Thursday, May 26, 2005


With the popularity of the recent film Hotel Rwanda (and the remarkably similar book , A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali -- it's set at the same hotel as the movie) as background, I re-read Michael Budde's essay "Pledging Allegiance: Reflections on Discipleship and the Church after Rwanda," from the collection he co-edited, Church as Counterculture. It's an essay that everyone should read, in a book that everyone should read.

In it, Budde (who is professor of political science at DePaul in Chicago and a Roman Catholic) argues that when the church gives over to constantinian-like compromise with the state (or any other institution, for that matter), she loses her identity and her faith. He argues that

[b]eing a disciple of Jesus, to which all of us are called, was and is meant to be a primary, ultimate, pivotal vocation. By its very natuere it cannot share allegiances with lesser goods and commitments. When it does, ti is discipleship no longer, and whatever displacesit becomes a matter of idolatry
(p. 214, emphasis in original). He then illustrates his thesis with a brief history of the involvement of and the responsibility for the abominable tragedy that was the Hutu slaughter of Tutsis in Rwanda.

It's a compelling story he tells and an indictment of all the church-and-state talk that encourages the church to try to "keep the nation honest" or "help may the state more humane." To give in to that kind of thinking, Budde argues, is to throw away the Gospel.

Budde is much more -- what? -- isolationist that Hauerwas can ever be accused of being -- not that I think he has been justifiably accused of such thinking. . (I think it was Budde who wrote about the Christian duty not to vote in civic elections, because to vote is to promise to live with the results no matter how immoral.) He rejects a kind of cooperation by which the Church has given over to the state primary responsibility for carrying out the social good works that the Church should be doing -- e.g., food distribution or welfare benefits. In his eyes, to work with Caesar and to enjoy his assistance comes only the expense of the Church's soul. "Even when using Caesar's power for more benign expressions of good -- feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and the like -- strings are attached" -- strings which always lead to killing or supporting kill for the state.

Budde goes on to urge "Christian freeloading" -- i.e., living without guilt in the midst of a state that provides the "blessings of liberty" (say in the USA) while not necessarily "paying" for them with one's loyalty. It is the task, rather, of the Church to be itself -- "experiments in prefiguring and exemplifying what Jesus called the Kingdom of God." The benefit to the society of the Church's life is precisely in that witness, so that the Church need not compromise in her mission in order to somehow earn the well-being that her members might enjoy.

He doesn't buck the tough questions, either. He thinks the stakes are too high to risk working with Caesar, and he puts the analysis in start terms: He asks, for example, "[H]ow many foreign deaths are acceptable for the defense of Social Security? How many of other peoples' children may be sacrifieced to protect aid to indigent children in this country?" He also notes that, if push comes to shove, the state will at the drop of a hat abandon the "good programs" if needs to devote more attention and resources to the police, the army, and prisons.

The article actually flows much smoother than my attempt to sketch the argument. It's really difficult to argue with him. And it is especially hard for me to argue with him, since I have spent the past four weeks leading an adult forum in which I have argued that to be a follower of Jesus, a "disciple," is to give over one's entire loyalty to him -- first, last, and always. (Get the shades of Bonhoeffer?) I think I agree with everything he says, and I have said similar kinds of things in adult fora in Church in the past.

But it's an astounding tack to take. Is Budde a true "sectarian"? What would happen if congregations, say, took him for their guide and sought to structure their lives in the ways he implies? His is, after all, no Niebuhrian "realism" -- Christian or otherwise.

But, then, do not Christians have their own reality? Isn't that what the Gospel is all about? Bill Cavanaugh describes that brilliantly in this book Theopolitical Imagination: The Eucharist, for example, redefines and enacts a much different worldview from that of US Supreme Court decisions and acts of Congress -- even from the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

I have long refused to say the pledge of allegiance. My allegiance is not to the flag or the republic for which it stands. That has made sense to me since I was in high school. (I frankly have never understood why all thinking Christians don't see it the same way.) So I have been predisposed to sympathy for Budde's (and in a different way, Hauerwas and Willimon's) approach.

I'm just not sure how or where to take it.


Eric Lee said...

Is Budde a true "sectarian"?

No, I don't think so -- I think he's being Christian here. Like Hauerwas has written, the Church is it's own polity, it's own social reality. I think "sectarian" is the wrong word to use because of to reasons: 1. it most likely is often used by non-Christians to critique the Christian conviction of living in community, and 2. I don't think Budde would ever argue removing oneself from the world, because you have to be in the world to actually be a witness to it.

Lee at Verbum Ipsum also recently recommended that Church as Counterculture book edited by Budde. I'll have to get to that after Budde's Conflicting Allegiances -- another collection of essays that was co-edited by Budde and my pastor :)

Maurice Frontz said...

Hmmm, Dwight. "Christian freeloading?" This guy must be good to make sense of what on the face of it is an astounding statement.

Another questionable statement: "By (discipleship's) very nature it cannot share allegiances with lesser goods and commitments." Huh? My discipleship shares allegiances with lesser goods and commitments all the time - with my family, my neighborhood, my avocations, my vocation, my citizenship, etc. Does not my discipleship order my commitments? Is not the idolatry in disordered loyalty? Is this not also the New Testament witness?

