Anarchism, Christianity, and the Prophetic Imagination 10

November 30, 2007

In the past few installments I’ve initiated a brief discussion of some basic principles of anarchism. Now I will turn to a discussion of some implications of these principles regarding the relationship between anarchists and the modern nation-state.

I first have to say that, which it is very possible to look back through history and see anarchistic ideals lived out in various contexts, anarchism as a political philosophy proper (or, depending on how you look at it, improper) has developed in a very modern context and continues to develop in the late/post-modern world in different ways. It’s not necessarily that it’s simply reactionary to modern developments, but rather one has to understand that the development of the modern nation-state and capitalism in the 17th-18th centuries forms a necessary backdrop to anarchism from the 19th century to the present. I’m not going to make a thorough recap of the history here, but I will suffice it to say that there is a strong argument historically that can be made to present the nation-state and capitalism as the modern heir to the structures of monarchy, nobility, and feudalism from the Medieval period - not necessarily in all respects, but if one follows the dominant strands of political thinking, particularly in the Anglo-American world, Hobbes, Locke, and the American Federalists (as well as Jefferson to a large extent) make definite arguments for an elite class in society to regulate and govern the affairs of the society as a whole. In fact, it is very arguable that the United States Constitution is a seminal development in this process.

From Hobbes’ idea of the tyrant who protects the masses from themselves to Locke’s concept of a social contract between property owners, for the mutual protection of their own interests, to the developments in America and modern political theorists’ conception of the nation-state as an entity that exists to control the use of violence, the history modern political development can very easily be read as of the development of techniques to control the course of society in order to further the interests of select classes of people (and with that I invite you to re-read my Ecclesiastes and Empire post). Capitalism likewise has developed under the shadow of the nation-state, generally dependent upon the state or at least intertwined with it, as has always been the alliance between money and political power. Just ask people in Hawaii in the 1890s, Guatemala and Iran in the 1950s, Iraq from 1991 to the present, and Burma in the 2000s about the relationship between economic “prosperity” and political oppression (and these are far from being the only relevant cases). Or for a view from history, read General Smedley Butler’s classic War Is a Racket. An excerpt:

War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses.

I believe in adequate defense at the coastline and nothing else. If a nation comes over here to fight, then we’ll fight. The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.

I wouldn’t go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.

There isn’t a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to. It has its “finger men” to point out enemies, its “muscle men” to destroy enemies, its “brain men” to plan war preparations, and a “Big Boss” Super-Nationalistic-Capitalism.

It may seem odd for me, a military man to adopt such a comparison. Truthfulness compels me to. I spent thirty- three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle- man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.

Encountering Empire with a Christ Shaped Imagination for the World

November 29, 2007

God invites us into communion through Christ. God enters our world in the incarnation, and continues to create in and among us. Not only this, but God invites us through the Spirit of God into the incarnation of Christ. As we enter the communion of Christ then we become the body of Christ in the world. We are offered as God’s communion to the world, inviting the world into relationship with God.

But what about brokenness and sin?

Sin messes with the community(communion) we have with God. Yet God continues to offer community back to the world. So then, from a sacramental understanding, communion is held within Christianity (to varying degrees) as a means of God’s grace.

If in Christ we are offered as communion to the world, we are called to intersect with the problem of sin. But what does the intersection with sin look like? I am not convinced that the primary lens should be about punishment, guilt, or penal substitution. Instead, I believe that the key paradigm is reconciliation through Jesus Christ.

Jesus offered language for thinking about what the invitation to community with God looks like. He calls it the “Kingdom of God.” The Kingdom of God is the reality of community with God through reconciliation in Christ. It is a new reality that intersects the reality of a world of relationships broken by sin.

The empire we reference on this site (as I read it) is somewhat synonymous with systems and relationships that operate in the brokenness of sin. We are invited into restored relationship with Christ to live in the kingdom of God here and now.

As we view the sin and brokenness of life under the empire’s systems that destroy communion with God in the world, we are called to engage in a new dialog with sin.

Instead of thinking of God as looking for chances to destroy and annihilate sin, we are called to see God for who Jesus shows us God is. We need to allow our minds to be disciplined in the practice of imagining what God’s hope is for our world.

This is part of community with God. It is also the place where we can be offered as communion to the world. Instead of being separatists or having disdain for the sin of the world, we can participate in the imaginative, playful, and reconciling hope of God for the world.

What does it look like for us to actively imagine life in the lens of Jesus’ kingdom?

