevitability of the Assyrian calamity was of a much higher order than nuclear calamity today. The Assyrians were actually on the march, and there was nothing Israel could possibly do to deter them. Conversely, in our situation, no party shows any serious intention of launching nuclear attack, and "mutually assured destruction" does constitute a strong deterrence of such.

Yet, for Isaiah's Judah as for us, there was frantic need for a "peace plan" (in our case, "disarmament"; the equivalent in Judah's terms being "how to make it when we have no arms"). The plan Judah hit upon was to sign a mutual defense pact with Egypt. The agreement was to be that, if Assyria attacked Judah, Egypt would be committed to come to Judah's aid. No doubt the hope was that the very existence of the pact would be a deterrent sufficient to keep the Assyrians from invading.

Isaiah presents the Lord, of course, as being politically critical of this political peace plan--although I am going to argue that the much more fundamental criticism comes at a different point. Yet the Lord does point out that, sheerly as politics, the plan is completely unrealistic, giving no attention to the actual human probabilities involved. Egypt cannot be counted upon to rescue Judah. Indeed, why should she even want to?

Making the parallel application to our own situation, then, do we seriously think the Lord would consider it more realistic for us to count upon the Soviet Union's doing the right thing if we decided upon the political solution of unilaterally disarming? From any calculation of human probabilities, is not the one expectation about as equally unrealistic as the other?

Yet, note carefully that God's primary criticism is not that Judah is making a poor political choice. He gives no hint of any superior peace plan--nor does he even suggest the possibility of one. No, what he criticizes is Judah's assumption that political reality is the only reality there is, that human probabilities are all we have to work with, that the only possibility of solution will have to be a political one. Rather, no one has given a thought to the fact that there is a God around whose counsel might be sought, who might have a word on the subject or a plan more realistic and promising than the one the politicians have devised. Judah is condemned for thinking politically where she should have been thinking theologically, for leaving God out just where he should have been counted in. Are we, in our peace efforts, doing any better?

And when, in verse 15, God reveals his peace plan--"In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength"--it turns out to be totally theological in character and not political at all. From the standpoint of sheerly human probability, God's is the most unrealistic proposal yet. However, as a theological faith in the power of the living God, it is the only realistic solution possible.

So, Isaiah has set the stage for Kierkegaard, Barth, Ellul, and now ourselves to consider "the theology of peace" and "the politics of peace" as two different orders of truth which must be treated independently and separately in light of their differing premises and frames of reference.

In the earliest version of this chapter; written before I knew I was a Christian anarchist, the opening sentence read: "I am a committed pacifist."" I now see it is impossible for one to be both a "pacifist" and an "anarchist" at the same time--this because "pacifism" identifies simply one more human arky toward which an anarchist must be "un-arkycal." The way in which the word "pacifism" most frequently and most consistently is used among us has it referring to that arky faith which is convinced that human piety can be so organized, directed, and empowered through techniques of nonviolence and reconciliation as to pacify society and eliminate its recourse to militarism and war.

When Christian pacifism is specified, this usually adds only that Jesus of Nazareth is looked to as our greatest proponent and teacher of pacifistic ethics and method. Such, of course, hardly amounts to "the active presence of God" as being absolutely essential for spelling the difference between war and peace and so must still qualify, not as a theology of peace, but simply as a politics of peace.

Now it is also true that, in the earlier manuscript, I insisted that I was "at odds with the great majority of 'pacifists' both within and outside the church." That may have been sufficient to make the distinction; but now, as a Christian anarchist, I feel the need to identify my position as completely separate from that of arky, political "pacifism." My best suggestion is "anarchical nonresistance"--though much more important than finding a label is the making of the distinction.

As a Christian anarchist, I cannot buy the assumption that the problem of war can be solved by the holy arky of pacifist politics operating within the limits of the humanly probable. I do not find human history ever even having demonstrated this possibility. More importantly, I do not find my Bible ever promising or foreseeing it.

My faith, then, needs a theology of peace in which peace becomes a possibility only through the intervention of an active presence of God that does indeed make all the difference. Let's work first, then, at such a "theology of peace." I already have devoted an entire book to the effort (War and Peace from Genesis to Revelation, Herald Press) and have no desire to duplicate it here. What follows, then, is a minimum, bare-bones version of that fuller theology. Yet this, as that, focuses on the very real and necessary difference the presence of God makes. It is, then, very much a theology of peace that makes no claim at all of having any practical, worldly, political relevance.

I take very seriously the apostle Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 15:22 that "in Adam" all die. And I understand him to mean that humanity--in its Adamic determination to perform the God-function for itself, to achieve justice and righteousness through its own arky powers of moral suasion (which, to put it biblically, is the presumptuous appropriation of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil)--that in this way humanity invariably proceeds into death.

When, then, Paul's sentence goes on to speak of all being "made alive," his thought is the furthest from anything akin to human moral achievement. "To be made alive," here, certainly can be taken as synonymous with finding "life," "salvation," "shalom," "justice," "total freedom from violence," call it what you will. And Paul's verb must be taken as deliberately passive. Being "made alive" obviously is nothing dead people can do either for themselves or to themselves. Their only hope is that somebody--and it must be said, a very special, much-more-than-human Somebody--do it to them. Paul, of course, specifies that this Somebody is: with Christ, by the One who made Christ himself alive after he also in Adam had died.

