By: Joanna Shenk
Note: Sermon preached at First Mennonite Church of San Francisco and originally posted at Radical Discipleship.
When my older brother went to college, I remember being taken aback when he said his roommate’s mom was an anarchist. I felt so sorry for his roommate and figured he probably had a terrible childhood. In my mind, being an anarchist meant something related to the anti-christ. It was all one category to me because I thought it was all related to the same word.
Fast forward to seminary, after I had learned to spell better and had a bigger vocabulary, and I realized the words weren’t synonymous… I heard about this website called Jesus Radicals that was coordinated by a couple people on campus at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. I learned that the point of the website was to put Christianity and anarchism in conversation with each other. That seemed curious to me and the people who ran the website seemed cool.
Through conversation and overtime it just started to make sense to me that people in the Anabaptist tradition would be influenced by anarchism. It was also around this time that I realized feminist was not a scary label either. It just made sense to me that every person regardless of gender should be respected as fully-human and that people following Jesus would want to undo systems of power.
By: Gregory Williams
Arising, as it does, out of a turn towards anabaptist theology by white American evangelicals, Christian Anarchism has often displayed hostility towards multiple belonging. This can be seen in the precise relationship that many of those engaged in it imagine between radical Christianity and the Anarchist traditions on which it draws. For example, in a series of posts based on the Primer on Christian Anarchism that was, at one point, given annually at the Jesus Radicals conference, Mark van Steenwyk writes:
[F]rom my perspective, it is better to embrace a Christianity that affirms the anarchic trajectory of the Way of Jesus on its own terms than simply to smash together Christianity and Anarchism into some sort of strained mashup. Often, I meet self-described Christian anarchists who have no real way of putting these two things together in any way that makes sense to them. They simply hold one tradition in each hand, ignoring the conflict they feel until, eventually, they let go of one of them.1
My point here is not to attack Mark or hold him to account for something that he wrote almost half a decade ago. God knows that I have changed a lot since 2011, and I’m sure that he has, too. I’m not trying to do intellectual history here as much as genealogy—a symptomology rather than a diagnosis, that seeks to draw out some of the surface level features of a shared condition without essentializing it, in order to render that condition articulable. This quote, whatever its relationship to any particular thinker or to the evolution of Jesus Radicals as an institutional structure, has the virtue of documenting (literally rendering as text) an idea that has been spoken and unspokenly assumed in this space over the course of many years. This assumption is that multiple belonging, “holding one tradition in each hand,” is untenable and ill-advised.
In my experience as a Christian anarchist I feel that most Christians who have become anarchists do so by following their theology to its logical real world conclusions, that is to say they come to realize that Jesus teachings imply some sort of anarchism. But because they are Christians who have become anarchists they often focus on their personal theology and how they as Christians should practice this theology. I think this is great, but as an anarchist who became a Christian I feel I have acquired another perspective.
All my friends are anarchists and I spend my time with them, not with any church. In spending all my time around secular anarchists I have noticed I am in a rather strange position. In being alone in this position I have noticed a huge problem. This problem seems to go rather unnoticed by everyone within these two separate worlds. The problem is simple: these two worlds are separate.
As anarchists we want to end capitalism. As capitalism involves few people ruling over many and implementing economic policies that serve the few and not the many, capitalists need to keep the many convinced that their polices are in the public's best interest. So then, If we want to topple capitalism we need to inform the public that these polices and system are not in their best interest. In other words to have a successful revolution we need the public’s popular support of anarchism or a libertarian socialist economic model.
By: Derek Minno Bloom
To be clear, I identify as a Judeo-Christian and a radical, but in the last few years my politics have transformed from anarchistic politics to a more de-colonial politics. In this essay I will explain how de-colonial thought first changed my politics and then my spirituality. When I use the word de-colonial I mean thoughts and ways of living/governing without colonial rule/Western thought. Learning about visions of decolonized futures from different Indigenous folks, I realized that there is not only one way in which decolonization is envisioned. These visions include a return of land and resources, healthy rivers, return of traditional life ways and languages, a return of the buffalo and grasslands and salmon runs, a return to matriarchal societies, abolition of the Prison Industrial Complex, an end to systematic prejudice, racism, and sexual violence, and for their settler neighbors to realize, understand and deconstruct their settler privileges/white supremacy culture (look here for an definition of white supremacy culture), and to recognize each nation or tribes’ right to self determination.
Thinking about competition and perfectionism, which are two major forms of white supremacy culture, I started to think of how competitive the activist world is today. It reminded me of the Christian idea of Manifest Destiny that says everything on this land is for settlers, and our ways (Science, Religion and Politics) of life are the only correct ways to live.
There is a very real temptation, when exploring the intersection of Christianity and anarchism to simply force one category into the other. I see this all the time.
