BREAKING NEWS: John Howard Yoder Joins The Tea Party!

In a recent post, one theologian and blog (erroneously) claimed

“I mention this because Tooley’s paragraph above makes clear that Yoder’s influence was to train a generation of younger Evangelicals to hate and despise their own cultural heritage – to reject as violent, colonial, patriarchal and racist the legacy of Western Christendom over the past 1500 years. By doing so, Yoder helped create a void into which cultural Marxism could move. Marxism Has been in the process of colonizing the ecclesiastical structures of a dying Christian faith in the West for over a century now. As faith in Jesus Christ declines, Marxism offers a modern, this-worldly substitute complete with eschatology, guilt, martyrdom, holy books, a prophetic stance and much more.

This is part of the explanation (which of course is far more complex than this one little point) for why the Evangelical became “Left” politically and economically. And it explains why those who first embrace economic Marxist theories are so susceptible on all the other “culture war” issues: sanctity of life, traditional marriage, sexual morality etc. There is a connection between rejecting one’s cultural traditions, embracing the sexual revolution and using Marxism to criticize capitalism. These three moves fit together and reinforce one another.

But maybe it all starts with a loss of confidence in one’s tradition, one’s culture and one’s heritage. If so, the influence of Yoder has been massive – and tragic.”

I take issue with this quote for many reasons, but overall, to invoke a critique of Yoder and therefore advocates of Christian non-violence as pushers of some Marxist pill both is quite unneccessary and gives us a false choice between only 2 alternatives, supressing other possibilities. Better yet, rather than placing words in Yoder’s mouth, without providing quotes or sources, one does better to quote Yoder himself through a close and faithful reading. Yoder was no socialist, and it is true that his Politics of Jesus was geared toward addressing the state and the issue of the Sword (war and policing powers of governing institutions). However, Yoder does give somewhat of a small, small glimpse of his view of economics; I would argue that his vision provides an insufficient account of the Coin (the ruling authorities power to determine the means of making a living, employment, vocation, etc.) but there are shades of his attitude towards money in his work. Especially in the chapter of POJ, “Revolutionary Subordination,” whenever one discusses the issue of slavery, women’s roles, and Paul’s “household codes,” you are discussing economic issues, case studies in ancient views toward household management.

Now, this post may come to a surprise to my peers who condemned last year my economic views and claimed that it was contrary to Yoder’s own, and at first, I conceded their points, but today, I take that concession back. In fact, Yoder comes close to my own views in a relatively shocking way. In fact an honest, economic close reading of Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus would seem to suggest that he was not into Craig Carter’s crony corporatism or some of Yoder’s post-modern fan base who run theo-blogs and promote the doctrine of “Outside Democratic Socialism, there is no Salvation.” I would proffer that the ruling principle in Yoder’s work is that Jesus the Non-Violent Liberator is the governor in every area of our lives.

I present to you Yoder, in his own words:

In the chapter, “The Implications of Jubilee”

**Still, it is not our belief that Jesus prescribed Christian communism. If he had done this he would have left to his disciples either monastic rules to those of the Essenes, or some kind of constitution. for a Jewish collective state. This he did not do. Collectivism was contrary to the spirit of Moses.** (page 70)

Upon reading this quote, one has to wonder exactly where Yoder has left room for Marxism, if Yoder himself abandons both socialism and capitalism, and rather suggests the economics of Jubilee. For even in a communist state, debt is the problem (and I would add both in terms of deficiencies of political power and wealth). John Howard Yoder is protesting the, as J. Kameron Carter mentioned, the debt-bound subject. I would suggest that the hidden monster in today’s U.S. political economy that we do not talk about (and allow the Dave Ramsey’s of the world to roam free from criticism–especially in the Church) is the enormous amount of debt that individuals and families accumulate, as they sacrifice themselves on the alter of the American Dream to earn a living. That is a topic for another day (and I can envision adding Booker T. Washington to that conversation), but Yoder’s concern is the ability of institutions (the Powers) to control where our bodies go (politically) but one can see in the aforementioned chapter that Yoder has an eye for economics.