Paul elsewhere not only establishes Jesus as the agent of our resurrection into shalom but presents Jesus' personal experience as the paradigm of how--whether individually or societally--the transition from violence to shalom must take place. Jesus of Nazareth, plainly, was both the greatest model and the greatest teacher of love, pacifism, and nonviolence that the world has ever seen. Yet that most exemplary moral teaching and behavior won him not one convert but eventuated rather in the total rejection signified by his crucifixion. As a holy political arky, his "pacifism" didn't work so well. Clearly it is not the biblical intent to suggest that, although Jesus was unfortunate enough to run into a bunch of particularly hardnosed characters, we have the right to expect that our pacificism will have much greater success in turning violent enemies into lovers.

There long has been an argument as to whether the Jews or the Romans were primarily responsible for Jesus' death. That, I think, represents a misunderstanding; the biblical opinion is rather that of universal responsibility. Both the Jews and the Romans are guilty, yet those receiving the most explicit condemnation are the disciples. Judas betrayed him, Peter denied him, and the rest fled from him. (And always, in the Gospels, the disciples are emblematic of the Christian Community en toto.) Even the spectators--the women who looked on and wept over what was happening to Jesus--were condemned, precisely for wanting to play the "spectator" instead of facing up to their own involvement in his rejection.

If it had turned out that Good Friday marked the end of the story--unreversed by God's unwarranted, undeserved, uncalled-for action of Easter--there is no reason to think that Jesus' pacifist witness would ever have been remembered or recorded. This greatest peace demonstration in history had a positive political effect of exactly zero and a negative moral result of universal guilt and thus universal death. Jesus does not turn out to be too good an example of how pacifism is supposed to work.

"As in Adam all die." The fate of the pacifist Jesus shows us that, by nature, the tendency of the race--far from that of reform and revolution toward rectitude--is to crucify life and choose death. As I see it, the cross is the theological emblem posted as marking the dead end of any trust in holy arky, the self-realizing piety and moral educability of humanity. And Paul makes it plain that, on the cross, it was not only the one individual Jesus who died. No, as his crucifiers, all the rest of us were there found guilty, were sentenced, were crucified with him. For that matter, it was also in the cross that God went dead; from all that could be discerned, he too had died. Humanity had found Perfect Love more threatening than any military invasion and had responded by triggering more death and destruction than any number of nukes (which can kill only the body) could accomplish. "As in Adam [and on the cross] all died."

"... So also in Christ shall all be made alive." Humanity's is the way of death; but fortunately, Humanity is not the only player on the stage. Easter, now, does not signify simply the one individual Jesus being made alive. No, with Easter, God is the first to come alive again--to become once more discernible, accessible, and active on the scene. Then, in addition to Jesus, Paul speaks of "all" being made alive again in him. I, for one, am ready to take Paul for what he says--the only qualifier being that "all" have not yet heard, accepted, or waked up to the fact that they have been resurrected. Christ has done everything he needs to do or can do; yet "resurrection" hardly is in effect until the individual does his part by getting up out of the coffin and doing something to indicate that he is no longer a corpse.

However, I propose, there was at least one other resurrection on Easter morning as well. The story and reputation of Jesus as moral instructor in pacifism (which, without Easter, would have stayed completely dead and lost) has also been returned to life. Yet this "pacifism," now, is part and parcel of the resurrection-faith and thus totally "theologized"--the presence of God in resurrecting the dead making it entirely distinct from a political program of sheerly human possibility. After Easter, there is no way of understanding Jesus' "pacifism"--which, on its own, had led to nothing but death--as being simply wise counsel to (or even a demand made of) the arkys of worldly politics. No, at Calvary, that world had already registered its final verdict on Jesus and his teaching.

It seems obvious, then, that the theology of peace, the gospel of shalom, is a word "hearable" only by those who themselves have "with Christ been made alive." It is a resurrection word for resurrected people and affords no sense, meaning, or relevance outside the context of resurrection. It is a word of shalom; yet the only shalom it knows or can envision is that of this Prince of Peace. It is through his resurrection that shalom is created and in his parousia that he, in fact, becomes our shalom. But, as to how far human violence might be mitigated through good politics within the limits of human probability--here, the theology of peace has absolutely no wisdom or counsel to offer. It knows and can speak only of the difference God makes--having no basis for even an opinion outside that.

Thus, proceeding to put this theology into the form of theological ethics, or biblical injunction, I would propose something as follows: In the power of his resurrection (and only in that power), you have now been made able and can afford to renounce all violence, whether self-assertive or self-defensive. You can venture just that far, secure in the faith that--even if making yourself vulnerable leads to your death or the death of your nation--the God who, out of death, already has made you alive with Christ, can, according to his own choosing, resurrect whatever needs resurrecting time and time and time again.