Rather than living our lives in conformity with the ways of the empire around us we are called into kingdom of God.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2 (TNIV)

Anarchism, Christianity, and the Prophetic Imagination 9

November 29, 2007

Another implication of having decentralized authority structures has to do with the ways anarchists generally tend to view leadership. What’s that, you say? Anarchists and leaders? Is that not a contradiction? No, it is not, though that is another common misconception about anarchism.

What anarchists desire is to have no institutionalized leadership structures. Rather than having a CEO for twenty years, or a president for four years or a principal for sixteen years, leaders would arise depending on the needs of a particular situation facing the group. That is to say, decentralized power structures lead to dynamic leadership structures that change as the needs of the group change. This is quite different from the commonly-understood leadership model where one person with a vision is on top and implements policies by his initiative and action by delegating. Delegation may be part of what a leader in a dynamic, decentralized structure does, but it is not as one who has power over the others involved - rather each person should use their skills to serve the needs of the group in the situation.

One example of this type of leadership is the Spies for Peace, were a group of people in Britain who uncovered the governments’ plans to ensure the survival of the ruling elite in case of nuclear war. The group had no official leadership. Rather a leader would arise based on their skills and the task at hand; that person would cease to be the “leader” when a new task came about and a new skill was needed to take care of it. Sometimes you could have multiple leaders if more than one thing was needed in a particular instance. In that way leaders appeared and disappeared at any given time. This is different than simply designating someone to be a leader and letting them lead for extended periods of time, without consideration for changing situations. Accountability is to the group itself, rather than to a board or council within the group, and again the people who are affected by the decisions should be the ones who ultimately make them and choose the course of action.

Help Missio Dei Buy a New Ministry Center!

November 28, 2007

By 2008, this site will be relaunched as a web magazine. This will give readers greater choice about what they read, make the site more user-friendly, and offer greater opportunities for dialogue and diversity of content.

It will also allow me to write updates about my own life and ministry. The old Jesus Manifesto was a personal blog. The new one is not…we have a wider audience now. But I find that I miss blogging about my own personal struggles and my own ministry issues.

So forgive me if this post is irritating to you. Right now Missio Dei is in an exciting time as more people are becoming a part of our ministry. We’re also looking at purchasing a ministry center.

pledgeMissio Dei currently operates a communal ministry house and meets Sunday evenings in the basement of a local coffee shop. We’ve been looking for another space for intentional living for some time. And we’ve just found a property that would work well as our ministry center.

The property is an old bar that has been immaculately restored and cared for.

The 4600 sq ft property is listed at $550,000 (though with the market the way it is, we may be able to get it for less) and is located in the ideal location for our ministry needs. It has apartment space for intentional community (with minimal remodeling, we’ll be able to turn it into a spacious 4 bedroom apartment), a large gathering space (for up to 100 people), office space, and a restored basement that would be used for art studios and/or classrooms.

It also has a very full sized two car garage (which would be used as workshop space), a large lot that would add more space for our urban gardening project, and an enclosed outdoor courtyard between the garage and the main building.

This would be a great next step in what we?re doing. Missio Dei has been faithful for the past few years?we?ve resisted easy growth as we?ve sought to root ourselves in the neighborhood. We?ve become a people of hospitality, a people of prayer, a people who put faithfulness to Jesus before the ornaments of church success. This property would help us to do everything we?re doing now, but with greater intensity and greater impact. We?re ready for this. We?re praying for this. But we need help from brothers and sisters in Christ to make this a reality.

We’re trying to raise $100,000. I know it is a lot. But this property will give us a HUGE step forward, allowing us to dramatically increase our impact. We’d have a larger capacity for intentional community, the ability to serve the local programs that lack classroom space, an increased capacity for hospitality, and a long-term gathering space for our various meetings.

Having a down payment will allow us to get a loan from the Mennonite Church USA. Or, at the very least, it will allow us to work with an investor while retaining a stake of our own in the property.

Here’s how you can help:

1) Give financial support. At the top of the Missio Dei website ( there is a link that says “give.” This is a totally secure online giving portal, created for Missio Dei by Vanco Services. Your donations are tax deductible. If we are unable to purchase the property in question, your donation will be set aside for the future purchase of a ministry center.

2) Pledge financial support. If you’d like to help us purchase this property, but want your financial support to go only towards this particular property, you can pledge your support via the contact page on our website. Make sure you include your phone and address, along with the amount you intent to pledge.

fund sidebar3) Tell others! If you have friends and family that might be interested in the work of Missio Dei, let them about our need. If you have a blog, let your readers know about our need. We’ve created a special image that you can add to the sidebar of your blog.

