Towards A Theology of Political Struggle (Reflection)

A Theology of StruggleThe quintessential text of spiritual warfare for most Christians is found in Ephesians 6:10-20. Far too much ink has been spilled on inane and downright superstitious interpretations of this text. And even though most traditional commentaries speak of the spiritual nature of the Christian’s struggle in this pericope, “The Armor of God” text seems to speak at least equally, if not more, about a socio-political struggle (see especially Walter Wink’s The Powers That Be).

As I re-read the Bible with wider lenses, I have come to see this portion of Scripture as a potential basis of a theology of revolutionary struggle for the Christian, both politically and spiritually. Why, because I believe God’s “armor” is to be used primarily in the struggle against earthly socio-political evil, not just spiritual evil. Again, the typical Western Christian has over-spiritualized this text as a sort of laundry list of individualistic and pietistic behaviors for defending oneself against oftentimes imaginary devils or self-created demonic activity.

Let’s take a closer look, especially at verse twelve, where, upon a deeper reading we find that the Christian call is to struggle primarily against oppressive earthly evil:

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the principalities (or powers) of this dark world, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12).

Here St. Paul says Christians fight against four enemies, which I have underlined above. The word against is used four separate times to emphasize that these are not a series of conceptual evils, but against four distinct and real enemies.  We are, first, told that we do not struggle (that is resist or fight) against flesh and blood. Flesh and blood is not just an allusion to the spiritual nature of the battle, but also corresponds materially to our neighbors: the poor, the oppressed, the broken, the downtrodden. We are not to join in oppressing our fellow human beings; we do not struggle against our own.

So, just who are Christians supposed to resist or engage in struggle against? Clearly, Paul says it is the “rulers,” “authorities,” and “powers,” “of this dark world,” and “the spiritual forces of evil.” It is important to note that the fourth evil we struggle against is clearly spiritual, but the first three are manifestly earthly (of this dark world). These earthly entities that Christians will struggle against are kosmokratōr or world rulers (that is oppressive earthly rulers, like the Roman imperial dictator); exousia or authorities (which likely corresponds to oppressive and legalistic religious rule), and archē or principalities (domination systems or oppressive governments).

Now, like all Scripture, this text needs to be bridged into our current context. The Bible is not a static dogmatic document, but a wisdom lens or a guide to critique and inform our current situation. This being true then, clearly the U.S. Christian’s primarily battle or struggle is against the evil rulers in our government (in today’s case the Trump Regime or in the recent past the Bush, Clinton, or Obama Regimes). Secondly, the struggle is against the religious leaders, groups, and institutions that are coopted by the government to suppress the “flesh and blood”—our brothers and sisters, the common proletariat. And third, our struggle is against the domination systems that oppress, which is primarily the systems of capitalism and imperialism and all their negative effects. This is not a list to be followed seriatim, but one that is meant to call on all Christians to become revolutionaries against oppressive rulers (oligarchs and plutocrats), religious leaders (greedy televangelists & institutionally-minded religious functionaries), and the systems of evil (capitalism, imperialism, racism, and ethnic, gender, and sexual discrimination, etc.).

Undoubtedly, behind the counter-current of God (all spiritual good) is the devil (all spiritual evil). So, we do need spiritual power, the indwelling Holy Spirit, to struggle both against earthly and spiritual evil. Nevertheless, as Christians our fight is primarily against earthly evil, and God and all his holy angels are to fight the spiritual demons in heavenly realms on our behalf. As U.S. based Christians our eyes need to be opened to bring into balance the political and spiritual struggles in order that we may faithfully follow our Lord.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Tearing Down The Veil Of Bad Religion (Mt 27:51)

Anarchist Veil TornCraig Keener asked rhetorically in his commentary on Matthew, “Is it possible that the very criticisms Jesus laid against the religious establishments of his day now stand institutionalized in most of his church?” (IVP Academic, 2011: 334). The answer, of course, is yes.

It is abundantly clear to me and many other Christians (scholars, clergy, and lay commentators alike) that Jesus never intended to start an institution called church.  In fact, if anything, he started a movement that was intentionally anti-institution. There is overwhelming evidence of this even in Scripture, but if you would like a brief overview of this idea, please purchase my book In Search of Jesus the Anarchist.