Notice that we here have duplicated the regular (if not universal) pattern of the Bible's ethical injunctions. These are two-part statements. There is, of course, a "command clause," the imperative regarding what the agent is to do. However, there is also an "enablement clause" explaining what God has done or offers to do that will make it possible for the agent to obey the command. And it is, of course, the enablement clause that is the explicitly theological statement of the difference God's presence makes in the case. St. Augustine's prayer is perhaps the best generalized version: "Command, Lord, what thou wilt--and give what thou dost command." Consider, then, these biblical examples.

"Now the Lord said to Abram, 'Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you'" (Gen. 12:1). The command to go away from everything you hold dear makes sense only because of the enabling clause, the promise that "I will show you"--which is to say, "I will be there with you, showing the way; only that will make your going even a possibility."

The Ten Commandments should never be read beginning simply with the First Commandment. That is to miss the enabling clause and make the commandments themselves very bad news indeed. No, Exodus 20:1-2 reads: "And God spoke all these words, saying, 'I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.' "That is to say, "If I already have exercised such grace and power in your behalf, you can be certain that I also am committed to continue that exercise in enabling you to meet these admittedly impossible commandments."

In Romans 12, where Paul is ready to shift from proclamation of the gospel to ethical injunction, his transition reads: "I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies...." In effect, he has two enabling clauses there. The little word "therefore" actually says: because God has done for you all that I have just been talking about, it now is a realistic possibility for you to present your bodies and what all. Then, even more explicitly, he tells us that it is"by the mercies of God" (not by the power of our piety) that we will find ourselves able to live out such impossible counsel as "repaying no one evil for evil," etc.

A final example gets us back to our "peace" theme. In Isaiah 2:1-5, notice that what there amounts to a command for us to beat our plowshares is most explicitly preceded by the enablement of the nations in coming to God to learn his ways and to be judged (i.e., made right) by him. The theology of peace we are developing differs only in Christianizing the idea by specifying the enablement as being God's resurrection-capability revealed in Christ.

Such a theology of peace, obviously, is slanted toward a particular audience and meant especially for it. In the first place, it is the audience of one's brothers and sisters of the faith--those who already have heard and accepted the gospel but who always need their understanding broadened, deepened, and made more obedient. In the second place, the theology of peace certainly should be presented as an integral part of the gospel one presents in the evangelistic endeavor of winning new Christians. In this respect, the theology of peace is proclaimed to the world, although certainly not as good advice to the world as world--but rather, as proclamation designed to bring people out of the world as world. Then, too, Christian evangelism can proceed only individual by individual; the arky idea of Christianizing populations en bloc has proved a fatal one. So the "right" audience for the theology of peace is the faith community and individuals on the way to becoming part of it.

Perhaps no harm is done in (occasionally) proclaiming the theology of peace in the political milieu of secular government and statecraft; yet we need to be clear about the economy of such a situation. Statements regarding the difference made by God's presence cannot be accepted as relevant to conversations committed to considering only human probabilities. So if, as inevitably must be the case, the theological proclamation falls upon deaf ears, the proclaimer is entirely out of order and showing a most un-Christian spirit in berating and denouncing the politicians for rejecting his Christian truth. No matter how Christian any of those individual politicians might be in their personal commitment, as politicians they are prohibited from operating theologically--and ought to be.

For instance, if the members of Congress were to vote the armed forces out of existence and, in explaining their action, testified that they were trusting the power of God to resurrect the nation if it came to that, they would quickly be impeached--and ought to be. If those members personally happened to be Christians, fine. But it was not as Christians they were elected to office but as politicians completely committed to finding the best actions possible within the limits of human probability and to justifying those actions upon the same premise. All the documentation concerning their office, role, and function--from the U.S. Constitution on down--assumes that state is a secular, political, human institution and not a Christian, theological one.

It can no more be tolerated that a Christian politician justify decisions by appealing to a religious faith not shared by the body politic than it can be tolerated that a Christian physicist propose theories that explain phenomena at given points by conjecturing miracles of God. Politics is just as much a science within the bounds of human probability alone as physics is. So, not only will the Christian theology of peace fall on deaf ears with the government--it ought to. Let government once become the debating society for all different theologies and theories of God and it would be rendered completely useless for its true task. As Barth, Ellul, and Kierkegaard have insisted, politics has a chance of being good politics if it stays entirely away from theology.

Perhaps there is no harm in occasionally challenging the political world with the gospel--although certainly there is nothing positive to be expected from doing so. Perhaps there is no harm in occasionally reminding the government that it is godless--although its perfect retort would be: "True! That's by design. If we are to have any chance of governing a pluralistic and secular citizenry, we will need to be godless and theologically ignorant."

Jesus apparently understood this very distinction between theology and politics. When he had his chance before Pilate, his actions confirmed the irreconcilability of their respective viewpoints rather than being an attempt at establishing communication. He made no attempt to convert Pilate or to engage him in theological discussion; rather; he suggested that the two of them belonged to two totally different worlds of discourse. Yet neither did Jesus make any effort to denounce the Roman state and curse Pilate for being who he was; it is not the task of theology to sit in judgment upon politics. Theology is to be judged theologically and politics politically. So, quite the contrary, Jesus showed a profound understanding, almost sympathy, for Pilate's situation. In the account of John 18:36, Jesus says, "My kingship is not of this world. If my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight...."

