A Definition of Christian Anarchism

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : January 12, 2007

Christian anarchism is based upon the answer of Jesus to the Pharisees, when He said that he without sin should be the first to cast the stone, and upon the Sermon on the Mount, which advises the return of good for evil and the turning of the other cheek. Therefore, when we take any part in government by voting for legislative, judicial, and executive officials, we make these men our arm by which we cast a stone and deny the Sermon on the Mount.

The dictionary definition of a Christian is one who follows Christ; kind, kindly, Christ-like. Anarchism is voluntary cooperation for good, with the right of secession. A Christian anarchist is therefore one who turns the other cheek, overturns the tables of the moneychangers, and does not need a cop to tell him how to behave. A Christian anarchist does not depend upon bullets or ballots to achieve his ideal; he achieves that ideal daily by the One-Man Revolution with which he faces a decadent, confused, and dying world.

From the Book of Ammon by Ammon Hennacy

Ok. I know that my use of the word “anarchy” is a bit in-your-face.  I know that it is extreme.  But I’m an extreme kind-of guy.  But extreme only in my desire to completely move away from having power OVER anyone as I seek to serve humanity as a kind, loving, simple servant.  Those of you who know me personally know that I seldom come across as a particularly kind, loving, or simple servant (though I’d like to think I have my moments).

Next week, I’m hoping to delve further into my views on “Christian Anarchism”–my way of understanding the relationship between the Church and State (and with society in general).  I’ll deal with those passages that one usually offers as definitive proof against Christian Anarchism (Romans 13 and the “render to Caesar” passage). My exploration will be largely intellectual, though I will certainly share practical implications.
But here is my bottom line.  Most of you aren’t Christian Anarchists.  Nor do I want to try to make you into Christian Anarchists.  I don’t have any major problems with people who vote or get involved in the political process per se.  My major beef is with folks that trust in the power of the State to accomplish the things Jesus has called us–the Church–to accomplish.  If we, the Church, would just marshal our resources to embody the sort of ethic Jesus embodies, then we’d go much further than efforts to get 1% of some nations budget to address poverty in Africa.  Sure, voting in such a way that the poor may be cared for is better than nothing.  So too is it better to vote to limit abortions than it is to do nothing.  But c’mon people.  We are called to be the Church–not Christ-influenced citizens of America whose primary way of change comes through our voting, our spending habits, and our rhetoric.  When will the Church realize…when will WE realize…that we can bring about SO MUCH good if only we’d be bold, lay down our lives, roll up our sleeves and seek to live out the Gospel.

If you do that–even if your initial efforts are flimsy and meek–I don’t care what sort of Christian you are.

Lord, may we embody your Son into the world.  May we put feet to the fruits of your Spirit.  I pray this in the name of your precious Son, Jesus, who lives and reigns with you forever, and by the power of your Spirit, who dwells among us who are your Temple.  Amen.

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4 Responses to “A Definition of Christian Anarchism”

  1. dlw on January 12th, 2007 10:23 am


    Part of our lives that we lay down is in how we participate in the remaking of the rules that govern us.

    The issue is one of consequentialism and the sorts of disciplines that we ought to undertake as Christians. When one chooses not to vote, one does not alter the fact that the sword of the state is wielded, often in unruly ways. Our personal disassociation from such behavior does not alter the behavior. The sorts of counter-cultural lifestyle habits that are meant to change hearts can be done regardless of how we discipline our participation in the democratic process. It is a fact that we inevitably need to deal with parties as intermediaries for our participation, but that does not mean associating ourselves closely with said parties. Though, I believe that third parties at the outskirts of the political process would be preferable, inasmuch as they are both more decentralized and may help make the center more dynamic.

    Currently, the US overall is undisciplined. We generally have pretty weak habits of political deliberation and that has been impacting the witness of Christianity, inasmuch as, due to the far-reaching effects of the thirty-years war, we remained exceptional in the number of people who still held to Christianity, albeit in a flawed dualistic form. Given this context, it is a worthwhile part of Christian’s ministry to help more USAmericans be more disciplined in how they participate in the political process. We need to preach that this is a critical part of how we love our neighbor as ourselves. We also need to bear in mind that the state is willy-nilly going to be involved with Sudan aid one way or the other, as the problem at root is in a failure of the state of Sudan to fulfill its God-given mandate to use violence to constrain human sinfulness. It is fallacious to suggest that Christians could solve this problem without the state. When we donate money, we are transferring our ability to get the sword of the state wielded on our behalf. This is inherent in the institution of private property.

    As such, You’re pointing to the ideal and abstracting from the extent we are still under the powers described in the book of Daniel, chapter two. As I understand it, we are now in the final divided kingdom that is composed of an unstable mixture of iron and clay(aristocracy and democracy). We are to trust that this order will be overcome by the politics of Jesus, but it is a now and not-yet sort of deal. We must thereby theologize in a historical and contextual manner how we interact with the state as part of our witness to the world. Too much political theology is counterproductive when claims of ahistorical rules are pronounced about how Christians shd deal with this matter.



  2. RonMck on January 12th, 2007 2:22 pm

    I have been called an anachist.
    I have written on this theme atBlessed Economist

  3. Brother Dan on January 12th, 2007 11:15 pm

    I’m looking forward to reading more of your thoughts in the posts to come. Though I will need to have some ambiguity resolved of how I think of Anarchy and how you seem to use it. Anarchy, as I have understood it is the rule of no one or perhaps more minimally, “the absence of state enforced morality.” What I hear you describing is the personal or communal commitment to a lord who is above the state. The former I would have some hard questions for, the latter I hope to embody. The former has its roots in the 18th century, the latter at least to Moses and arguably Abraham.

    All this is to say is that when the babies are in bed, the dishes are done and the animals fed I will look forward to dialing up the blog to read and learn.


  4. » COBRA, Christian anarchism, etc. on January 16th, 2007 11:11 pm

    […] I’ve had a few interesting conversations recently, both in person and through email, about the idea of Christian anarchism, and have even had a couple requests to write some kind of statement about a specifically Catholic take on this tradition that would particularly address the whole question of Church authority. I’m kicking around some ideas for that. I was impressed with a couple posts [1] [2] recently over at Mark Van Steenwyk’s Jesus Manifesto blog that described his thoughts on Christian anarchism. […]

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