Today, let’s examine what Jesus’s cross and resurrection mean as seen through the tearing of the temple veil in two: “When Jesus took his last breath, at that very moment the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split” (Mt 27:51).

At least three radical principles can be drawn from this metaphorical statement (since the veil was not actually torn in two):

First, without a veil to separate the people from God’s presence, access to God was made universal by Jesus’s death and resurrection. The veil represents human’s separation from God, and Jesus corrects this erroneous religious construct by his sacrificial death. Thus, with the tearing of the veil, the resurrection of Jesus, and the coming of the Holy Spirit, there is no longer any need for priests to mediate between people and God (1 Tim 2:5). Any individual can access the actual reality and goodness of God.

Second, the power structure of temple worship, the very institution of religious power, was destroyed by the tearing of the veil. The temple veil represented institutional power– the power of a hierarchical priesthood coopted by imperial Rome to oppressively rule over people. Yet, by Jesus’s death and resurrection this power was rendered impotent. Jesus had earlier proclaimed that the time had come for the end of power based religion (Jn 4:23-24).

Third, the notion that only Jews could access the one true God was also nullified by the tearing of the veil in two. There is not a God of the Jews and lesser gods for the rest of the world. There is only one God for all who loves all.  St. Paul said, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, black nor white, gay nor straight, young or old, abled or disabled…. For all are one in Christ!” (Gal 3:28). All religion that excludes based on identity is bad religion.

So, what application should we take from all of this? If we are to follow Jesus then our call is to tear down the dividing walls between people, to flatten all hierarchies in order that all are empowered to be free, and, yes, we need to destroy all the man-made “temples” (institutional religion, capitalism, militarism, imperialism, patriarchalism, etc.) that create oppression, division, and inequality in our world. And we can accomplish this because “The tombs were broken open and the dead came to life…” (Mt 27:52). We have been resurrected to co-create God’s Commonweal of Love on earth as it is heaven (Mt 6:10).

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Christian Anarchist Disciplemaking (Luke 4:18-19)

cross anarchyIn every great movement of thought and practice, there is an intense desire in those movement’s follower’s to communicate that thought and practice as liberating for others.  Socialists want to teach capitalists to be socialists; recovering alcoholics in AA want to teach active alcoholics the methods of AA; Christians want to teach atheists and others to become followers of Jesus, and so on.  The anarchist is no different.  The anarchist is an educator by nature, a disciplemaker, especially since the political philosophy of anarchy is so woefully misunderstood by most people. We must educate others before we can expect them to agitate for their own liberation and the liberation of others.

The Christian anarchist is commissioned by Jesus to educate. “Go and educate all people groups about the anarchist way of peace and freedom, teaching them to follow everything I taught about freedom, and immersing them into the eternal consciousness of the beautiful, mysterious paradox of God; and, my Spirit will dwell in you to be your guide and strength forever” (Mt 28:19-20, author’s paraphrase).

Thus, the Christian anarchist must educate, but this education should never be coercive or proselytizing. We are not converting people to an institutional religion, but releasing them from political and religious bondage by the testimony of our own life. St. Peter said, “… always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. Yet do it with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience…” (1 Pe 15-16a, NET). The Christian anarchist educates for freedom, to help his or her fellow human to break off the chains of State and Religious oppression and to live freely and responsibly.

The foundational text the Christian anarchist educator uses to teach others is Luke’s recording of Jesus’ announcement of his liberating purpose: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and the regaining of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk 4:18-19, NET).

Jesus proclaimed (euaggelizō/kēryssō = words + action/deeds) the gospel (good news) to the poor (not the rich oppressors).  This good news to the poor includes four word/actions (1) release of captive hearts/minds/bodies, (2) healing of spiritual/political blindness, (3) freedom for the oppressed, and (4) Jubilee, the canceling of debts of all people.