Add the image to your sidebar and direct it to We’ll keep this information on our home page until we are able to purchase the property.

Church and Money

November 28, 2007

Like Mark, our church is also fundraising for a building that can serve as a permanent home in the midst of the community we love. Through this process, we have had to ask a lot of questions about how we can raise money and still remain faithful to the way of Jesus. It seems to me that an “anything goes” philosophy is probably not acceptable, but how do we begin to discern which approaches are okay and which are not?

For instance, this weekend we were at my wife’s grandparents’ house for Thanksgiving. One of her cousins, who is on staff at a church of 22,000 people, had a copy of his church newspaper. Not newsletter…newspaper. According to their website, the newspaper has a circulation of over 30,000 homes. They sell advertising space for $1375 for a full page ad. The newspaper was filled with pizza coupons, oil change inserts, “christian” businesses that we should all support, etc.

To me, selling advertising space is probably not okay…Naming rights for the sanctuary? The “Taco Bell Library”? Sponsors names flashing on the screen between worship songs? But what about other common church fundraisers: bake sales, garage sales, and car washes. Are these acceptable? What about sending support letters and asking people directly for money? What basis do we use to discern the appropriateness of these methods? How do we balance the reality of the need for money, in our case for money that comes from outside of our church community, with the desire to approach the need for money with integrity to our biblical values?

Anarchism, Christianity, and the Prophetic Imagination 8

November 28, 2007

Having looked at the basic principle of anarchism, that of decentralization of power structures and shared authority, we will now flesh out some implications. The first implication we will discuss is the idea of direct action.

The idea of decentralized leadership leads to the concept of direct action. Direct action occurs when people participate directly in decision-making processes or personally get involved in affecting political and social change. So instead of voting for representatives to make decisions on your behalf as we (theoretically) do in elections, people would have a direct say on the issues that affected them, by participating in discussions, getting involved in a form of protest or making different choices. It means taking a hands-on approach to life – rather than letting others decide on or dictate it for you - in ways that even “representative democracy” cannot allow.

David Wieck gives an example of direct action in a practical circumstance. Say a butcher (if you’re vegetarian say an organic grocer) is cheating customers at his store. There are three basic types of action one can take to resolve the situation. “Mere talk” is to simply complain about the butcher’s cheating and to not do anything about it. “Indirect action” would be to report the butcher to the Department of Weights and Measurements – and have them deal with the problem (you hope). But “direct action” means dealing with the butcher personally, whether that means taking your business elsewhere, bringing your own scale to measure the meat or starting your own shop that doesn’t cheat the customers. It should be noted that dealing with the butcher violently is not recommended - remember, anarchism seeks to REDUCE the violence in society.

Direct action is also used to enact larger social changes. So although it wasn’t anarchist, the Civil Rights Movement featured several direct action tactics to protest segregation, including boycotts against bus companies and businesses, lunch counter sit-ins, freedom rides, demonstrations and other forms of civil disobedience. Other forms of direct action include sabotage, work stoppages or slowdowns, and strikes.

A corollary of direct action is mutual aid, where people support each other in solidarity to help meet each others’ needs. Mutual aid involves cooperation to ensure that everyone in the community has their needs met, instead of competing in the name of self-interest. Mutual aid could also function as a kind of living critique of modern individual isolation. The early church in Acts 2 and 4 is a quintessential picture of a society based on mutual aid.

Next time we will look at anarchism and leadership.

The State of JM

November 27, 2007

rebel-trash-jesus.jpgIt has been a little over a month since I relaunched as a collaborative blog. For the most part, I’ve been pleased with the results. Traffic has increased, more perspectives have been shared, and comments are up. However, I have heard some critiques. The most common critiques are:A) From friends who say: “I miss reading about you, Mark, and your personal stuff. I only read JesusManifesto because we know and care about you.”

B) From others who say: “With this latest re-launch, your blog has steadily drifted into Christian Anarchist waters. Before, the blog definitely had that feel, but it included stuff that was generally helpful to us non-anarchist types.”

C) Still others say: “I wish there were some basic 101 posts that would help me understand the stuff that has been posted lately. You post so much now, but it isn’t easy to find old posts to bring me up to speed. It is just too much too quick.”

Do you agree with these critiques? In what ways do you think Jesus Manifesto is better than before? At this point, I’m really interested in more feedback.

