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.