After just a few hundred years, as the Church grew rapidly despite intense persecution and without any political power, Christianity suffered its greatest blow to its credibility and viability as a movement of God’s authentic people. In 313 the Church went to bed with Emperor Constantine and became part of the Kingdom powers of this world. The late Phyllis Tickle, encouraged by a new movement of authentic Christian faith in the 21st century, remembered this situation all too well. “[T]here is no question that Constantine’s preempting of Christianity in the fourth century was the great pivot point by means of which Christianity became a dominant institution” (2008: 161). This pivot point is commonly known as the beginning of Christendom (Christian + Kingdom), which I believe should be known as the era of Christendumb.
Why is it dumb for Christianity to be a kingdom? Didn’t Jesus announce and proclaim the Kingdom of God come to earth (Mt 3:2, 6:10)? No, not in the way we commonly understand kingdoms. Jesus was using the vernacular of his day to make his point, but he was not promoting developing a Christian kingdom, like the kingdoms of his, or even our, day. Jesus when asked if he was a king replied, “My kingdom is not from this world” (Jn 18:36a, NET). What Jesus was actually proclaiming was what I am now calling the Commonweal of Love.
To put it simply, Jesus’s kingdom is not a kingdom at all, because it is not about power. Kingdom’s, nations, empires, like the United States, are power-based domination systems. The era of Christendumb was all about power, and even when the Reformation came, other denominations, Lutheran, Anglican, etc. went to bed with or were the state powers of their time. They were, and still are, (de)domination systems meant to control others.
One of the scariest things about Donald Trump (his rhetoric is fascist, plain and simple) is that he claims that he will give Christianity power again if elected. Religious leaders like Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr. have sidled up to Trump in the hope that they too will have power. The response of all Christians to Trump and all denominational authorities should be resoundingly, “We don’t want your power, nor do we need it.”
To put it more clearly, if Christians were to have power then they could fight and kill just like the immoral nations of this world, especially the United States. But Jesus said, “If my kingdom belonged to this world, my servants would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here” (Jn 18:36b, NET). Jesus does not call us to have power, lest we fall into the temptation of the world towards domination and oppression. St. Paul also proclaimed the strangeness of our commonweal of love and the pacifist attitude of Christians who live an alternative (anarchist) lifestyle: “For though we live as human beings, we do not wage war according to human standards, for the weapons of our warfare are not human weapons, but are made powerful by God for tearing down strongholds. We tear down arguments and every arrogant obstacle that is raised up against the knowledge of God …” (2 Co 10:3-5a, NET). Our weapons are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Ga 5:22-23a, NET).
Christian should have no interest in the powers – the States, Empires, Nations, and Denominations of this world. They are abstract objects, no-things; they are like deceptive idols (see Habakkuk 2:18 and 1 Corinthians 12:2). Christians are inaugurating the new commonweal of love because “our citizenship is in heaven…” (Ph 3:20a, NET).
Mohammed Bamyeh said, “… the fundamental starting point in a consistent anarchist conception [is a] … duty toward humanity” (2009: 30). “Fundamental to anarchist thought therefore is apprehending human reality in a non-abstract manner. This perhaps is why anarchy has historically been oriented to local community, where human bonds are both experienced in everyday life and negotiated there as well. Anarchists therefore do not belong to nations” (2009: 37).
That our citizenship is in heaven, i.e. the “kingdom” of God as Jesus preached it, is the real lived out, commonweal of love. The commonweal of love is experienced in the local “places” of relationships wrought in the Kairos time of the immediate reality of our lives. Christians, like anarchists, do not belong to nations; we belong to Christ and the world, where we live and breathe as a no-nation under God.
Bamyeh, A. Mohammed (2009). Anarchy as Order. The History and Future of Civic Humanity. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishing.
Tickle, Phyllis (2008). The Great Emergence. How Christianity is Changing and Why. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
© Paul Dordal, 2016