In my previous article, I tried to offer some introductory definitions of “anarchism” and “Christianity”–which are both too complex to define. This, therefore, presents some challenges in presenting a simple description to “Christian anarchism.”
In part two, I’ll briefly trace those historical Christian movements that express an “anarchic impulse.” What follows is by no means exhaustive. My goal in sharing them is to show that Graeber is right: “the basic principles of anarchism—self-organization, voluntary association, mutual aid—referred to forms of human behavior they assumed to have been around about as long as humanity.”1 Christian history has a number of examples that demonstrate an anarchic impulse and it is illustrative to see the common features between these groups. Notice that, for most of these groups, the anarchic tendencies of each group was intertwined with their own spiritual and theological convictions. It is important to see that there is something deeply lacking when we imagine a Christian anarchism that simply “slaps together” one’s Christianity and one’s anarchism. It is not only possible, but (I believe) necessary to have an anarchism that flows out of one’s spirituality (or, perhaps, vice versa).
So, what are some expressions of Christianity that authentically express the anarchic impulse?
My name is Nekeisha and I was not born a radical.
This revelation is probably not much of a revelation at all—very few people I know can honestly claim to have had a revolutionary outlook on the world upon exiting the womb. The bigger surprise might just be how “un-radical” I used to be for much of my life and how painstaking of a process it was for me to adopt a Christian and anarchist perspective as my own.
Dubbed a “Super-Christian” by high-school, I was the kind of teen that didn’t drink, smoke, or do drugs, and who had no problem telling anyone who would listen about my choices. I was a proud soldier in the True Love Waits brigade, a lover of Christian musicians (Carman, Newsboys and Michael W. Smith anyone?), and an avid reader of Focus on the Family publications. I believed strongly in hell and knew for a fact that nonbelievers and other unseemly types were going to end up there. I was no war-mongerer but I was definitely no pacifist, believing instead in the right to violent self-defense if needed. Jesus as Son of God was indisputable to me. But Jesus the nonviolent revolutionary who overturned social systems of domination was a foreign concept. I was what some might call your typical evangelical Christian, part of what some us would say is wrong with the church today. Unless someone out there counts listening to Alice in Chains on the low-low or being a bit of a “tom-boy” or giving the usual teenage attitude signs of a budding radical, there was nothing obvious in my upbringing to suggest I would be anything near who I am now.
Generally, Jesus Radicals exists to explore the intersection of Christianity and anarchism. Most people think such a combination is an impossibility (or a delusion). It would be a mistake to suggest that bringing the two together is mere novelty. Most of the negative reactions to such an interplay are based upon misunderstanding. Most folks assume that anarchism is for angry youth who long for chaos and disorder. Other folks assume that Christianity is (and always has been) about domination. Both are unfortunate stereotypes that, while having some basis in reality, are gross over-simplified dismissals (though, in all fairness, it is easier to find evidence for the oppressiveness of Christianity than it is for the chaotic immaturity of anarchism).
Anyone who has called themselves a “Christian” or an “anarchist” for very long can tell you that neither “tradition” is easy to define. Neither is monolithic. And both are profoundly misunderstood. So talking about how they relate is a complicated task. This is why, at every year’s Jesus Radicals conference, we have a “primer” session on Christianity and Anarchism. For the past two years, I’ve participated as a presenter in that primer session. What follows is based upon those primers. Sarah Lynne Gershon helped present the primer at the 2011 conference, so her digital fingerprints can be found in this article as well.
But such a primer doesn’t exist online. I’ve found some that attempt a solid-yet-brief explanation, but none of them seem sufficient. My goal here is to write a short series of essays that one could pass along to (confused) friends.
By: Eda Ruhiye Uca
In The Talking Book: African Americans and the Bible(New Haven, Yale University Press, 2006), Allen Dwight Callahan illuminates the unique history of African American exegesis, highlighting especially Exile, Exodus, Ethiopia, and Emmanuel. In it, Callahan takes on the American myth and the grotesque irony that “the land that the Puritan founders called the Promised Land has been Pharaoh’s Egypt for African Americans”, a ‘promised land’ beyond reach of a people without the resources to take it; as put by freed man, Charles Davenport: “how us gwine a-take lan’ what’s already been took?”1 Callahan’s thesis is that which was the vast gulf between the political and religious experiences of Puritans and Africans in North America continues on in their descendants today. The breadth of his brilliant book will not be summarized by this writer here. (You’ll have to read it for yourselves.) Yet in the face of crumbling gains in wealth among African Americans Callahan’s thesis takes on a renewed urgency for those followers and friends of Jesus who are aching for racial reconciliation.
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Nekeisha Alayna Alexis
Liza Minno Bloom
Eda Ruhiye Uca