Jesus' word--the complete contrary of the word of many of his modern pacifist followers--is not the angry denunciation of Pilate's continual fighting. Rather, in effect, "You know, Pilate, it is only the fact that my experience of reality is open to God instead of being limited to this world of the humanly probably as yours is--it is only this that frees me from having to fight the way you always have to be doing. Indeed, if my government had to be confined to the same horizon as yours, I would find myself having to fight just as you do." There is no point in castigating Pilate for being a fighter; under his circumstances, the poor guy has no alternative.

It follows that what any sort of violence on any level then indicates is that the perpetrator--at that moment and in that act--is "outside of Christ." In one sense, this makes the violence of the world more excusable than that of Christians, in that the world has never claimed to be "in Christ."

It would seem to be in following this lead that Ellul, Hengel, and perhaps others have insisted that violence turns out to be entirely necessary to a secular government's self-preservation and functional existence. It is of no help at all, then, for Christians to butt in with the glib suggestion that any government could be peaceful if it only chose to be so. That shows no understanding whatever. Jesus is much nearer the mark in implying that liberation from violence can be found only in the shalom of God. Thus Jesus could feel true compassion, not just for a particular praetor, but for a miserable Roman Empire and an entire secular world that, in failing to know God, had gotten itself locked into endless rounds of fighting: "they know not what they do." There is sin here, of course--but it is the essential sin of choosing to go without God (of which many of the pacifists may be just as guilty as the secular world they berate). Yet, in face of the tragedy of this loss of God, the shrill screams of "why don't you be peaceful like we good pacifists are?" show a particular lack of perception and sensitivity.

So, the theology of peace is what it is, God's word for the ears of faith that can hear--but nothing of much use as political counsel to a secular world that knows not God. Indeed, this may have been what Jesus had in mind when he said, "And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place [as long as the world remains a world closed to God's shalom], but the end is not yet [when God shall come to open that world to himself and resurrect it out of its grave-clothes of violence]" (Mark 13:7).

Yet arky pacifism has not heard Barth's anarchical dictum that theology dare not be politicized nor politics theologized if either is to retain its validity. So what we get here is a religio-political voice that tries to speak both ways at once and thus winds up in an incoherency that is neither good theology nor good politics. Under its own terms, the theology of peace is realistic in putting its faith in a real God of proven resurrection capability. The secular world's mainline political tradition also is realistic in confining itself to the real limits of what is humanly possible and in wrestling with the reality of being forced into violence when resort to God is not a live alternative. Yet religio-political pacifism turns out to be incapable of realism on either front.

Pacifism's normal mode of operation, it strikes me, is something as follows: The biblical theology of peace, we have seen, proclaims, "Because you have experienced what it means to be made alive in Christ and so have total confidence in the resurrection capability of God, you now can afford and are enabled to renounce all violence and live defenselessly."

Pacifists, however, because many are themselves not that concerned about theology and because they sense that the first, enabling clause truly is quite irrelevant and "unhearable" on the scene of secular politics, have a tendency simply to drop the enabling clause and go with the command clause as their party line. They simply command, "You (individual, community, corporation, or nation) certainly can afford and are well able to renounce all violence and live defenselessly if you will simply choose to."

Of course, dropping the enabling clause eliminates any reference to the difference made by God's presence--thus reducing the proposition from theology to the sheer politics of immediate human possibility. It frequently is attempted to rectify this reduction (to a degree) by making the statement read: "Jesus teaches us that we can and should renounce all violence and live at peace." However, this does not restore the statement to the status of theology, because it still does not recognize any need for enablement by God and it treats Jesus simply as a secular moral teacher and nothing more.

Besides that, the statement is now false and unbiblical. Jesus never taught anything as sheer secular counsel; he taught everything with constant reference to the necessity of our being enabled by God. If you want Jesus' real opinion on the world's possibility of making itself peaceful apart from God's enablement, then hear him say to Pilate: "If my kingship were of this world--as yours has to be--why then even my own people would have to be out there fighting, just as yours have to be."

So, even though the pacifist position sees itself as "religious," claiming the support of Jesus, the Bible, the churches, et al., it offers very little in the way of a theology of peace. The theology has been reduced to politics.

Well, then, does pacifism represent a good politics of peace? Not very. As Barth and the others have suggested, the only way of getting either good theology or good politics is to keep each distinctly within its own frame of reference, working from its own distinctive presuppositions. Taking even a very good theology and trying to reduce or remold it into a political program simply does not make for good politics. As Ellul put it, "Giving Christian responses or solutions [to political problems] would be absurd. How can we propose solutions derived from our faith to people who live outside the faith?"

As Ellul further hints, the greatest problem with the politics of the "pacifism" of the Christian Left is its total lack of realism. If politics is the art (or science) of the humanly probable, then no political proposal is of any help or value unless there can be demonstrated a high probability, first, that it will be acceptable to the citizenry and, second, that implementing the proposal would produce the actual benefits claimed for it. And the proposal, of course, must be shown as workable within the realistic limits of human finitude, self-centeredness, moral weakness, nationalism, lust for power, and general sinfulness.