There are those who simply believe that their Christian tradition is so inherently anarchistic that they can simply “claim” anarchism. They trump all other anarchisms in such a way as to dimiss them entirely. There is a danger in this: it creates theological ghettos increasingly unable to respond to current political and spiritual crises. Theological ghettos simply assume that everyone else should be like them while the world and its people continue to rush headlong towards the abyss.
And there are those who see Christianity as a useful tool on one’s journey towards anarchism. They see anti-domination as their true god, and even Christ serves to bring people to this god. The danger of this temptation is that anything sacred becomes scrapped for parts to a cause that will never arrive. The inner transformation necessary for social liberation cannot be obtained simply through structural analysis. There is a reason Marx was never a Marxist. There is a reason why many of my most brilliantly anarchistic friends come off as authoritarian. There is simply more oppressing us than social structures. And more is required for us to embrace our fullest humanity than tearing down oppressive structures and replacing it with our clever utopias.
If one is a Christian anarchist, who largely congregates with other anarchists, then it could easily be understood that one’s Christianity is simply their own flavor of anarchism. And, when the chips come down, anarchism is what it’s all about. Likewise, if one is a Christian anarchist, then one could easily feel that one’s anarchism is simply a political affiliation…and that, being in fellowship with militaristic Capitalist patriotic Christians is more important than seeking liberation. Neither appeal to me.
(Or, I hope it is because we are all recovering hierarchists trying to find another way forward)
Editor’s Note: This piece is part two of a series of call and response between Amaryah Armstrong and Nekeisha Alexis-Baker as they consider what possibilities Christian anarchy can provide for marginalized peoples. The conversation grows out of friendship and mutual respect for each other, and from our commitments to living lives of liberation. We aim for to be an ongoing dialogue that builds on each call and response. As a result, we strongly encourage you to begin at the beginning and follow along from there. You can read part one from Amaryah here.
Many things came to mind as I reflected on your questions—some of which I still ask myself almost a decade after unwittingly co-creating this thing we call Jesus Radicals. I had to smile at the “Black Queer Feminist with anarchist impulses” identity you’ve adopted because it reminded me of when I called myself “a Christian with anarchist tendencies” as I sorted out whether anarchism was for me.
(Or, Why Are All the Anarchists Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?) 1
Editor’s Note: This piece is part one of a series of call and response between Amaryah Armstrong and Nekeisha Alexis-Baker as they consider what possibilities Christian anarchy can provide for marginalized peoples. The conversation grows out of friendship and mutual respect for each other, and from our commitments to living lives of liberation. We aim for to be an ongoing dialogue that builds on each call and response. As a result, we strongly encourage you to begin at the beginning and follow along from there. You can read Nekeisha’s response here.
I must confess, I simply don’t know what to do with Christian anarchists.
I am anti-domination, anti-capitalism, critical of technology, more than a little suspicious of the nation-state, and all about my citizenship being in heaven and thus having a commitment to radical politics on earth. But still, something about “Christian anarchists” just doesn’t sit well with me. It could be the irony of Christian anarchy being anti-domination and yet being predicated on domination by White men. But this is no different from other Christian identified radical groups. Exclusion is a practice we all participate in. Perhaps it is that I have yet to see or read or participate in sustained Christian anarchist discussions of White supremacy, patriarchy, and heteronormativity that go beyond the niceties of anti-racism/sexism/homophobia 101 training. Or maybe it is because explications of why anarchy is a valuable way to dismantle these systems of evil never seems to offer anything radical feminist, black, and queer Christian critiques have not already begun to deal with.
Rather than individualized battles, the view of social anarchism encourages us to see struggles as interconnected, and to act appropriately by building alliances and solidarity between them. . . . Yet while social anarchism has been at the forefront of challenging many oppression, most social anarchists have not been very active—either historically or presently—in challenging the human domination of animals.1
On a day like Thanksgiving, when various charred and mutilated bodies lay strewn across millions of American tables, the feeling that is foremost in my heart is not one of gratitude, but of mourning and even anger. That the average person sees no disconnect between centering thanks and grace around death is unsurprising. That this disconnect remains an oversight or rejected outright in radical Christian and anarchist circles is more confusing. Like Bob Torres, anarchist and vegan author of Making a Killing: The Political Economy of Animal Rights, I contend that lack of careful and ongoing attention to nonhuman animal liberation leaves one of the most obvious and persistent forms of oppression unchallenged. Furthermore, it also makes for incomplete and disjointed analysis around other forms of oppression and resistance. Below are a few thoughts on important movements that miss the animal liberation piece and the consequences of that omission.
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.
The viewpoints expressed in each reader-submitted article are the authors own, and not an “official Jesus Radicals” position. For more on our editorial policies, visit our submissions page. If you want to contact an author or you have questions, suggestions, or concerns, please contact us.
Nekeisha Alayna Alexis
Liza Minno Bloom
Eda Ruhiye Uca