I'm sorry, but all of this smacks too much of self-justification to me, and dissatisfaction that we still are in the mess we're in (it's called original sin). But give me time. I am reading Resident Aliens. They certainly are not afraid to be bold.

One advantage of RA is that H/W seem, at least thus far, not to preach a liberation theology, imagining that the Kingdom of God can come on earth by our own efforts. How Christians ought to deal with that truth is the key point here.

BTW, I was at an STS chapter retreat here in Central PA and we had Senior Frank Senn as our guest. A couple were talking about Mount Olive in Minneapolis and I mentioned your blog. How do you know Dr. Senn?

Lee said...

Though I touted the book I shamefacedly admit to not having read that essay by Budde! I'll get right on that this weekend! ;-)

One question I have, though, is this: should Christians reject all of society's institutions? 'Cause that sounds like what Budde is advocating. But Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists have traditionally felt that institutions like the state (or the economy, the family, etc.) have legitimate roles to play in preserving creation, even if they are "fallen" and prone to making exaggerated claims for themselves.

Interestingly, I just read Laserre's War and the Gospel and he takes up precisely the question of Christian obedience to the state. For Laserre, the Ten Commandments provide the norm and limit of what the state can legitimately ask Christians to do. He extends this to not killing, but he still thinks that the state has a legitimate role to play in providing defense for its citizens (he thinks it should be non-lethal).

I also sometimes think writers like Budde almost want the USA to be worse than it actually is, because that would fit better with their worldview. I mean, I would be the last one to defend many of our govt's policies, but in fact doesn't the US make pretty generous provisions for conscientous objectors, for instance?

I'm just not sure we should give up on nudging the powers that be in a good direction where we can. And I'm not sure this necessarily means selling out or harboring hopes of some kind of utopian political order.

But then, like I said, I haven't read the essay yet!

Dwight P. said...

Brothers, I think you pick up on the gist of my argument/question. How do we Christian relate to all the other commitments that make demands on us? Setting aside monastics (and they face many of the same issues, too), we do in fact live in the world. I guess the issue is this: We live there but on who's terms?

Yes, Chip, we have numerous claims on our time and talents. But I think it helps to keep the distinctions clear. They do not constitute allegiances; for the Christian only one can claim allegiance -- the Lord Himself. All other systems, relationships, items may be "kosher," but if they begin to demand allegiance, then they have gone too far and are seeking to be gods. So it may be possible to speak of "ordered" and "disordered" priorities or commitments (maybe, that latter word); it helps, though, to limit the usage of "allegiance" to the realm of faith. (That's why I have a problem with "Pledge of Allegiance." I owe and pledge no such allegiance, for my faith may require me to fight against my country in various non-violent and -lethal ways.)

So, to cite a trivial example, if my daughter's karate class (as it did) schedules tests for advancement to the next "belt" on Good Friday, then she must say that she will miss the test because she'll be in church. Refusing to go to even a so-callled "just war" is a more extreme example.

None of this has anything to do with self-justification or -righteousness. That has already been given, and it's only on that basis that any of this makes sense.

So, Eric and Lee, I think that Budde wouldn't argue that we should give up all our intercourse with the "secular society." He himself teaches at an urban university -- admittedly a Roman Catholic related school, but I can attest that it is very much in the world. (I would imagine that that fact helped inspire the collection he co-edited with John Wright. Is there good stuff of general application there? Not that I need another book in the to-be-read stack!)

And I think that "sectarian" is sort of the wrong word. I agree that he is attempting -- along with Hauerwas and Willimon, and others -- to articulate a way of living together in a way that sort of innoculates us to the competing ideologies in the world (consumerism, violence, statism, et. al.).

I'm interested in Laserre, as I may have indicated before, because of his influence on Bonhoeffer's pacifism. So many books ... .

I'm not so sure, however, Lee, that I would acknowledge that USAmerica is so generous in its provisions for conscientous objection. It does not, for example, recognize selective CO. So for non-pacifists who simply earnestly believe that a given war in unjust, there is no option for the designation. Furthermore, because the CO is adminstered by local boards, there is no uniformity or even guarantee that the status will be recognized. During Vietnam, e.g., my draft board simply announced that they would not grant anyone CO status -- period (even to Jesus himself, said one).

Finally, I really don't know Frank Senn, but I have met him a couple of times and I (as most liturgically-inclined Lutherans) know of him. We chat on listservs devoted to liturgy (an ecumenical list) and the ELCA (a more parochial one). He is an enormous store of knowledge and insight. And he's almost always right about what he says (except in his claims that there is no such thing as "Lutheran ethics" and that the public school system should essentially be dismantled; on those he is dead wrong, but I keep my mouth shut).

Let's keep talking.

Lee said...

Dwight - Fair point about selective CO. As someone who is still (just barely) on the "just war" side of the just war/pacifism debate, I think such a provision is important (No doubt the advent of the all-volunteer military has reduced the pressure for such an exception).

In any event, my intent was not to argue that the USA is a "good," much less a perfect state. I just think that there are areas where Ceasar can be pushed into doing the right thing - something that Budde seems to discount. On the other hand, there is the question of where seeking to influence the political authorities becomes complicity with evil.

I posted some more thoughts on this, bringing in a bit of Lasserre, here:

Dwight P. said...

Lee, really good post on your blog. I need to digest it a little before/if I post a response. But it's a nice reflection -- and really interesting to draw in Laserre. I've got to read me that book!