First of all, let me say thanks. I'm so grateful for the honest questioning of a convert to Christianity who seems to intuit Jesus' radical politics. Your story is such good news to me. I grew up among good Christian people who put our hope in Ronald Reagan while we prayed for the souls of atheists like you. It's so refreshing to know that God opened your eyes to the kingdom movement despite our wayward piety.
Second, let me try to correct a misunderstanding that was probably the result of my poor communication. I did not mean to say, "No, I think we'll stay local now" when I wrote that the authenticity of our public witness, which must be transnational, depends on our faith that God has already given us a new way of life in local, everyday practices. I only wanted to say that I've learned we can't really say much to the state house or the White House if we're not repenting of the evil in our own house. Jesus said it like this: Before you try to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye, take the log out of your own.
Realists and radical democrats have criticized the "resident alienation" of intentional communities that separate themselves from society to maintain their own purity apart from the world. I think they're right, and I pray that new monasticism will never fall into this temptation. We cannot get away from this world's systems to carve out a utopia. But God has interrupted history to make a new creation possible right in the midst of the old. We're called to interrupt the world with signs of a new humanity right where we are.
You are right to say that the gospel has leavened society to some degree by democratizing it. This is a result of radical Christian witness. Though it has not ushered in the kingdom, democracy is better than its alternatives. But we are always susceptible to self-deception. And we can easily confuse the pursuit of happiness with the desire for God's beloved community.
This is, I'm afraid, the failure of the success of the civil rights movement. A movement that was inspired by a vision of beloved community where all people have dignity because they are children of God was "democratized" into a civil rights movement that promised the American Dream to the "talented tenth" of the black community. This meant that most of those who could leave black communities did, leaving neighborhoods without the resources of educated and professional people. Without any connection to the local community, the young men and women who gained access through the movement achieved some political power but effected little change.
People like John Perkins of the Christian Community Development Association have helped me to see that the political hope of the God movement is both more radical and more effective when it stays committed to the grassroots and to the practice of entrusting everyday people with the tactics of Jesus. You're right: We ought not let the empire hold our imaginations captive by believing that the gospel is only personal. But neither should we imagine that we can jump to good national and global policy without being transformed ourselves. The call to conversion is total. We desperately need new imaginations as well as a whole new world. The good news is that God has already made all of this possible in Jesus. I hope we can struggle to live into it together.
Peace to you,
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is the author of New Monasticism: What It Has to Say to Today's Church (Baker).