How did Jesus the Anarchist do this? First, Jesus was teaching people to move into a reality on earth that already existed in the spiritual realm. He called this the Kingdom of God, what I call the Commonweal of Love.  Jesus representing the divine cosmic creator proclaims a sort of emancipation proclamation: “So if the son sets you free, you will be really free” (Jn 8:36, NET). This proclamation is for all oppressed people, as well as a direct challenge to oppressors. As George Clinton sang in the seventies, “Free your mind and your ass will follow/The kingdom of heaven is within….”

Second, Jesus is the cosmic eye opener.  He, through his preaching and activism, literally opens the eyes of the actual blind and also the spiritually blind so that they can see the oppression that they have been under for so long.  Jesus is the real divine Morpheus, who gives the red pill to all so that they can see how they have been imprisoned in the Matrix of the capitalistic, colonial, and imperial oppressors.

Third, Jesus proclaims through his way of life the way to truly break free from the oppressor.  He frees us to forgive our oppressors, to acknowledge our own part in our victimization, and then to set the oppressor free as well. On the cross, Jesus overcomes not through brute force, but by resurrection, by eternal life, by forgiving the blind oppressor: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34, NET).

Finally, Jesus exhorts us to be free from the chains of property. He announces the Year of Jubilee, the year of the canceling of all debts and the redistribution of wealth and land. John Howard Yoder says of the Lord’s Prayer, “The ‘Our Father’ is genuinely a jubilary prayer.  It means ‘the time has come for the faithful people to abolish all the debts which bind the poor ones…’” (1994: 62).

All Christians are called to proclaim and live out this same message of peace and freedom, to liberate others, to make disciples of Jesus the Anarchist.

Reference
Yoder, John Howard. The Politics of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Jesus, the Kingdom of God, and the Church

Christian AnarchismMy book In Search of Jesus the Anarchist has been released and for a while it was a #1 release in at least one sales category. Thank you to all who purchased a copy. I hope that you will let me know your thoughts after you read it.

I have heard from some folk who are suspect of the title and the presumed thesis of my book. So, let me just tell you briefly what the main points are so that you might see that what I am proposing is not so ludicrous (at least as not as ludicrous as some interpret the title of my book to be).

First, Jesus is the liberatory figure, the prototype or archetype of a spiritual and social revolutionary, who ministers and gives up his life to overcome the evil powers which create injustices in our world. Jesus came to “to proclaim good news to the poor… to proclaim release to the captives and the regaining of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk 4:18). Jesus, as resurrected Spirit, lives on in all people working towards a just and peaceful world.

Second, the Kingdom of God which Jesus proclaimed (what I call the Commonweal of Love in my book) is the ongoing development of a society based on love and mutuality (justice); it is the process of creating the ultimate free society of free people. The Commonweal of Love is enacted by local egalitarian, non-hierarchical networks (“churches”) of lovers of God, people, and all creation.

Third, the local church is an all-inclusive collective of people in a community who love God in spirit and in truth by enacting the healing and justice ministry of Jesus until a just society is established on earth for all.

The Bible is the ongoing story of this process, of God redeeming the whole earth and establishing freedom and justice for all. On the mount of Transfiguration Matthew records these words from God about Jesus, “Here is My servant, whom I have chosen, My beloved, in whom My soul delights. I will put My Spirit on Him, and He will proclaim justice to the nations” (Mt 12:18).

And, of course, Jesus says to us, “Listen, the person who believes in me will do the deeds that I am doing. In fact, they will perform greater deeds than me…” (Jn 14:12). Now, let’s do them!

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Was Jesus An Anarchist? (Lk 22:42; Jn 10:18)

In-Search-of-Jesus-the-Anarchist_MOCK-UP_WebMy new book In Search of Jesus the Anarchist is now available in print, and I hope the controversial title will entice you to purchase the book. But you should know that what I mean by the term “anarchist” is probably different than what may first come to your mind.

An anarchist is a person who lives as freely as possible, unencumbered by domination, yet in mutualistic community with others. In other words, an anarchist advocates for other’s freedom as much as he or she exercises his or her own. For no one can be truly free, while others are not. That is why any form of domination or oppression is vehemently opposed by anarchists. Anarchism could be simply defined as a completely free society inhabited by fully free individuals. Jesus is the exemplar of an anarchistic lifestyle and proclaimed it as normative for those who are followers of God (Jn 8:31-36).

