Disentangling some competing dualisms in the church / state conversation

church-and-state.jpgIt has long been my observation that anti-war Christian “pacifists” and pro-war Christian “realists” often talk past each other because they understand the church / state distinction very differently. Each labels the other dualist to the puzzlement of the other.

Here is my attempt to try and graphically illustrate the problem. Basically I think it’s a problem of space versus time. Of competing dualisms.

Realists tend to talk in terms of spacial relationships, of Heaven above and Earth below, of the “responsibility” to use state / military power wisely and the separate spheres of state and church influence. What is “of Christ” and “of Caesar” belong to different realms. Jesus is seen as denying a political role for himself, and any assertions to the contrary are absurd.

Pacifists, on the other hand, tend to talk in terms of the future Kingdom of God breaking into the present, with minimal respect for public life / private life and secular space / sacred space distinctions. Thus the crucifixion and resurrection are political as well as personal events, and “Jesus is Lord” is taken as a direct challenge to Caesar.

Having said that, I am aware this model may need some tweeking, so feel free to critique and suggest improvements where you feel it may be unclear. Does it help though?

14 thoughts on “Disentangling some competing dualisms in the church / state conversation

  1. @ matt,
    i am of the view, that ‘religion’ is the Domain of an Individual. Because, religion always deals with the subject of a ‘soul’.
    So, the ‘Church’ which the Christians consider as the ‘Temple of Jesus Christ’ … should demarcate itself from interfering any ‘state decisions’ of the Society/Nation.
    Yes, the Church has the Right to do Charity Work … but, it should not have any ‘say’ in the ‘State Policies’.
    Even if there is a Kingdom of God … then too, Church, or shall i say, Temple of Jesus Christ … should only confine itself to the ‘Religious Customs’ advocated by Lord Jesus Christ.
    Any nation should have people, who follow ‘realist ideology’ … at the helm of affairs in its government.
    But, we may have some instances wherein some people-in-power, who understand ‘political science’ … are also Faithful Followers of Jesus Christ.
    cheers !


  2. There is something I should explain further about these diagrams, and that is, Monastic “Isolationist” Christianity is the flip side of Minitaristic “Realist” Christianity. It’s shadow if you will. It’s the shape Christian community takes when there’s a WITHDRAWAL from the public square for more mystical / esoteric pursuits on the basis of the same METAPHYSICALLY orientated understanding of church and state. So if you cut out the public side of Minitaristic “Realist” Christianity, Monastic “Isolationist” Christianity is what you have left. Some have called this “vocational pacifism”, in that it’s a nonviolent lifestyle restricted to a special class of Christian.
    So Yaholo, I suppose I would say that there is a third option buried in the first option.
    And Vamsi, your response is entirely consistant with my theory given Hinduism has a well known preference for metaphysics over eschatology. In this schema, the closest correlation to Hinduism is Monastic “Isolationist” Christianity. It’s therefore quite natural that nonviolent “pacifist” Christianity would be considered unpalatable and overly political. So, I appreciate your critiques as ironically they actually help to confirm the model!


  3. John
    The dilemma I have proposed is one of communication, of misunderstandings born of different understandings of church / state relationships. Not sure how this article on capital punnishment “resolves” this communication issue given it just states one stance without exploring how it relates to alternatives. Moreover, capital punnishment can and has been challenged by both militaristic and pacifist Christians, so it’s not a clear differentiator between the two traditions. If you can offer something that’s more directly related to the war question that would be helpful.


  4. As an aside, this also model explains why Christian “realists” of both left and right varieties get so excited about sexual ethics and family values when they come up as public policy concerns. It’s because these things are commonly thought of as private, and therefore of hightened religious interest. So when these private matters come up in public, the “realist” distinction between church and state begins to collapse. Conservatives cry “Morality!” Liberals cry “Compassion!” Both want a say in any legislation.
    The “pacifist” position is rather different. First of all, having not much respect for public / private dichotomies to begin with, sexual ethics and family values are no more or less political for them than any other issue. Second of all, given they set much less trust in legislative approaches, they’re far more inclined to stress the importance of beginning with community counter-culturalism and being the change you wish to see irrespective of what legislation gets passed.


