Dr Roger Haydon Mitchell, Political Theologian with Westminster Theological Centre
My work over the last decade or so has centred around the historical genealogy of Western politics in the partnership of church and empire and its remedy.Simply put, it has exposed the early subsumption of transcendence by sovereignty and the resultant displacement of love from the originary Christian mythology otherwise basic to the emergence of Western politics (Mitchell, 2011). The structures that remain instead now rest on force, law and money. I have termed these three as the “currencies” of sovereignty, protected as Giorgio Agamben proposes, by the imposition of the exception when occasion arises (Agamben, 2005). Agamben’s work powerfully demonstrates how western law is predicated on a deeper reality which he terms the exception and which suspends the law if any of the other currencies are seriously threatened. He suggests that our contemporary West is already in the situation where the exception applies and law no longer operates for justice, but only to undergird Western security and the free market. The radical alternative to this, I suggest, is the reinstatement of love, but, crucially, love cultivated in the opposite spirit to the imposition of sovereign power; a way of life that some of us have invented the term kenarchy to describe (Mitchell and Arram, 2014).
The root of the displacement of love by sovereign power was the embrace of Christianity by the Roman Empire in the 4thcentury CE, from which time the early Christian myths of trinity and incarnation largely lost their political potential.My current interest is in re-mythologising contemporary politics (Stacey, 2018) by the re-application of these myths to the currencies of sovereignty thereby making love their primary purpose (Mitchell, 2018). Or expressing it another way, putting love in the place of the exception. The myth of trinity positions the wellbeing of the other, even one’s enemy, as the paramount purpose of existence. The myth of incarnation inserts that same wellbeing into the politics of empire and its consequences, as depicted in its culmination at the cross where the combination of Roman military force, Jewish and Roman law, and money was met by sacrificial love.
My radical suggestion is that love becomes the yardstick for all security initiatives, all application of the law and all monetary transactions.So an end to redemptive violence, retributive justice and unrestricted profit! So how to achieve this? Clearly it cannot be done in the same spirit as empire, and given the inroads of secularity despite the current post-secular cultural milieu (Ward, 2009). Ward draws attention to the mythological power of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Ringstrilogy and apocalyptic films as evidence of popular post-secularity. But post-secularity notwithstanding, the lost Christian myths of incarnation and trinity cannot simply be reasserted into our political life. Rather, what is possible instead is for those people who embrace these myths and can encourage others to do so, to live out the implications within the various occupational spheres and stages of life in which they find themselves, but particularly in relation to security, law and commerce. This is easier said than done, of course. For this reason those of us attempting to reapply this mythology have devised a transformational rhythm of life aimed to achieve this.
The rhythm of the trinity and the story of the incarnation orchestrate the steps for this transformative political life. Beginning with the choice to love the other as oneself, this rhythm of life is choreographed for overall wellbeing via seven foci basic to the gospel myth of incarnation: instating women, advocating for the poor, prioritising children, reintegrating humanity and the environment, welcoming strangers, restoring justice to prisoners and healing the sick. Security, legal and commercial interests that stand in the way of any or all of these become the arena of practice. In my case, this currently involves me in the Health and Mental Health working group of the Morecambe Bay Poverty Truth Commission (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6Itr0NlNyY) where those with lived experience of poverty, known as Community Commissioners, work alongside those representing the currencies of sovereignty, known as the Civic Commissioners, to explore and then implement loving ways of working.
In practice we equate love and overall wellbeing, as the philosophical theologian Tom Oord spells out (Oord 2010). So we have been working with NHS and DWP officials at making the often dehumanising and bureaucratic approaches to healthcare and the roll-out of Universal Credit more holistic and integrated for overall wellbeing of both the service user and provider. This is not an easy fix but a generational task.
Mitchell, Roger Haydon. 2011. Church, Gospel and Empire: How the Politics of Sovereignty Impregnated the West. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock.
Agamben, Giorgio. 2005. State of Exception.Translated by Kevin Attell. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.
Mitchell, Roger Haydon and Julie Tomlin Arram eds. 2014. Discovering Kenarchy:Contemporary Resources for the Politics of Love.Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock.
Oord, Thomas, J. 2010. The Nature of Love:a Theology. St Louis Missouri: Chalice Press.
Stacey, Timothy. 2018. “Beyond populist politics: why conventional politics needs to conjure myths of its own and why it struggles to do so.” Global Discourse Journal Vol 8, No 4. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/23269995.2018.1524208
Mitchell, Roger Haydon. “What Are the Politics of Love?” Global Discourse Journal Vol 8, No 4. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/23269995.2018.1512034
Ward, Graham. 2009. “Postsecularity?” In The Politics of Discipleship: Becoming postmaterial Citizens. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.