My new book is purposefully small—only about 130 pages—really only an introduction to Christian anarchism. Therefore, I will be supplementing the book’s often simplistic message with blogs that nuance what I introduce in the book.

Today, I want to highlight the paradoxical nature of Jesus’ anarchistic orientation according to the definition I offered above. Jesus, in his mutualistic relationship with the Father, the Spirit, and the whole Cosmos, declares in the Passion of the Cross both his full freedom and his complete mutuality and submissiveness.

When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane it seems as though Jesus is not making a free decision to go to Cross, because he is submissive to the Father’s will.  “Father, if it is possible take this cup from me. Yet, not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42). Jesus, it might be reasoned is sublimating his own free will to the Father. But this verse must be placed in tension with another to understand the anarchistic orientation of Jesus. “No one takes my life from me; I lay it down of my own free will. I have the authority to lay it down, and I have the authority to take it back again. This is the charge I received from my Father” (Jn 10:18).

These verses are not contradictory. Only the dualistic mind believes they are in conflict, because paradox or mystery is so often rejected by the binary, either/or, thinking mind. But held in tension, these sayings of Jesus express the paradox of freedom and mutuality (equality) and reveal that to be obedient to God is to be absolutely free.  If you think this is essentially what orthodox Christian faith has always taught, then you just might be on your way to being a Christian anarchist too.

What do you think?

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Toward A [Christian] Anarchist Position on Anti-Imperialism

anti-imperialismAs a Christian and an anarchist, I condemn without commentary the immoral U.S. government’s bombing of the Syrian airbase on April 7, 2017 (and all the illegal bombings it has carried out all over the world especially over the past 16 years). I am encouraged by many like-minded folks from various Pittsburgh-based progressive and leftist groups which have cried out against U.S. militarism and imperialism this past week.

Unfortunately, long before the recent U.S. strike against the Syrian airbase, the Syria situation had been the locus of significant debate and division within the radical left socialist movement in Pittsburgh. Accusations have been hurled at each side of this divide about who is an actual anti-imperialist. Though it is an important debate, the divisions have, sadly, weakened the anti-war/anti-imperialist movement in Pittsburgh at a time when we desperately need to work together.

Nevertheless, the positions of these two sides of revolutionary socialists, though having some valid arguments (opposition to the demonization of post-colonial leaders, opposition to regime change, solidarity with foreign liberatory groups, and opposition to brutal dictatorships), they fall short of an anarchist anti-imperialist position. This does not mean, of course, that anarchists cannot struggle alongside these revolutionary socialists. Anarchists can consider both sides comrades as we struggle against capitalism, militarism, and imperialism, but only as long as we anarchists are fully aware of their statist orientations and goals.

I am in strong relationships with three other spiritually oriented Pittsburgh-based anarchist activists. We have been working as mediators between these two sides in order to bring solidarity (but not uniformity) to the anti-imperialist struggle. Yet, I also believe, as anarchists we must be able to stand on our own convictions, and not simply choose sides in the debate among the revolutionary socialists. As a Christian anarchist, I believe there is an anarchist perspective on anti-imperialism which needs to be articulated as a means to share this perspective with those who have anarchist leanings as well as with the revolutionary socialists we often work with.

Here are a few points to consider for anarchists going forward especially as it applies to the Syrian flashpoint.

