Jesus, the anarchist, is the founder of our faith but where is the Church’s revolutionary nature today?
by Fred Jansohn
In an Online Catholics article, Lost Charity, I touched upon the theme of the Church’s revolutionary tradition.
Lamenting the fact that in 2000 the Vatican forbade the Sisters of Charity in East Sydney from running the medically supervised injecting centre, for intravenous drug users, in Kings Cross, I said it was a lost opportunity and a decision that seemed to contradict what to me at least should be at the heart of Christianity, a willingness to buck systemic injustices or injustices underwritten by political agendas.
If the Church chooses to act within a conservatively safe framework, then it also chooses to turn its back on its revolutionary tradition, to deny its own genesis. It is a bit like saying ‘I am a human being but I could not possibly have come about by means of something so awful or painful and messy as the process of birth’. Yes, it is painful; and yes, it is messy. But look at the reality of your origins, acknowledge them and understand what it entails to bring forth a new life, however messy or unpleasant the process might be.
Our Catholic tradition began with a man who was a leader of formidable scope, foresight and compassion.
He had every attribute that we wish for in Governments or management structures but they lack.
Above all he was apolitical.
In this sense he shared attributes with classic anarchism.
Of course, I speak of Jesus Christ: The first (quasi-) anarchist; the man who established our revolutionary tradition; the man to whom we pray daily; and the man we most wish to emulate.
How was He an anarchist?
He did not acknowledge the legitimacy of the governing authorities of His time. He questioned; he challenged; he engaged; at times he proscribed and he prescribed.
He shook the religious and secular authorities out of their complacency by propounding views unheard of: To love not only one’s neighbour but also one’s enemies; to turn the other cheek; to forgive.
He did not flinch when Pilate asked the question: “Are you King of the Jews”? Christ’s answer? “Yes, it is as you say”; surely a statement so subversive as to have, again, shaken his inquisitors to their very bootstraps. But, coming from Christ, it was an inevitable truth. As it would have been had it been asked in Greece, Rome, or even Persia. Clearly Christ made it plain that He did not recognise the temporal authorities that were arraigned against Him. His authority derived from God.
If the Church is to retain a semblance of this revolutionary legacy then it must act as a conduit for channelling Christ’s overpowering love in ways that demonstrate not only its compassion but also its fearlessness.
It must do so by being anarchic-like. That is, it must do so by refusing to be drawn into the tentative, ambiguous, deceitful and complicit behaviours that characterise politics. It must avoid the temptation to succumb to the bribery attached to the funding dollar; or remain vigilant against feeling constrained to pander to a conservative, albeit vocal, minority on issues from which Christ would have instantly removed the political quotient and aimed for the compassionate jugular.
In a recent weekend’s (7-8/10/06) Sydney Morning Herald, Adele Horin reported that in the past 10 years NGOs had become fearful of “biting the hand that feeds them”. For John Howard’s Government as long as the big charities “feed the hungry and house the poor but refrain from comment or advocacy they are in the (funding) fold”.
My guess is that, had He been alive today, Christ would have raised the roof at this state of affairs; he would have sown the seeds of discord and anarchy across the societal acreages and encouraged dissent everywhere at any price, even at the risk of having Control Orders made against Him or being detained indefinitely. (Control Orders and a barbed wire fence seem today to stand alongside the Cross as ultimate symbols of the loss of basic freedoms and supreme sacrifice).
After all, He has the runs on the board: He did die on the Cross. By comparison, the challenges thrown up by Governments with their precious political agendas surely pale into insignificance. But the average person lacks the strength, the resources, and lacks the courage to oppose the intimidating machinery of Government.
In contrast, our Church is not lacking in strength and resources. What it does seem to lack is the “ticker” that Christ had.
Christ experienced fear; he knew the feeling of dread. But He did not, could not, abandon his mission.
It was clear to Him that the accomplishment of that mission was more important than personal gain, power, glory, wealth — all the things that could have been His. Above all it was more important to Him than life itself.
Call Him a fanatic; call Him self-destructive. But you cannot call Him a coward; and you cannot say he was a role model for betrayal, as He himself was betrayed.
Unfortunately, our Church all too often is itself indistinguishable from the very authoritarian rabble that passes for Governments today and against which Christ railed in His time.
It commands and controls; it routinely fails to engage openly; it fails to listen; it falls into bed with Governments and supports policies that are exclusive and marginalises even more the most marginalised or that legitimise State-sanctioned murder in the name of freedom, justice and democracy.
It is top heavy; affluent to the point of vulgarity; and mostly out of touch with the very people Christ engaged and whose company He preferred.
If it wished to reconnect with an increasingly alienated fold it could do worse than move away from behaviour associated with an old fashioned view of an authoritarian God.
In the Bible, God is not only portrayed as a ruler in the traditional sense but also a Creator, Liberator, Healer, Guide and Protector, as well as the embodiment of Love itself. There are also biblical roots for rebellion against oppression.
I love our Church. I am not about to convert to Islam or Buddhism. The teachings of our Church offer solace and the raw material for expressing “dissenting” views. And a dissenting view, in my humble opinion, is just what Christ would have offered.
Had Christ lived today, one dares to suggest He might even have taken a broom to the Vatican and reconstituted the Church in the way He had established it.
Fred Jansohn is a former lawyer turned qualified community services worker who is a case management coordinator in Surry Hills, Sydney.