How, then, is it of any help to anyone for pacifists belligerently to demand that a secular society, on its own, in a secular world, proceed to pacify itself in a way the gospel suggests is possible only to a God of resurrection capability? It certainly is anything but proclaiming the gospel (good news) to a sick world simply to demand that it heal itself--and then damn it in no uncertain terms when it rejects such impossible counsel. Pacifism of this sort is hardly a following of Jesus in the attitude he took toward Pilate. And, sheerly as politics, the pacifist approach strikes a truly expert politician like Ellul as off-the-wall, romantic utopianism--spinning dreams of what we wish might be, as though that were the equivalent of presenting a realistic plan for getting there. Here is political thought that betrays little or no comprehension of the realities of human existence and world affairs. Here are "doves" who are probably not as "harmless" as the ones of which Jesus speaks but who also are no wiser than doves, when Jesus wants them "as wise as serpents."

The root difficulty, of course, is just what was suggested at the outset. The arky faith regularly identified as "pacifism" can manage to be neither honest theology nor honest politics--failing, as it does, to recognize the incompatible frames of reference, the necessary distinctions between, and the respective limits of the two. Consequently, its "theology of peace" becomes unfaithful by dropping the God-reference (which was the only thing that made it theology)--this in the effort to make that theology more commensurate politically. Its "politics of peace', also becomes unrealistic by demanding the world do for itself what is only a theological possibility. The attempt to be both theology and politics prevents it from being either.

"But is there, then, a valid Christian politics of peace?"

The question is worded wrongly and so must be answered no. Recall how adamantly Barth objected to any political program or party taking the adjective "Christian," or "religious," and then trying use that as a recommendation of its truth and superiority. Christian political programs are as impossible as Christian mathematical formulas or Christian cookbook recipes.

Let's try again: "Is there, then, a valid politics of peace in which Christians can conscientiously participate?"

Most certainly! There is no reason to deny, even, that it can be the Christian's theology of peace that moves him to participate in the political effort. Yet, while engaged in that effort, he is obligated to act simply as a citizen (a political entity) and not pull rank as a Christian. Every proposal offered will need to be justified on political grounds, as humanly credible in the achieving of particular human results--not on the grounds that God commands it and promises to do thus and so. This in the same way that a Christian may be a physicist, but he still must keep his physical theories within the human limit and not try to enhance them with resort to miracles of God. The limits of discourse must be respected: when doing theology one must speak of God; when doing politics one must not speak of God.

In order to keep the distinction between double-mouthed "pacifism" (which tries to be both theological and political at the same time) and single-mouthed politics, let's give the latter a new label, "peacemaking." In the first place, I would think, this politics of peace, this effort at peacemaking, ought to show much more understanding of and compassion for the world and its rulers than is commonly the case with the pacifists. We need an appreciation for the kind of bind in which a secular society--a world that does not know God, remember--finds itself when there are no good answers, when apparently the best option is the admittedly poor one of violence. We need to be able to put ourselves in the shoes of rulers who have the responsibility of keeping a show on the road and populations viable when all occasions do conspire against that. Conversely, we need to sense the irrelevancy of simply dismissing all these officials as being "bad people" and the futility of glib and easy solutions (such as total, unilateral disarmament) in the face of unmanageably complex problems.

In our peacemaking, we need to realize that the sciences of politics and statecraft require expertise of the same order that medical science does--and a person's "Christianity" is no substitute for political wisdom. The top-of-the-head opinions of rank amateurs are of no more help regarding national policy than they are regarding the treatment of cancer. The peacemaker who volunteers to counsel the government on what it should do had better be properly credentialed in political science.

For instance, regarding a political complexity like Nicaragua, I find much more enlightening and helpful a scholarly article in a secular journal, written by a political scientist who knows the history of the country, has been there in government service or as a trained political observer, and who knows politics--such an article I find much more helpful than one in a religious magazine by a sincere and dedicated Christian whose observations are limited and whose political expertise is nil. If high-level peacemakers intent on being government advisors expect to be heard, they will have to show some high-level political savvy at the same time.

The above would seem to imply that, regarding the politics of peace, Ellul's maxim definitely applies: "Think globally; act loca1ly." Locally (even below the level of political structure, for that matter) is where all of us politically amateur peacemakers have a chance of making a contribution. We might help a neighbor find peace with God, help someone get at peace with himself, bring peace within a family and prevent a divorce, and so on up the line. And do not for a moment scorn this level of peacemaking as being peanuts in comparison to international peacemaking. Politics being based upon the humanly probable, the probabilities of making a significant difference are much greater locally than internationally. At the level of the local, the apparently small efforts of a great many people just might add up to a lot more peace than will ever be produced by the efforts of a few experts at the intractable top. And who knows but that God's will for peace might be meant to work from the bottom up rather than the top down.

Yet, even regarding the peace of the nations, a practical, constructive politics of peace will stand in some contast to the customary pacifist effort. Because peacemaking, now, is the practical attempt to ameliorate the conditions of tension, conflict, and military confrontation in the world and under the terms of the world's political limits of human probability, peacemakers will have to recognize and accept the impossibility of a secular world's renouncing all dependence on violence. Otherwise, if the peacemaker becomes "holier than thou" and refuses to consider any move other than total, unilateral disarmament, he will only make himself irrelevant and of no use to anyone.