  1. [Christian] anarchists are by nature anti-imperialist. We always oppose any outside powers which seek to impose their will on the people in a particular place. We also oppose all hierarchical (oppressive) nation-states. Thus, as we oppose imperialism, we also oppose nationalism. Lucien van der Walt, a South African anarchist, said, “Anarchists stand in solidarity with struggles against imperialism on principle, but seek to reshape national liberation movements into social liberation movements.”[i]
  1. Therefore, we should identify and support truly anarchist or revolutionary non-statist socialist groups in a particular place and not join in on the demonizing of the oppressive State-Ruler at the time. Demonizing a particular State-Ruler and supporting regime change suggests that there is “good” State-Rule or “good” State-Rulers (Mk 10:18). This process will require that anarchists identify and confirm that the liberatory group we are in solidarity within a particular land is indeed a revolutionary group (and not a tool of one of the imperialist powers or the nationalist movement in that country).
  1. From an anti-war/anti-imperialist [Christian] anarchist perspective, the means by which anarchist social movements create revolution should be militantly non-violent. “We do not fight with the weapons of this world ….” (2 Cor 10:4). My personal belief is that using violence against humans is simply falling into the same oppressive behaviors of the oppressors. (Nonetheless, once an anarchist group has established itself in communality, it inheres the right to protect itself against violent imperialists and nationalists.)
  1. Additionally, as anti-war/anti-imperialist [Christian] anarchists, we understand that the revolutionary struggle must be one that results in a non-hierarchical organizational system lest we fall back into nationalism, which inevitably leads to imperialism. Jesus, our anarchist example, said, “You know that the rulers of this world like to oppress the people. It can’t be that with you. You must follow another way. Instead, the greatest among you must be your servant” (Mt 20:25-26).
  1. [Christian] anarchists, therefore, should only functionally, not formally, associate with statist revolutionary socialist groups. But we don’t need to call out specific groups for having a deficient imperialistic theory, and we remain in solidaristic dialogue as we struggle together against U.S. imperialism. However, our anarchist movement will only grow as we do not get sucked into our various allies’ statist ideologies and debates.[ii]

I hope these reflections encourage meaningful and respectful dialogue among those who sincerely struggle for the liberation of all people. Finally, I hope that all who are opposed to U.S. militarism, imperialism, and capitalism can band together towards the enlightenment and empowerment of the oppressed masses who unwittingly support the immoral U.S. government’s actions around the world.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Notes

[i] Lucien van der Walt, “Towards a history of anarchist anti-imperialism: In this struggle, only the workers and peasants will go all the way to the end.” March 3, 2005. Downloaded from https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/lucien-van-der-walt-towards-a-history-of-anarchist-anti-imperialism

[ii] See Lawrence Jarach, “Anti-Imperialism: Just Another Statist Ideology” in Anarchy Magazine, issue #65, 2008. Downloaded from http://anarchy101.org/397/how-does-anti-imperialism-relate-to-anarchist-thought.

Knowing God: Truth As Paradox (Reflection)

ParadoxJesus said that eternal life was “to know the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom God sent” (John 17:3). From this verse and many others like it, there seems to be a real comprehensibility of God—a salvific knowing where we join God in intimate relationship.

Yet the moment we believe we have come to “know” or “grasp” God, we suddenly realize that what we have believed cannot be God. For God to be truly God would mean that God is beyond knowing. The finite just cannot fully grasp the infinite. Our thoughts and words will never completely make God comprehensible. St. John would later try when he said quite clearly that God was pure or perfect love (1 John 4:8).  But even this is impossible for us to take hold of. God is simply greater than our capacity to comprehend.

We soldier on, nonetheless, in our pursuit of knowing God or we wither in despair. A.W. Tozer said, “The yearning to know What cannot be known, to comprehend the Incomprehensible, to touch and taste the Unapproachable, arises from the image of God in the nature of humankind.”[i] This yearning to know, though, is so elusive that we are often filled with angst, and rightfully so. Hopefully, we will recognize that within this unease is the necessary prompting to search all the more. We all want, yes, we all need, to “know” God. To truly be alive, we must be in relationship with Divine Mystery.

So, how can we really know God? In the Hebrew language, this knowing (yada) is akin to the passionate feelings and sexual intimacy shared by lovers. Adam knew Eve. We don’t simply know about God. We are to know God personally, even intimately. Of course, we need to tread carefully here. But I do want to emphasize that this “knowing” is not only factual or intellectual. It is yada! We must be able to “feel” God to know God. Our feelings are facts too!

Now, beyond the “feeling” of God, as important as that is (for our feelings, like our thoughts, are elusive as well), we are called to approximate the knowing of God as true Truth with our minds. We must know this Truth in a way which we might even communicate it to others with words and actions.