  5. Matthew. I wonder if you read the entire essay that I pointed you to.
    It was about much more than capital punishment and did address the topic of justifiable self-defense and killing altogether.


  6. Yes, I agree with your model on the whole. Your realist model is what you have also called “Constantinian” (though I disagree with you about that). But I definitely agree with you about the space/time thing.
    I’ve just been re-reading Trevor Huddleston’s “Naught for your comfort”, and he describes talking to a Dutch Reformed apartheid supporter, who tells him “The difference between us is eschatological”, and indeed it is.


  7. Steve, I was wondering how you might respond to this, given some of your previous defences of Constantine. I am suspecting western Catholic versus eastern Orthodox perspectives of Constantine are at play here. So my question is, where would you locate the eschatological shift if not with Constantine, Augustine, etc.?


  8. I donno John, I read it again and it still seems to focus mostly on criminal punishment, apart from some digressions into environmental justice in the middle.
    Running it through a word frequency counter I see it mentions “self” 22 times, “right” 18 times, “moral” 17 times, “revenge” and “punishment” 13 times, “defence” 8 times, “criminal” 7 times and “war” not once.
    While I concede there seems to be some intention to generalize self defence to include national defence, that line of thinking is not developed to any great depth and I believe the word count says it all, particularly when many of the “defence” mentions relate to self-defence only.
    In any event, I’m taking it that you see your own path most closely related to the “realist” position?


  9. The change can be sean in the West when people start talking about “heaven”, but the Orthodox prefer to speak of “the heavenly kingdom”. At the beginning of the Divine Liturgy, the priest says “Blessed in the Kingdom of the Father, the Son and the Holy spirit” and it is the Kingdom that breaks in upon us.
    You can see it in architecture: when in the west people were building tall, tall cathedrals with spires pinting to heaven above, the Orthodox were building temples with domes, with the message “Christ is in our midst”, and the temple is a representation of heaven come to earth.
    How this worked out in practice, of course, varied. There was the idea that Christian rulers should make their kingdom an image of God’s kingdom, but sinful men project a distorted image.
    My daughter (studying theology in Greece) has pointed out that the English “kingdom” can sometimes give the impression of a state with boundaries — the Kingdom of Swaziland, the Kingdom of Lesotho, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. But the Greek is sometimes better translated as “reign” rather than Kingdom. The Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t mean that heaven is a place with borders, like Lesotho. It is the boundless reign of God.


  10. When do you think that was though Steve? I’m still wondering about Augustine’s influence. In western Christianity we tend to associate Augustine fairly closely with Constaintine, given he was less than 50 years later, and likewise had a big impact on how we see church and state relationships. But I conceed his influence was far greater in the west that the east, so maybe that’s where our differing perspectives on Christendom really come from. He was one of the early architects of western Christian just war doctrine after all. Maybe the neoPlatonic influence of Augustine is decisive for this debate? If so, that raises some very interesting questions for the neoCalvinist / neoAnabaptist debate, given Calvin’s debt to Augustine.
    And by the way, I agree “reign of God” is a better translation of the greek than “kingdom of God”, but then that’s to be expected given what I’ve already said of my eschatological leanings.


  11. Matt,
    As someone once said:
    The East was not influenced by Augustine: its anthropology is different from that of the West.
    The East was not influenced by Anselm: its soteriology is different from that of the West.
    The East was not influenced by Aquinas: its methodology is different from that of the West.
    So I’m not an expert on Augustine, but I do remember reading, a long time ago, a book by Prof Edgar Brookes, “The ‘City of God’ and the politics of crisis”, which you might find interesting if you can get hold of a copy. University libraries might have it.
    I started writing this a couple of hours ago, then got distraced editing the Wikipedia article on Edgar Brookes!


  12. You’ve given me much to think about. So, it seems we agree that, whatever else happened, Augustine was significantly involved in this shift from eschatological to metaphysical understandings of church / state relationships. Seems I should delve deeper into Augustinian ecclesiology and eschatology in future developing this model. I’ll dust off my copy of City of God.


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