It shall not be so with you Life in Jerusalem and Babylon

The most uncompromising rejection of the exercise of state power and accommodation with its culture in the New Testament is to be found in the book of Revelation. Its clearly enunciated choice between the Beast and Christ, and Jerusalem and Babylon, represent the character of the early Christian political ethos. The challenge to the complacent, and the word of encouragement to the hard-pressed, stand side by side in a book which unmasks the reality of power and the fallibility of human benevolence. In many ways it offers one of the most penetrating accounts of the church's relationship to the state, and in so doing offers a pungent warning to the kind of cosy accommodation into which churches have allowed themselves to slide. In its stark contrast between the Lamb and the Beast, between the Bride, New Jerusalem, and Babylon, it juxtaposes the choices facing men and women and reminds followers of the Lamb of the dangers of becoming entangled in a political system based on a completely different set of values. What is particularly disturbing is the ruthless questioning of the motives behind the benevolence of the powerful. The deceit that snares practitioners and gullible recipients alike is frightening. The remedy is simple. It involves an exodus and a resistance to joining in life as usual, because that means complicity with the culture of Babylon. One must refuse to join in, choose to contradict, resist, and prophesy against the way the world is ordered. Christian life according to the Apocalypse means embracing the role of the outsider (Wengst 1985; Rowland 1998).

It is in the light of this analysis that we should view the two texts which have become the bedrock of discussions of Christianity and politics: Mark 12: 13-17 (and parallels) and Romans 13. With regard to the former, as Milton correctly pointed out, the context of the saying is one where Jesus is being put to the test by his opponents. This is especially clear in the introduction to Luke's version: "so they watched Jesus and sent spies who pretended to be honest, in order to trap him by what he said, so as to hand him over to the jurisdiction and authority of the governor" (Luke 20: 20; cf. 23: 2). It is no surprise that Jesus gives an ambiguous ruling. In a situation which demanded circumspection, Jesus offered an enigmatic riddle in a situation where he had been put in a tight corner by his opponents. It is a politically acute answer with which those who have found themselves in similar tight corners would readily identify. It exemplifies the kinds of strategy which those in situations of subjugation articulate: the gesture; the coded response; and the witty aphorism which avoids giving offense. Dominated people do not always comply, and even when they mouth the acceptable words favored by the powerful, manage to subvert their apparent compliance with it (Scott 1985; Boyarin 1999: 44-6).

With regard to Romans 13, any interpretation must begin with the preceding chapter, in which Paul offers an outline of Christian polity centering on the renewal of the mind and the demonstration of this change in lives lived sacrifi-cially. This is the norm for what is good and how the good may be achieved. Paul's expectation of Christ's coming and his lordship, expressed throughout the letters, is the necessary context within which the permanence and rightness of any political regime, however enlightened, should be judged. Like Daniel in the court of Nebuchadnezzar, Paul accepts that God has a time and season for every power. The principalities and powers to whom Christians are urged to be subject are part of Christ's triumphal procession (Col. 2: 14). The public demonstration of the way of the Messiah, however, is still to come, "when God will be all in all" (1 Cor. 15: 25). What is offered in Romans 13 is advice for the interim, and a goal for the powers to implement if they would reflect the goodness of God. Insofar as they fail to do this, or interpret the good as what serves their own interests, they undermine the obligation laid upon those in subjection, so carefully enunciated in these verses. Insofar as most political regimes fall short of the goodness of God, subservience and acquiescence are bound to be heavily qualified, as Milton rightly perceived ("an evil and faulty thing, since it is disorderly, cannot possibly be ordained"). Where the early Christian writings part company with Milton, however, is that Daniel, Paul, and the Christian martyrs do not contemplate their witness to the ways of Christ leading them to armed revolt, but instead to the burning fiery furnace or the arena, where the public, political, demonstration of "the better way" would be offered to probably incredulous spectators.

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