Notice that, in a theology of peace, God can call his people, the believers, to become completely defenseless. However, in a politics of peace, we have no right to call a secular state to become defenseless--as a humanly prudential move. For that matter, what right does a Christian have to demand that a secular state produce in itself an order of peacefulness that the demander himself has not been able to attain within his own marriage--or a church to demand, when it can't even pacify its own Christian constituency?

When the goal of peacemaking is to help the world in preventing injustice and forwarding justice, the pacifist denial of secular society's right to self-defense and self-liberation cannot come across as anything other than totally irrelevant or even subversive. Remember, the world does not have a God it can trust to take care of survival, justice, peace, and all those things we look to God for. So secular society should hardly be expected to venture the sort of nonresistant risk-taking Christians can afford.

Consequently, the parameters of realistic political peacemaking will have to be stated thus: Granted the secular world's felt necessity for the options of both self-defense and just revolution against tyranny, how can we best scale back and tone down military preparation threat without, in the process, jeopardizing either national security or the possibility of just revolution. This, I would contend, is a realistic goal which good human politics might have a significant probability of achieving. To scorn this one in favor of the truly "Christian" vision of a world that neither needs or wants arms would succeed only in making the proposers feel righteous about themselves, without being of any help anywhere.

Stating the issue this way has the immediate effect of giving peacemaking an entirely different complexion from that so common today. No longer is it possible to make the simplistic and polarizing distinction between "we moral pacifists" and "those (everyone else) immoral warmakers." Now, it would seem, proponents from virtually every point on the political spectrum can buy the thesis that, as long as security is preserved, it is altogether right and proper for us to seek every possible means of scaling back militarism. Yes, there will be differences of opinion about what level of armament represents "military security"; but that is a question that can be debated and perhaps even settled without casting moral aspersions on anyone.

Peacemaking, now, need no longer be a battle between the righteous and the unrighteous but a common dialogue by those seeking the same end but having differing ideas about how to get there. Accordingly, the situation is "relativized"--i.e., each strategy proposal from whatever cause group can be accepted as honest and well intentioned, yet relatively (but only relatively) right or wrong, wise or unwise, practical or unrealistic, contributory or distracting. Now, even such a proposal as that of the Reagan Administration--that presently to proceed with the development of our nuclear technology will actually enhance future chances for mutually scaling-back with the Russians--that proposal can be accepted as an honest effort at peacemaking, even while arguing that it is not the wisest or most promising approach (which is not at all the same thing as its being damned as an expression of the president's desire for nuclear war).

Perhaps the first obligation of wise political peacemaking, then, is to depolarize and defuse the process of peacemaking itself--opening it to include all citizens of goodwill (and being generous in that attribution), building mutual respect (rather than nurturing dark suspicion), welcoming every proposal (rather than defending one's own as being God's truth and dismissing other people's as being of the devil). The world that peacemaking must address and with which it must work is one caught in the very difficult and complicated predicament of needing to preserve national security and, at the same time, back away from superfluous and dangerous militarism. There is no easy solution; peacemakers who imply that they (or the Bible) can provide one are not being very helpful.

No, for peacemaking, the order of the day is calm, dispassionate, reasoned, politically savvy debate--a meeting of minds to address a common problem in search of a mutually satisfactory solution. This will call, first, for complete mutual respect and then for the most deliberate and careful sort of speaking and hearing, giving and taking, negotiation, arbitration, compromise, and political creativity. But what peacemaking neither wants nor needs is simplistic sloganeering; mutual accusation, denunciation, and recrimination; raging passion; stiff-necked inflexibility; or the demanding insistence of "We aren't going to put up with any more of this stuff. We want this thing solved--and we want it solved now." Peacemaking never has been known to be well served by tantrum.

What we have come to, then, is that a faithful theology of peace can be a wonderfully moving and inspiring proclamation of promise and grace--on its own terms. Likewise, a realistic and practical politics of peace can be a humanly helpful bit of business--on its own terms. However, what we don't need is a holy arky (i.e., one asserting theological authority) to come on claiming that it has the political ways and means of creating a totally peaceful world. For that, I am afraid, we still must await the work of God when he decides the time is right.

To point out, then, what I hope is the obvious: We have here spoken only of "peace." Yet the essential principle of keeping theology theology and politics politics would apply similarly, regarding whatever issue might come to hand.


It seems to me that most of the current, widespread discussion regarding religion and politics has been less than helpful for the failure to make clear what we mean by "religion"--or "politics," for that matter. Allow me this opportunity to clarify at least what I mean.

  1. "Should Christians be active in politics?" Of course--if that where their gifts and interests lead them. At the same time, however; I must say I know of no scriptural or gospel arguments indicating that political channels offer such unique possibilities for serving one's neighbors and doing good for the world that all Christians have a sacred obligation to be politically active. Nevertheless, any Christian is also a citizen and so holds the very same political status as any and all other citizens. Christian and non-Christian citizens alike have the same freedom to participate or not participate politically--and the same civic responsibility to do so. I cannot see that a Christian affects the matter one way or another; neither privileging nor hampering one in the political arena.

