At times on this blog I have observed that I believe far too many Christians anchor too much of their hope in a political party and in the next election — whether local or national. My own conviction is that Christians need to anchor their hope in God and in the manifestation of the gospel in a local community of faith. A recent book, that of William Cavanaugh, Theopolitical Imagination, clarifies many of my ideas and extends them far beyond where I am.
Where do I see this? In the progressive Christian agenda that is barely distinguishable from the Democratic party, in the aggressive conservative orientation that is barely distinguishable from the Republican party, in the emerging movement when it bows too much to the Democratic concerns. Do I think followers of Jesus ought to “participate” in the State (notice how we often frame this) with political agitation? Yes. But, I ask, how worked up do we get about elections? How depressed do we get when our party loses? It is my contention that those emotions often (not always) reveal a political eschatology instead of a christological or ecclesial eschatology. The Church is, so I think, the kingdom society of this world — I anchor my social hope and orientation to the Church.
Cavanaugh, professor at the University of St Thomas in Minneapolis, contends for three big ideas:
1. That the State mimics the soteriology (saving message) of the Church and functions for many as a savior.
2. That the pushing of the Church into the private sector (separation of Church and State) was designed to silence the Church’s threatening message to the State.
3. That globalization is a cheap imitation of the catholicity and universality of the Church.
Here are a few comments:
The State is an “alternative soteriology to that of the Church” (9). Equality is not the Christian ideal — rather, it is union with Christ and genuine participation in love with one another in one another through the Spirit. The State myth roots its entire agenda, not on a primal unity (and therefore the Trinity) but on radical individualism. The State therefore created the sense of religion as a private practice. Religion was domesticated in order to control it.
Citizenship rather than discipleship has replaced the Church’s public stance. “A public Christian presence cannot be the pursuit of influence over the powers, but rather a question of what kind of community disciplines we need to produce people of peace capable of speaking truth to power” (88). The Church is not a part of society; instead, it tells a different story in that society.
Now Cavanaugh is a Roman Catholic, so in his theology the resolution to each of these problems — salvation, genuine society, and catholicity — are found in the Church’s saving, public, and universal offer of redemption in the Eucharist.
Often I found the book sounding like an anabaptist Catholicism, with local church manifestation of the gospel life in the Eucharist, but Cavanaugh’s own theology is closer to the Radical Orthodoxy proposals of John Milbank. Still, this is a potent, brief, but dense presentation of the saving claims of the State and the power the Church can be in our world.