While I’m asking for your opinions, I’d like your advice on one more thing. Someone has graciously offered me some money to use towards the site. I’m SERIOUSLY considering switching platforms from Wordpress (which has been great) to ExpessionEngine. ExpressionEngine would allow me to upgrade to something more like a webzine. Basically, this would allow me to categorize posts as articles in different categories, allow for more fully integrated forums, etc. Basically, it could function a bit like functions. If I made the switch, the current authors would post content into different categories, making it easier for readers to choose the content they want to read. And it would be easier to find stuff that interests readers on the front page. For those that miss reading about my life and ministry, I would create a separate editor’s blog. People using RSS could subscribe to the whole blog, seperate categories, or just to my editor’s blog. PLUS, we’d allow people to submit articles and comment upon each of those articles.

But I want to know what you think. Would you be interested in something like this?

The Post-Helvetica Church

November 26, 2007

Recently, I watched a fascinating little documentary called Helvetica, which explores the ubiquitous nature of the font of the same name. It has been 50 years since the font made its debut. Since then, it has become the standard for brand logos, government documents, street signs, and word processing (Windows uses Arial–a cheap rip-off of Helvetica).

Helvetica typifies modern sensibilities. It is clean, efficient, easy to read, and utterly neutral. The font is considered by many to be the perfect expression of neutralism. In the documentary, graphic designer Wim Crouwel reflects, “It should be neutral. It shouldn’t have a meaning in itself. The meaning is in the content of the text and not in the typeface.” It is a disembodied, gnostic font. It is universal. And it woos us to conformity.

In the 80s, postmodernism began to challenge the reign of Helvetica. In a new era of subjectivity, typographers began to rebel against the status quo as they designed expressive fonts that reinforced the meaning of their signified content. This troubled some of the typographic establishment, who saw this group of young typographers as “completely confused by that disease that was called postmodernism…[they] were just going around like chickens without their heads by using all kinds of typefaces…they didn’t know what they were caring for, they only knew what they were against…and what they were against was Helvetica.”One of those “headless chickens” was David Carson. Carson saw the hegemony of Helvetica as artistically stifling. In the documentary, he exhorts: “Don’t confuse legibility with communication…just because something is legible, doesn’t mean it communicates. And more importantly, it doesn’t mean it communicates the right thing.”Does this debate sound familiar? Maybe the emerging church is simply trying to design a new font to tell the story of God? Though it probably goes deeper than that. But at the very least, we are trying to embrace the notion that form cannot be divorced from function, nor medium from message. We are trying to redesign the church–and indeed Christianity itself. Not so that we can remake Jesus Christ in our own image. But so that we can set the Gospel free from status quo. We inherited the Church of Helvetica, and wonder if it sufficiently communicates the message.

Anarchism, Christianity, and the Prophetic Imagination 7

November 26, 2007

In the last post we looked at two major misconceptions about anarchism and anarchists. Now we will explore one of the most basic aspects of anarchism, the principle of shared and decentralized power and authority.

As I said before, anarchism is not the idea of politics without order, but rather the politics of a different order, meaning politics with decentralized authority, rather than a hierarchically-based authority. Anarchism has at its root the idea that centralized power structures should be criticized and even dismantled to allow for the development of more equitable and just structures where every voice is heard and those directly affected by decisions are the ones making them.

Most institutions are designed according to top-down models of authority – CEOs, presidents, legislative bodies, managers, school principals, and so on. Those on top make decisions that trickle down to the people on the bottom. But this is usually a one-way process. Although management sometimes responds to the desires of people on the bottom in an effort to pacify them, it rarely results in substantial changes.

As a result, the overwhelming majority of people, whether they are in a democracy or a dictatorship, don’t make decisions about what laws are made, what rules they have to follow or what policies they’ll put in place. A much smaller segment of the population retains the power to make these decisions and the rest of the people simply have to do it or face the consequences, even if they disagree or the rules don’t make sense (example of the latter: the US tax code). So although we can vote for the president and senators, you don’t vote on the kinds of policies you want them to implement. As such if you don’t like the job he or she does after they have gotten into office, you can’t really do anything about it until the term is over and you get to vote again - and even then you are forced to choose between the candidates the parties put before you, regardless of whether any of them represent what you think would be better or more just.

The hierarchical mode of organizing tends to produce a society that looks something like this:

The Bosses and the Bossed

And while the methods of control in a so-called democracy will differ somewhat from those of a dictatorship the net result is still the same - people are unable to have any substantial control over the decisions that affect them in their day-to-day lives.

