Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Kingdom, Government and Greed

From the American Spectator consider this excerpt on the presence of the Religious Left at OWS:
This call towards utopia, enshrouded simultaneously in grievance, entitlement, idealism, and youthful naivet√©, has understandably seduced old-style street activists like Jim Wallis of Sojourners, or even Brian McLaren of the emergent church movement. "When they stand with the poor, they stand with Jesus," Wallis has pronounced, even before himself visiting the Occupation, which doubtless only amplified his excited nostalgia. "'The occupation of God has begun'" might inspire the same fear and hope among people today as 'the Kingdom of God is at hand' inspired in the first century," gushed McLaren, after attending his own local Occupation protest. 
Representing a newer generation of Evangelical liberal is Shane Claiborne, a winsome young white man who typically sports dreadlocks, a bandana, and a rustic smock, while proclaiming good news for the poor to attentive middle class evangelical students. "In a world where 1 percent of the world owns half the world's stuff, we are beginning to realize that there is enough for everyone's need, but there is not enough for everyone's greed," he recently insisted. "Lots of folks are beginning to say, 'Maybe God has a different dream for the world than the Wall Street dream.'" 
The dubious statistic about the wicked "1 percent" aside, Claiborne speaks some truth. But he and the other religious enthusiasts for Wall Street aren't calling for individuals to shed their wealth for God's Kingdom. Of course, they primarily want an all powerful state to seize and redistribute wealth according to some imagined just formula, after which the lion will lie peaceably with the lamb. It's a utopian dream, not based on the Gospels, always monstrous when attempted, and premised more on resentment than godly generosity. But it's a message that will always have an audience in a covetous world. (emphasis mine)
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While I'm no fan of the politico-theological agenda of the Religious Right, this has been precisely the point of criticism that needs to be made about the so-called Evangelical Left (e.g. Jim Wallis, et al). {an example of a start may be here} It is not that they have NO kingdom ethic (a la some radical dispensationalists). Rather it is that they are not thoroughgoing enough in their kingdom ethic. They only apply their kingdom ethic to half the problem and are rather naive in using Caesar to accomplish kingdom ends.

Rather than allowing the kingdom ethic to be subversive and challenge BOTH the greedy economic swindlers and Caesar power-strength ethic, they are quite willing to use and even empower the later to enforce the kingdom ethic on the former. Certainly we should all pay taxes, regardless of if we think the rates to high or too low--citizens of God's kingdom submit to the earth's kings (Romans 13). However, while kingdom ethics are to be concerned with the poor and the downtrodden--kingdom ethics are equally concerned with liberty and the kingly-priesthood imparted to all Adam's descendants (albeit only finding his redemption and telos in Christ).

Ending economic oppression while increasing and centralizing the power of Ceasar is a bit like engorging a leashed dragon to help you fight another dragon. In the end once he's hungry again who thinks he'll stay on his leash? Redistributional ethics as a means of social justice practiced by a secular rule are hardly "kingdom" ethics, nor do they effect the kingdom (it is another argument whether or not secular authorities should engage in them). I would argue it is more CREATIONAL to expand the economic pie of human endeavor and in these ways seek to lift up the powerless and enabling aspects of the the image bearing function even amongst the fallen. Short of the full realization of the kingdom, power is best when decentralized and dispersed rather than concentrated--this curtails a reality of the fall: greed takes all forms in all kinds of people. The citizens of the kingdom have liberty and power when they bring challenge to Caesar through self-sacrifice rather than organizing to strengthen Caesars hand assuming he will in the end be truly benevolent.

Indulging Caesar's megalomania to fight Laodicean opulence is hardly "kingdom" minded.

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