But how do we know anything? Other than those who believe that all knowing is illusory (which would still be a knowing), most of us know that we know. Still, can we know anything for certain?

Without getting overly academic, our ability to know, especially as expressed in modern terms, is usually placed somewhere along two poles (a continuum) of the purely subjective (absolute idealism) or the completely objective (naïve realism). The acclaimed missiologist Paul Hiebert gave a listing (or a taxonomy) of how we can know, and settled on the, still modernist, view of critical realism. Hiebert said, “In critical realism we speak of the Truth with reference to reality. We also speak of a truth—our partial understandings of the greater Truth. Our understandings are objective (to the extent they are tested against reality) and subjective (because they are ours as humans in our specific cultural and historical contexts).[ii]

This is a great start to understanding how we might know the Truth, but it still does not account for the perplexingly contradictory truths of Scripture. If we are to take Scripture seriously, then the Incarnation, the Trinity, and the reality of Jesus’s glorified resurrected body are neither objective or subjective truths—they are simply preposterous.  They are paradoxes. To grasp these truths one needs to pull the objective and subjective poles of the paradox tightly together. Ron Rolheiser said, “To let go of either pole of a paradox, to reduce the tension, is to fall from wisdom. Hence, as we struggle theologically and spiritually with certain key questions, we must be careful to always hold two, seemingly contradictory, truths together.”[iii]

Now, of course, this all may seem like metaphysical nonsense to some—bourgeois philosophizing. Who has time to care about such things? What does it really matter? Most humans simply want to know how to live a fulfilling and happy life. But that’s it, isn’t it? We all do want to know God!

As my new book In Search of Jesus the Anarchist is coming out in just a few weeks, I am preparing you to deal with the paradox of my outlandish title. How can Jesus be an anarchist? But Jesus was an anarchist because he was completely free and yet in complete submission to God, who is Jesus’s equal. What a paradox!

I deal a lot with paradoxes in my new book, especially the paradox of freedom and equality. Can we be both free and equal? In several recent conversations with Christians I know, even those who are open to explorative theology, the notion of equality seems to them an impossibility. Of course, if equality is an impossibility, then so is freedom.

Freedom and equality are two poles of a paradox called Jesus, who is the Truth! Anarchism rightly defined, for those who are still unaware, is simply freedom and equality lived out in paradoxical tension. Freedom and equality come together as we struggle to hold them together. And as we hold them in tension, we realize our Great Commission: to set the world free in Jesus so that all can live in justice and in peace (Jn 8:32; Lk 4:18-19).

© Paul Dordal, 2017

[i] A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1961, 9. [Updated to gender neutral by the author].

[ii] Paul G. Hiebert, Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994, 71

[iii] Ron Rolheiser, “Truth is Found in Paradox.” Downloaded from http://ronrolheiser.com/truth-is-found-in-paradox/#.WN-3i_nythE on December 3, 2016.

The Great Deformation (Prophetic Reflection)

Deformation-and-Abstraction-Work-by-Can-Pekdemir-Cgfrog-3Brian McLaren’s latest book The Great Spiritual Migration (2016, Crown) is a wonderful exploration of how followers of Jesus can move into new modes of being a Christian in the 21st Century. I highly recommend it. McLaren’s book somewhat reminds me of the late Phyllis Tickle’s brilliant book The Great Emergence from 2012 (Baker Books).

The main point that both Tickle and McLaren are making is that many Christians are discovering that the old constructs of their faith, theology, and church are simply not sufficient going forward.  Now, these contemporary authors, and many others like them, are not the first to call for a major reformation of the Christian faith and practice. We could go back to Martin Luther, of course, who was the author of what might be called the Great Reformation (even though there were many church reformers before Luther).