Anarchists reject “pyramid” models of organizing society and its institutions in favor of modes that are decentralized, where people share power more equally, and where no one person or group of people should have the ability to gain too much power over another. Decisions that affect groups of people are made by consensus, by agreement, and not by “I said so, you do it”. The decision to change an aspect of society would begin with groups of people getting together to talk about whether a certain policy or course of action is a good idea. The impetus for the decision would come from the ground up, with those who are directly affected most involved in the decision-making process. The process might take longer as consensus-building tends to be a time-consuming activity, but everyone (regardless of class, sex, or other identifying factors) would have equal power in making the decision, and everyone’s rights and responsibilities as a member of the community would be respected. Anarchists believe that basing decisions on consensus, and not coercion, would result in a more just and orderly society than hierarchical models. This is true both of communitarian and syndicalist forms of anarchism (which tend to be more labor- or economically-based) as well as primitivist forms (which tend to be based more on a tribal understanding or even on hunter-gatherer ideas).

This is a very brief overview of the principle of decentralization and how it is different from hierarchical modes of society. Next time we will begin to look at some of the implications of this principle, beginning with the concept of direct action.

Anarchism, Christianity, and the Prophetic Imagination 6

November 24, 2007

To this point we have engaged some preliminary questions about the natures of empire and resistance. Now it’s time to begin exploring the basics of anarchism, starting with a rebuttal of some common misconceptions about anarchy as a political philosophy (I should note here that I tend to use “anarchism” as referring to political anarchy, though my usage is not always consistent). Anarchism as a political philosophy is often confused with a more generalized notion of the meaning of “anarchy”. To quote Jesus Radicals:

Just like the word “Christianity” itself, the words “anarchy,” “anarchism” and “anarchist” are abused terms. They are abused so often by the media, state historians and government officials that, by no fault of her own, the average person on the street only thinks of chaos, terrorists and random violence when the term anarchist comes up.

The first major misconception is that anarchism is about chaos or disorder. In fact, anarchism is not a politics of disorder - quite the opposite, really. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who may have been the first person to use the term “anarchist” self-referentially, is famous for his statement, “Anarchy is order”. He said, “Liberty is the mother, not the daughter, of order.” Proudhon believed that if people could be freed from external tyrannies they would create for themselves a structure in which to live life that would be, on the whole, more free, more just, and more ordered than that which was imposed by the alliance of government, economic power, and military and police violence. Or, as David Layson put it, “Anarchy is not chaos, but order without control.”

Anarchism is not about disorder and chaos, it is about creating a different kind of order. Catholic Worker co-founder and anarchist Peter Maurin often described the goal of the movement as to create a society where it is easier for people to be good. This is a far cry from the common picture of anarchy as chaos that would inevitably be characterized by lawlessness and vigilante action, a dog-eat-dog world where strong prey on the weak. Anarchism is about as far as that as you can get, as we will see when we get more into what it is.

The second major misconception is that anarchism and anarchists are violent. The truth is that anarchism is fundamentally a critique of violence. It is true that some anarchists have used violent means to further their goals. It is also true that anarchists have often been confused with nihilists – there were groups of nihilists in Europe, particularly Russia in the late 19th and early 20th century who made a conscious tactical decision to assassinate as many people in positions of power as possible, hoping to create an attitude of fear among those who would be leaders and so eventually persuade them through fear of violence to leave those positions of power vacant. The relationship between nihilism and anarchism is complex, but on the whole anarchism is more critical than utilizing of violence and anarchists generally desire to create a more peaceful world.

It should also be noted that the destruction of property is often included in official reports as “acts of violence”, but there is a real debate that is going on, and has been going on for some time, about whether destruction of property should be considered an act of violence. Some would argue that it is, or at least can be, fundamentally an act of liberation. Anarchists tend to value human beings over property, and many feel that the modern nation-state, historically based as it is on Lockian philosophy that emphasized the state as an alliance between property owners for their mutual benefit, elevates property above humanity. This is not to necessarily endorse the destruction of property in all or even any circumstances, but rather to illustrate that there is actually a viable debate about property destruction as it relates to the concept of violence, and so it is disingenuous to automatically and unquestioningly point to property destruction as “acts of violence”.
Next time I shall begin to explore more of the nature of anarchism itself, beginning to discuss what anarchism is, rather than what it is not.

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