Church and State pt 6: initial explorations of practical implications

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : March 28, 2007

Christian Anarchism is an ETHICAL/POLITICAL position. In other words, Christian Anarchism is a way of life–a way of living and moving in the world–a way of relating to the State–a way of being the Church in our World. Saying we have allegiance to Jesus over (and against) the State and that we follow in his radical politic requires action. It requires that we name the plague and take steps to respond to it in a Kingdom way.Often, this may align with the goals of the State. I don’t reject the possiblity of using the governmental system–but we must do so as though it were not our own. We are truly foreigners in a strange land. We must act accordingly. We must hold these things in tension:

  1. We must love the nation in which we live, as we are called to love our enemy (Romans 12-13).
  2. We must resist the principalities and powers as they are made manifest in the nation in which we live (Ephesians 6).
  3. We must forsake violence and rebellion in our resistance (Matthew 5, Romans 13), instead seeking to live at peace as much as it is up to us.
  4. Our driving ethic should NOT be one of resistance. Instead, we should strive to live in the Kingdom of God. Insodoing, we must resist the State as it offers a competing (often destructive) story and ethic.


Does this mean we shouldn’t vote?

I don’t vote. I don’t like being forced to choose the lesser of two evils. I recognize, however, that one can never successfully extricate one’s self from the governmental/economic/political system in this nation. Here I agree with my friend David, who says that we need to develop spiritual disciplines for faithful enagement within the system. We’d disagree on what this looks like (since he isn’t a Christian Anarchist). To me it includes non-voting (the ideal is to actually go to the polls and register a no-vote). Voting is the biggest intentional way in which Americans affirm the current political system. To vote is to put faith in the change that can come through American Democracy. It is ultimately about having power over others–a power that carries coercive force. Others may disagree with my assessment…and I think it is theoretically possible to be a Christian Anarchist and vote (just like it is possible to be a Christian Anarchist and buy a lottery ticket). Whether we like it or not, we’re enmeshed within the system. We must make thoughful attempts to live counter-culturally, thoughtful (and often strategic attempts) to seperate ourselves from the system, and thoughtful attempts to speak prophetically into the system. But must only do so AS Kingdom people.

What about lobbying? Protesting?

I actually think lobbying and protesting are better actions than voting. Voting seems like more of an “internal” way of bringing change, whereas lobbying and protesting (especially protesting) are more external. A good rule of thumb (in my warped mind) is “the measure to which an Irishman can engage in the American political system is the measure to which a Christian can engage in the American political system.” Since the Irish can protest and lobby, so can I. Both Christians and the Irish assume they are outsiders in the American governmental system.

As Christian, we can protest and lobby as Christians in a profoundly prophetic way without compromising our convictions. And I firmly believe that lobbying and protesting are much more compelling ways of changing society than voting. Martin Luther King Jr. is a good example of this.

Should we pay taxes?

Yes. Some have argued that we are under no obligation to pay taxes. They argue that we should never RESIST tax collectors, but we shouldn’t offer up our taxes. I don’t buy it. I think we should pay taxes out of our call to live at peace as much as we are able. I’m open to challenge on this, however. Who wouldn’t like to keep 30% of their income and give it directly to those in need?

Should we receive government benefits (health care, etc.)?

Ahhh…this is a sticky one. In my mind, the church has so failed to care for its own and given up its functions to the State to such an extent that it is cruel to expect Christians to refuse state-provided healthcare and benefits. Thankfully, there are alternatives (like Medi-Share or Health Democracy). There are some problems with these alternatives, however. I pray that the Church provides better alternatives.

More implications to come…

Mark Van Steenwyk is the editor of He is a Mennonite pastor (Missio Dei in Minneapolis), writer, speaker, and grassroots educator. He lives in South Minneapolis with his wife (Amy), son (Jonas) and some of their friends.

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Viewing 8 Comments

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    It seems interesting if you categorize the implications of anarchy—at least the points you’ve got listed above. Basically, those modes of interacting with the state where kingdom people give of their own volition to those in the other kingdom—this is acceptable. Yet those things which the state gives to kingdom people—kingdom people reject. Generally, on an interpersonal level, this is simple arrogance.
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    I think it's interesting you say we should pay taxes. Personally, on the basis that it is clearly giving my energy and production to things which are not Kingdom oriented (indeed directly opposed to the Kingdom given our military spending) I think this would be forbidden. Our energy, production and possessions, having come from God, ought to be given back to God. The 'render unto caesar' command is ironic, because everything belongs to God and not Caesar.

