In a recent piece at The Week, Bonnie Kristian argues that 2016 America’s political absurdness has an important lesson for Christians. On the way to her core argument, Kristian gets several points right: Hillary Clinton’s views on both foreign and domestic policy align poorly with America’s Christian left. Religious Right support for Donald Trump totally betrays conventional religious-conservative arguments about the importance of moral character in public office. Since neither of the major-party candidates is commendable in any existing Christian political theology, Kristian argues, it’s clearer than ever that mixing Christian hope with politics is in fact a form of idolatry.
More specifically: Christians must realize “that following Jesus means our sole, overwhelming allegiance is due to God, not the state. It means that the business of the kingdom of heaven must be our occupation, not the affairs of any earthly country.” In other words: either we can love God or be loyal to government; either we can pursue the kingdom of God or get involved in our world’s political affairs.
To my Catholic ears, this ‘Christian anarchy’ sounds awfully ignorant of both-and: there’s no recognition that aligning ourselves with a state’s work might be a way of aligning ourselves with God’s purposes. There’s no acknowledgement of how the Kingdom of God’s earthly implications overlap with the societal realities that concern politics, and how a government might help to bring about God’s justice. There’s no evident consideration that among the ten-thousand places Christ plays might be the hands of public office.
Of course, Christians must refuse both absolute idolatry of the state (wherein the state, like God, can only act rightly) and total apathy about the quality of public life (which betrays the command to “love your neighbor as yourself”). Kristian is quick to clarify that ‘Christian anarchy’ does not entail apathy about public life: she quotes Greg Boyd’s commendations that Christians embody a “unique way of living” that involves “bringing about God’s will ‘on Earth as it is in heaven’ by imitating [Jesus].”
Boyd’s insight only calls for ‘Christian anarchy’ if one presumes that such small-scale imitation of Jesus is the only legitimate form of Christian social action and social vision. But it doesn’t require that presumption, and one needn’t embrace that presumption to support such localized civic action: Church teaching has long used the term “subsidiarity” in appreciation of localized forms of solidarity. And with that appreciation comes an understanding that, to paraphrase Marilynne Robinson, Jesus did not limit the scope of possible means to aid the needy, with whom he identified himself. We should discern where local levels of service are the best choices, but we should not feel restricted to them.
So ultimately I take ‘Christian anarchy’ to be mistaken. ‘Christian anarchists’ are of course right to critique governmental corruption and to rebuke Christians who lionize immoral figures just so they’ll be aligned with political power. But turning totally against government will blind us to fresh efforts toward more genuinely Christian forms of politics. No, we must not put our whole hope in politics - but nor should we despair.