  2. "Is it proper for Christians to use political means to promote their particular religious values and morals within a pluralistic society?" Sure; it is as proper for Christians to promote their values as for any and every other faith-system (or nonfaith-system) to promote its. My problem comes, rather, when we identify any of these as being "Christian" (or "religious") values and morals.

    As with all faith-systems, there is not the slightest doubt that Christians derive from their gospel particular standards of values and morality. Even so, it strikes me as grave error for us ever to identify any such derived morality as being "Christian morality." Contrary to the way in which it often is treated, the Christian-biblical gospel is not just a superior moral system among other moral systems (i.e., it is much more than simply wise counsel as to what constitutes good human behavior). No, the gospel is essentially an account of God's actions in history, not moral instruction as to how nice people should behave.

    That there is no such thing as "a Christian-biblical morality," which, if followed, would spell social health and salvation, I find indicated in two ways: (a) If there is such a unified Christian-biblical moral system, the faith-community of the church has never been close to a consensus on what it is. (b) Every moral system ever claimed to be the "Christian" one probably has been duplicated in other faiths (including wholly secular faiths). If there is anything unique about Christianity, it obviously does not lie in the moral systems derived from it. What sense, then, does it make to restrict a particular system by specifying it as "Christian"--when the fact that one is a Christian doesn't make him any more likely to accept it and the fact that he is not a Christian makes it no less acceptable to him?

    The fact is that any number of different moral systems can be and have been derived from the biblical gospel--with each having about as good arguments, documentation, and support as another. Nothing is to be gained (and a great deal of Christian charity is to be lost) by the church splitting up to battle over whose is "the truly Christian moral system." I am quite confident, for example, that the liberal Left's is not true Christian morality and the conservative Right's is actually immorality (or vice versa). Doubtlessly the Left is reading its Bible correctly on some points and wrongly on others--and the Right likewise. I would be happy to have it said either that both represent Christian moralities or that neither does (good arguments either way). But what the evidence will not allow is any party's claiming that what it represents is "Christian morality" while any party else represents "un-Christian immorality."

    What this says, then, is that Christians of any and all persuasions have a perfect right to promote in the political arena whatever morality they have derived from their Christian faith. Of course, that morality is what they take to be the "Christian" one--yet they would be smart to leave the adjective at home when going out to offer the morality for public, political consumption. They should consider that, although the term "Christian" gives that morality divine sanction for them, it will prove nothing but a handicap with anyone else. Other Christians who happen to "know" that their own is the one really true Christian morality will hardly be impressed by the party of the first part claiming divine sanction for its screwball ideas. And to denominate any one position as "Christian" certainly will hinder Jews, Hindus, secularists, atheists, and whoever from accepting it. No, even if a person's moral views are derived from the gospel, when he takes them into the political arena for promotion there, those ideas will need to stand on their own (untheological) feet, being sold on the basis of a sheerly human wisdom that can appeal pluralistically, quite apart from any considerations of religious commitment. Thus President Reagan was right in saying that he prefers we approach abortion as a moral problem rather than a religious one.

    Religously derived moral ideals are welcomed and needed in the political marketplace--although not in the form of religious claims. So, how about it?--Christians with their Christianly derived values active in the public arena? Yes. But, divine sanction introduced as political recommendation in a secular, pluralistic setting? Inviting the secular public into an intramural squabble over which Christians represent the true Christian morality and which an immoral perversion? This is where I have been insisting that religion and politics must be kept strictly separate, each within its own particular framework, operating out of its own distinctive presuppositions.

    So you tell me which side of the "religion in politics" debate I am arguing. My opinion is that the commonly presented either/or--namely, either "religion freely mixing in politics" or "religion kept strictly out of politics"--is poorly put and much too simplistic to handle the complexities of the matter.

  3. "Should particular political entities (systems, parties, programs, agencies, cause groups) include the word 'Christian' in their titles or be publicly identified as 'Christian'?" That political entities of whatever origin or ideology should exist goes without saying. That they should label themselves in such a way as to imply some sort of divine sanction, God's endorsement of their moral superiority, or super-political authority--that practice is highly questionable.

    Although, admittedly, Karl Barth did join more than one political party that was denominated "Christian," it is plain that he played no part in naming them so. He is perhaps the thinker who has been most adamant against coloring and biasing the human search for political truth by injecting extraneous, nonpolitical, non-human, faith considerations. To do so is a crime against God in dragging him down to the level of partisan politics (see Mark 12) and a crime against man in confusing and messing up his effort to come to the highest political wisdom of which he is capable.

  4. "Should church officials or official church bodies (pastors, congregations, district administrations, denominations, ecumenical bodies) make edicts implying that certain political proposals mark a degree of Christian fidelity and obedience that others do not?" This is a tricky one. It strikes me as proper for such bodies to speak in terms of general, inclusive, long-range political goals but improper to designate any particular, detailed, and exclusive political strategy as being the one Christian means of getting us to a goal.

    Thus: Yes, it is proper for the church to call us into the search for world peace. But no, it is not proper to specify a "nuclear freeze" as the one true Christian proposal for getting there. Thus: Yes, it is proper for the church to raise a Christian concern regarding the right of the unborn to life. But no, it is not the place of the church to specify, regarding abortion, what is the only law of the land that will be acceptable as moral and right. (Thus, for myself, I am convinced that the most truly moral law regarding beverage alcohol would be prohibition. Yet, knowing it to be unworkable, I am not even interested in promoting that politically as the right law for a pluralistic society. The church has to give the world room to find the moral options that are most workable in its own worldly situation.)

