Christian anarchism

From Academic Kids

Template:Anarchism Christian anarchism is the belief that there is only one source of authority to which Christians are ultimately answerable, the authority of God as embodied in Jesus. Some Christians therefore feel that earthly authority such as government, or indeed the established church do not and should not have power over them.

This is similar to mainstream anarchism, but different in that they believe the quest for personal freedom is God's will and can only be achieved through absolute non-violence. Its adherents believe this path to freedom is justified spiritually and quote the teachings of Jesus, some of whom are critical of the existing establishment and church. They believe all individuals can directly communicate with God and will eventually unify under this one God.

Leo Tolstoy (The Kingdom of God is Within You) and Ammon Hennacy were notable advocates of Christian anarchism.


The Fall of Rome

There are anarchical traces in much of the history of Christianity. For example, Gibbon felt that Christianity contributed, perhaps passively, to the fall of the Roman Empire:

"As the happiness of a future life is the great object of religion, we may hear
without surprise or scandal that the introduction... of Christianity, had some
influence on the decline and fall of the Roman empire." [1] (

He goes on to suggest that military expansionism gave way to devotion and piety, and religious conflict replaced military conquest.

A Washington State University paper states that the Roman Emperor codified, and accommodated to the radical teachings of Jesus:

...the foundational Christian texts are not only anti-Roman ... but
consistently dismissive of human, worldly authority.
If Christianity were going to work as a religion in a state ruled by a
monarch that demanded worship and absolute authority, it would
have to be changed. To this end, Constantine convened a group of
Christian bishops at Nicea in 325; there, the basic orthodoxy of
Christianity was instantiated in what came to be called the Nicene
creed[2] (, the basic statement of belief for orthodox Christianity.[3] (

Christianity became the official religion of the Empire in c390. Within a century Rome was overrun by the barbarians, and the Empire began its end.

The Church - The Reformation

The Bible illustrates that the original Christians, shortly after His death, were living an anarchist-like way of life, with "no poor", and "total equality".

Anarchist, or at least anti-establishment, principles are found in the Reformation idea that the individual believer could have a direct relationship with God. The earlier notion that salvation had to be earned through a range of good works and practices, interpreted and prescribed by the Church, was left behind. Instead, the concept of grace was seen to produce salvation for genuine believers who accept and follow God's revealed word. This simple, apparently uncontroversial interpretation of scripture seriously threatened the centuries of established Church power, wealth and authority.

Other trends towards Anarchism

The Anabaptist Protestant sect was seen as anarchic in 15th Century Germany, at the time of the Reformation. Some of its adherents lived in communal settlements and vowed to overthrow the established Government. This led to extensive military conflict at the time.

In the mid-19th century The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints attempted to live what was known as the "Law of Consecration" for several years. While communitarian in nature and sharing some aspects of anarchism the "Law of Consecration" was centrally administered both on a local and church wide basis and can not be considered as anarchism in the formal meaning of the word.

The Doukhobors

The Doukhobors ("Spirit Wrestlers") are a radical Christian sect that maintain a belief in pacifism and a communal lifestyle, while rejecting secular government, the Bible, and the divinity of Jesus. The Doukabors fled repression in Tsarist Russia and migrated to Canada, mostly in the provinces of Saskatchewan and British Columbia, the funds for the trip were paid for by Quakers and the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy. As an interesting historical sidenote, Canada was suggested to Leo Tolstoy as a safe-haven for the Doukhobors by anarchist Peter Kropotkin who, while on a speaking tour across the country, observed the religious tolerance experienced by the Mennonites.

Catholic Worker Movement

The Catholic Worker Movement, founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin on May 1, 1933, is a Christian movement dedicated to nonviolence and voluntary poverty. Over 130 Catholic Worker communities exist in the United States where "houses of hospitality" care for the homeless. The Joe Hill House of hospitality (which closed in 1968) in Salt Lake City, Utah featured an enormous twelve feet by fifteen foot mural of Joe Hill and Jesus Christ.

The Catholic Worker Movement has consistently protested war and violence for over 7 decades. Many of the leading figures in the movement have been both anarchists and pacifists.

Catholic Worker Ammon Hennacy defined Christian Anarchism as being "based upon the answer of Jesus to the Pharisees, when He said that he without sin should be the first to cast the stone, and upon the Sermon on the Mount, which advises the return of good for evil and the turning of the other cheek. Therefore, when we take any part in government by voting for legislative, judicial, and executive officials, we make these men our arm by which we cast a stone and deny the Sermon on the Mount.

"The dictionary definition of a Christian is one who follows Christ; kind, kindly, Christ-like. Anarchism is voluntary cooperation for good, with the right of secession. A Christian anarchist is therefore one who turns the other cheek, overturns the tables of the moneychangers, and does not need a cop to tell him how to behave. A Christian anarchist does not depend upon bullets or ballots to achieve his ideal; he achieves that ideal daily by the One-Man Revolution with which he faces a decadent, confused, and dying world."

Biblical Arguments

Some Christian anarchists have held a critical, non-inspired view of the Bible, and base their arguments on what they think are the evidences of what they believe Jesus really said, not needing to find compatablity with the Christian Bible as a whole.

Others defend a complete compatability with the Christian Bible and anarchism. The most common challenge is integrating the passage of Paul in Romans 13 where he defends obedience to "governing authorities." Christian anarchists point out that this chapter is particularly worded to make it clear that organizations like the Roman Empire cannot qualify as governing authorities. If it could, then, according to Paul, "they would have praise from the same" for doing good. Instead the early Christians were martyred by the Roman government for doing good. Further, the "governing authorities" that are legitimate in the passage were never given the authority to make laws, merely to enforce the natural laws against "doing harm to a neighbor." This interpretation makes all statute laws of states illegitimate.


Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy is notable for having written extensively on his anarchist principles, which he arrived at via his Christian faith. Notably his books The Gospel in Brief and The Kingdom of God is Within You expounded a philosophy very similar to that of his contemporary Mikhail Bakunin, with critique of the state, industrial capitalism, exploitation of the peasants and proletariat, a strong denouncement of the clergy and the Church in general, and a call for a society based on non-violent principles.

Ammon Hennacy

Ammon Hennacy (or Hennessey) (1893-1970) is notable for writing extensively on his work with the Catholic Workers and at the Joe Hill House of Hospitality. He was a practicing anarchist, draft dodger, and active protester. His autobiography "The Book of Ammon" describes his work in non-violent, anarchist, social action, and provides insight into the lives of Christian anarchists in the United States of the 20th century. His other books are "One Man Revolution in America" and "The Autobiography of a Catholic Anarchist". Ammon Hennacy is also noted for several famous quotations dealing with force, law, and state powers which continue to inspire anarchist action today.

Jacques Ellul

Jacques Ellul (1912 - 1994) was a French thinker, sociologist, theologian and Christian anarchist. He wrote several books against the "technological society", and some about Christianity and politics, like "Anarchy and Christianity" (1991) explaining that anarchism and Christianity are socially following the same goal.

Other Christian Anarchists


External links


  • Dave Andrews (1999). Christi-anarchy: Discovering a radical spirituality of compassion. Lion Publishing. ISBN 0-7459-4234-2.

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