As hopeful as I am about a new great reformation, nevertheless, I am a little disturbed by a problematic thread which runs through Luther, Tickle, McLaren and many other reformers. In most of these writer-theologian’s expressions there seems to me to be a desire to remain respected by the groups/people they are critiquing and seemingly distancing themselves from. Now, you might be thinking that I am confusing their civility (or even sobriety) with an inauthentic desire for respectability. But this desire for respectability is seen, in Luther, for example, through his leaving in the Lutheran Church much of the damaging hierarchical practices and organizational structure of the Roman Catholic Church.

Worse, though, is that, though Luther paid a significant personal cost for his reformation work, today’s modern reformers do so from the seat of bourgeois comfortability. This is the difference between civility and respectability—that there is no prophets “reward” for contemporary Western reformers (see Mt 5:10-12). Tickle, McLaren, and others (I could name a whole bunch) are great writer/communicators, but they are not calling a fig a fig and trough a trough. It’s all too neat and tidy. They don’t risk their reputations, and certainly not their lives, in following Jesus and leading others to Christ’s un-kingdom.

Additionally, the ecumenical movement, with its humble-hearted proponents and actors, is still wrapped up in this bourgeois mentality—a respectability that comes before and overshadows any real attempt or possibility to bring about real change.

It should be clear to most that the domination systems that we call organized Christian religion today are fundamentally flawed. And without sounding too much like a nihilist, what is needed to move the church forward is not a Great Reformation, or Emergence, or Spiritual Migration. What is needed is a Great Deformation of the institutional church. We need, as the Old Testament saints said, to “cut down the idols” (Deut 12:3), or as Jesus said, “tear down this temple” (Jn 2:19).  For the evolution of the church to be effected in this new era of enlightenment requires a revolution, not a reform, of hearts and minds—and institutions.

And a revolution is coming. The new, and necessary, revolution that is brewing against capitalism in West will only ferment, I believe, with a concomitant revolution against religio institutio or religionism.

Why is a religious revolution needed? Similar to the way capitalism is killing our earth and the human race, religionism is killing our souls. Reforms are not working; they will not work.  The domination systems are increasingly repressing and oppressing our societies, and this includes religious domination systems. Again, as I have said elsewhere, there is no religion without politics; there is no spirituality without social justice. There is no repentance (change) without struggle. Thus, we must struggle in our calling the capitalists to repentance, and the religionists as well.

Frederick Douglas said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” People with great power, secular or spiritual, will not give up the power they have stolen from the people. The people must take it back. This is the nature of the revolution that Jesus instituted on the cross. He disarmed the powers! (Col 2:15).

Now, I am not calling for the death of the church or religion. Far be it. I have a great hope of a resurrected, born-again church, a church on mission with Jesus to transform the whole world to the glory of the Father! What this new glorious re-born church will actually look like is still unclear. One thing is sure, though, it won’t be a hierarchical institution distinct from society. But it will be the soul of the world!

© Paul Dordal, 2016

De-Churching Society (Prophetic Reflection)

tear-down-this-churchChristian worship forms were developed primarily from Jewish synagogue practices of the 1st Century CE. Yet, the Jewish people, prior to the Mosaic Covenant, worshiped God through personal and familial spiritual practices, not those developed by hierarchical or institutional religion. There were no local temples, synagogues, or even communally prescribed ritual practices.

Even after the Mosaic Covenant, these local, family-based practices continued, with the addition of a yearly requirement, if you were financially able, to sacrifice at the Tent of the Meeting or later at the Temple in Jerusalem. After the introduction of the Mosaic Covenant, the most important religious practices were Sabbath rest and the yearly Passover meal (both family practices). On the Sabbath day, rituals and prayers were done in the home as a family, but there were no other prescribed liturgical or dogmatic rituals. The primary act of worship was to honor the Sabbath by resting on the seventh day of the week, trusting in God for provision and care unlike the surrounding “pagans” who worked seven days a week.

It is not until the Rabbinic period did synagogue-based worship come into existence (probably no earlier than 350 BCE). According to Chabad.org, an orthodox Jewish group, “From Moses’ times until the restoration of the Second Temple, we fulfilled the obligation to pray daily by composing our own prayers, and praying privately.”