The moral alignment which leads me to my conclusions regarding these questions is this: The essential fact to be noted is that all political ideas, proposals, and options are creations of fallible and sinful human beings, done under the limitations of a quite morally intractable social environment. This is to say that no political proposal (no matter how Christian it is claimed to be) can guarantee very much, if anything, in the way of good results. At the very best (regarding, say, peacemaking) some proposal might result in averting certain disasters and alleviating certain conflicts--yet certainly not transform society into the peaceable kingdom of God. At next best, this proposal could prove entirely ineffectual and unworkable--yet not do any particular harm. At worst (even with the most Christian of intentions) it is quite possible for it to backfire and bring results the exact opposite of those desired. In a word, politics is a chancy business.

So, on a moral scale from zero to one hundred, the righteousness of God would lie at one hundred (the top), and all the human righteousnesses of our political morality would scatter themselves at the bottom--from zero, say, up to three. Now, politics properly done within its own horizon would operate out of a close focus upon that bottom cluster and thus find appreciable, worth-while, and important moral distinctions between, say, a 3.0 proposal and a 2.75 one.

However, let the church try to get into the act by dragging in theological considerations (God, Christian or not, the will of God, the righteousness of God) and the reading of the scale is immediately transformed. Now, with the righteousness of God in the 100 spot, all the options of human politics are seen to be under God's judgment as unrighteousness--and the difference between a 3.0 and a 2.75 is as much as indiscernible.

This would result in an entirely accurate picture--if the church were ready to confess that its solemn political decrees and counsels (even if 3.05) are actually of a kind with and as much as indistinguishable from the 2.75 political decrees and counsels of the heathen; if, in its pronouncing righteous judgment and damnation against the politics of the state and world, the church were willing to put its own politics under the same condemnation.

Yet, by officially designating its chosen politic as being the "Christian" one--the will of God, the expression of his righteousness--the church gives the impression that its place is at the 100 level, the top of the scale, as much as infinitely removed from all the un-Christian options clustered at the bottom. And that, obviously, is a totally false picture of the actual moral alignment involved.

Of course, what this designating of particular political opinions as "Christian" actually accomplishes is to introduce into the body of Christ wrath and division where none needed to happen at all. Clearly, the church does have to meet and cope with theological and spiritual divisions in the body; these have to do with the integrity of the gospel the church is committed to protect. Yet I find no question anywhere in Scripture that the church has also been delegated to protect the political orthodoxy of the world. I'm confident there are any number of Christians who consider themselves great ecumenists but who, rather than serving Christian unity, actually are shredding the body of Christ by insisting that their political opinions be recognized as the "Christian" ones, thus impugning the Christianity of whatever brothers and sisters see otherwise.

Thus we do great and totally unnecessary damage to the body of Christ whenever we move to politicize the church and the gospel. Why, for instance, should we jeopardize Christian unity for the sake of a matter as problematic as the Nestlé boycott? Grant, for an opener, the complete justice of wanting to correct Nestlé's misuse of its infant formula; there were still hard questions that should have been faced. (a) By what rationale did we focus all our power against Nestlé, while showing no concern at all regarding the much greater damagers of human welfare, the tobacco and liquor industries, which we not only fail to oppose but fail even to discourage our own Christian constituents from patronizing? By what sort of moral selectivity is it we pick our political targets and marshal our fighting spirits for justice? Indeed, I would be happy once to find the church as concerned about the misuse of its own product (biblical theology) as it was about Nestlé's misuse of its.

(b) No matter how evil Nestlé's practice, the question should have been raised as to whether the amassing of the church's partisan political power forcibly (by economic clout) to impose our virtue on the company was a means consonant with the gospel counsels of suffering love. (The church's opinion of the rightness of economic boycott reverses dramatically as soon as it is a question of local congregations withholding financial support from denominational programs they find to be Christianly unworthy.)

So why could not the churches--in the interests of preserving both Christian truth and their own Christian unity--have been content to raise the moral issue of Nestle's practice. The church then could have recognized the Christian integrity of (1) those led to join the boycott and (2) those preferring the more loving, persuasive approach of talking things out with the Nestlé executives and (3) those feeling called to make their moral witness on issues other than the Nestlé one? Speaking thus, the churches could have been heard by their total constituencies as having a word from God. But no, what we like to credit as being "Christian courage" must take the form of infallible edicts as to which political option is "the Christian one"--leaving stand the implication that whatever church members fail to agree are not the true Christians their morally dogmatic brethren are.

If this is what "religion in politics" is to mean, I find it truly contributive to neither politics nor religion. It distorts political reality by implying that one political position stands outside the judgment of God, 97 points above all others. And it is actually destructive of religious reality, namely, the mutual recognitions of love obtaining between head, hands, and feet--all the various members of the body of Christ.

Religion and politics? I think I am saying that there are senses both in which they belong together and in which they must be kept clearly distinct. That of which I am certain is that political-religious-moral dogmatism is of absolutely no help.