    This being said. I pay my taxes, which I suppose makes me a hypocrite.
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    On paying taxes:

    An easy way to not pay income taxes is to be poor. We got all the money back we payed plus some extra, I think. Yeah, its a little like "free-loading" except we do not use any welfare type services. We just work hard in an economically depressed area and earn the typical wage offered.

    Just a thought.
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    I'm not sure I understand where the arrogance is. Could you clarify? I don't see the distinction you're making. In my mind, it isn't a question of arrogance, but a matter of identity/affiliation/allegiance.
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    I think your series on the topic of christian anarchism is brilliant and I totally (I think) agree.
    I would, though, like you to spell out more clearly how you think power should be used in the (local) assembly of christians. Most of your material in this series has focus about the relationship to the state, but I think the use of power in church should be a top-of-the-list-topic. To me , the christian anarchy of the New Testament seams to favour decision-making through consensus (no majority rule), avoidance of priviliged titles (as in Matt 23), an ever-present openess to the free sharing of every member of the messiahs body (1 Kor 14:26-), public discussion of the dominant speakers (1 Kor 14:26- again), abolition of "private property" along the lines of Acts and church-controlled delegation of specific obligations within the church as in the so called pastoral letters.
    How do you practise and think about these matters?
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    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not personally accusing you of arrogance but I find this is the secular critique leveled at anyone who radically defines two kingdoms and defines strong limits to engagement in/with the other. I’m surprised if you haven’t run into it yet.
    I pay taxes. I give of my resources to the poor. I give and invest in others out of my abundance or my poverty to everyone, without consideration for what kingdom this person is in (using your terms). Part of the reason for giving is to demonstrate the incarnational abundance of God’s kingdom and the free nature of its gifts, so those who are not yet a part of that kingdom can be compelled to switch kingdoms. However, for the things kingdom people need, generally those who wish to subvert the empire, they refuse to be supported or nourished by the “abundance of the empire” so to speak. This would include refusing medical insurance generated by the government, government program handouts and helps. I think the intent of this is to live out the belief that the empire’s gifts are not free nor are they gifts—they tempt us into allegiance.
    On an interpersonal level, we would say someone is arrogant if he/she had a mode of operation whereby they only gave to others generously and received nothing offered in return. If I can help and support you but refuse anything you might want to “freely” give to me, I am non-verbally saying something about myself and what I have with respect to you and what you have. Nothing that you can give me will sustain me—however, what I give is what you need. I’m beginning to see Christ’s radical assertions behind this mode of engagement. But what do we say to the accusation of arrogance?
    I hope that was clearer.
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    Great thoughts and questions, Espiritu Paz (if that is your REAL name). I'm not uber confident in my response...most of my blog is me trying to think my way into things, rather the outcome of ponderous reflections. With that disclaimer established, let me just say that I think we need to perhaps move beyond a two kingdoms approach. It isn't that we the Church (as one group) needs to engage in American Culture (as another group) simply on our own terms--giving, yet never receiving.

    In my thinking, I've shifted away from a two kingdoms approach into thinking of a one Kingdom approach--a Christarchy, if you will. In this way, Jesus is the Lord and all caesars are would-be usurpers. In my mind, then, I can give and take from folks...but never in a way that recognizing caesar's legitimacy. I realize that there are problems with this perspective. My largest concerns are that we:

    1) recognize a very much this-world soveriegnty of Christ over (and even against) the Powers (including the State).

    2) that we don't resist the Powers physically, but spiritually, and with loving, compassionate hospitality.

    3) that we center ourselves with those who have been marginalized by the State.

    4) that, since we are enmeshed within the System whether we like it or not, we live within the system as adamant Christ-followers (including in the aforementioned political sense).

    The sticky-wicket, as it were, in all of this is that while we resist the State, I believe we are called, simultaneously, to turn the other cheek as we love them. This complicates things because then our goal isn't merely to subvert the Empire, but to love it. And this requires engagement. This requires a self-reflective, thoughtful, disciplined way of relating with the Empire (are you hearing this dlw...this is a big area of overlap that promises some room for dialogue). I'm not sure of how to go about doing that...holding the tension of subversion and embrace. Hospitality is a useful concept here...but I think you're right that it can be simply one-way. That would be a monologue, not a dialogue.
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    One thing we can push is the Peace Tax Fund bill:


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