The notion of a religious need to publicly worship God inside a dedicated structure derives from the institutionalization of religion, which is based on money and power, not spirituality. And with increased institutionalization comes the need for more stratified power relationships (clergy, ranked lay positions, professional support staff, etc.) and an expanded prescription of oftentimes oppressive rules and regulations.

Unlike Alcoholics Anonymous or other groups who are committed to non-institutionalization, Christian groups who insist on owning property or hiring staff are soon trapped in the vicious cycle of supporting a mission that is not primarily concerned with people’s spiritual development or worshipping God, but with gaining “nickels and noses.” The old maxim is proved true: Your mission is what you measure. Now, I have never seen a church with “nickels and noses” in its mission statement. Nevertheless, offerings and attendance are the two most cited measurements in the West of a church’s success or failure. There is a clear connection between mission drift and institutionalization. Neil Cole said, “[I]f we could figure out how to do church without needing buildings, we would be better off.”[i]

Christian anarchism is focused on de-institutionalization because of its inherent objectification and oppression of the same people these institutions say they are trying to assist.  Ivan Illich notes, “The only way to establish an institution is to finance it.  The corollary is also true. Only by channeling dollars away from the institution … can the further impoverishment resulting from their disabling side effects be stopped.”[ii]

De-institutionalization is the primary way that Christianity will regain its life and world-changing movement orientation and focus on worshipping God in Spirit and in Truth. Returning to the forms of truly ancient worship, those prior to the institutionalization of Judaism and Christianity is what will return the Church to its core mission: Loving God, loving people, loving the common weal.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

[i] Neil Cole, Organic Church, 37.
[ii] Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society. London: Marion Boyars, 1970, 4.

I Don’t Believe The Way You Do: And I’m Still A Catholic!

conformity-2It is clear that Jesus was not a member of any of the sects of Judaism in his time (Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, or Zealots). Jesus was critical of much of these sect’s beliefs and practices, but also praised them when they were in line with the goodness and love of God. Jesus was not beholden to one theological construct over another, and Jesus never identified with any of these sects as his own. He simply was a “believer” and called God his Father. Jesus was a universalist; he was for everyone, and that is why Jesus was a Catholic.

In his book, The Churches the Apostles Left Behind, scholar and Catholic priest Raymond Brown found seven distinct traditions in the various churches that were started by the apostles. Brown said, “There is no reason why there could not have been in the one city house churches of different traditions….”[i] Yet, Brown shows that even though these churches had different traditions and theological emphases, they would have still have been in communion with one another.

So, Jesus was not a member of any sect, and the early Christians did not practice exclusivism even as members of unique traditions. Yet, today Christians, to become members of churches, are obliged to hold to the distinctives of the various denominations and sects of Christianity, which way too often do not have communion with one another. Even within a particular tradition there are those who would criticize and even condemn those who don’t hold perfectly to a certain “party-line” of dogmatic teachings. Rigid religious exclusivism abounds and is often encouraged!

This is why I am advocating well-ordered anarchism as the solution to the exclusivism nightmare from which so many Christians cannot seem to awake. I want us all to be Catholics (universalists), if you will, no matter what group or non-group you identify with. All who even remotely have faith in Jesus are Catholics, no matter if some Grand Poohbah, clergy person, or even the person sitting next to you in a pew tries to say otherwise. You are free in Christ! You are beautiful before God!

Some of the issues of which I have been indoctrinated by an Evangelical or conservative Catholic upbringing are simply man-made constructs based on a narrow and often times erroneous interpretation of Scripture. For instance, Just-War Theory simply does not line up with Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels. Rigid and absolutist teachings about divorce and remarriage, male-only clergy, hierarchical organization, homosexuality, abortion, capitalism, and how we see other religions are simply unhelpful and, worse, they are hurtful and oppressive.

It is time to do away with the denominations, do away with rigid dogmatism, do away with systems of theology which are exclusivist, do away with church institutionalism, and to embrace the diversity of belief which Jesus and the early church proclaimed and embraced.  It is time to see God for who God really is and always has been: Ultimate Love! When we do this, we can be like Jesus, the One and True Catholic.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Note
[i] Raymond E. Brown, The Churches the Apostles Left Behind. New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1984, 23.