JHY understands YHWH’s Prayer in Luke, where Jesus asks for us to forgive us our debts (in the greek, opheleima, literally monetary debt, as a request by the disciple to ask God to give God’s people the power to practice Jubilee [see Leviticus 25] (page 62). The remission of debt, besides destabilizing the political economic by practicing the virtue of forgiveness, also serves as a constant reminder that God is the OWNER (kyrios in the greek has this at its meaning as well) over all of Creation. I side with liberationist thinker Joerg Rieger in that it would be completely inaccurate to even consider ourselves even the debtors to God concerning our property, for a debtor has the agency to choose how much to repay the lender. Christologically speaking, we should see EVERYTHING as God’s Property [a subversive reading of that 1990s Gospel choir’s name], all of creation (humanity, “our” bodies and God’s creation), even all of our so-called choices (by the way, choices has become such a passe concept, that one can’t help by think about consumption–thus the pro-choice movement in reproductive rights–economics, bodily existence–that is the abortion debate).

The commitment to ursury in modern times starts with Christian traditions, and in particular, the Reformed tradition of H. Richard Niebuhr, Abraham Kuyper, and Herman Dooyeweerd, all three whose politics I have suggested a while back that are very much so Constantinian to the core. It is not a coincidence that all three men wrote against Anabaptist practices, as the Reformed forefathers would have, but the problem with notions such as “sphere sovereignty” is that any institution can be considered to have moral “autonomy” (freedom of choice) apart from the Lordship of Christ Yeshua. JHY’s notes in the chapter “Christ And Power” suggest that his project is a rebuttal to the Reformed Tradition’s historic polemic against non-violent Christianity (see for example page 144, note 7.). The problem I have with a vast majority of libertarian/conservative Christians is that they presuppose this “sphere sovereignty” rather than Jubilee economics as the foundation for a Christian vision of the Coin. The reason why Greed is the great sin is because the greedy presuppose that anything of YHWH’s good creation is theirs to begin with.

On the other hand, liberationists who remain focused economic sin, do not provide an adequate account creation, and humanity’s co-creative capacities in the making of the world’s economies. I believe this is where Yoder is most helpful in that while he fails to address the Corporations and Coin as Powers specifically, there are some aids in the struggle against poverty. According to Yoder, Jesus calls the faithful to go beyond what is required, even what governments require. If one thinks about it, the IRS gives individuals and corporations tax breaks for charity, and provides various loopholes to escape the wrath of the tax collector. Would Yoder consider even these practices wrong? I do not know for sure, but an economic reading of POJ suggests perhaps. Yoder’s attack on the debtor society also matches the post-colonial concern for dependency abroad, that wealthier nations “help” poor nations and keep them poor with their loans. But imagine a world where all of these loans were forgiven every seventh year? Disruptive, yes?

This approach to economics is what I think is needed today; what it means for non-violence as the guiding principle in money-changers’ houses, I am only beginning to scratch the surface. But I think this reading is consistent with Yoder’s commitment to non-violence, relying on the God of Israel & Judah & Jesus, to fight our battles for us, even during times of recession.

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0 thoughts on “BREAKING NEWS: John Howard Yoder Joins The Tea Party!

  1. Myles

    Carter’s reading of Yoder is so ridiculous. To equate him with Marxist discourse betrays more about Carter than it does Yoder.

    1. Rod of Alexandria Post author

      I agree with all that you say!

      Carter’s interpretation of Yoder is just so off that mark. Not even close, it’s like Yoder wrote something completely different.

  2. T. C. Moore

    In the comments, Craig Carter writes, “At the heart of all left-wing political thought is statolotry. So all the railing against “Caesar” is indeed quite laughable.”

    So you can accuse Yoder of “statoloatry” by saying he is the “godfather” of the evangelical Left and then say his critique of Constantinianism is “laughable”?

    Methinks Carter is looking for a scapegoat and Yoder isn’t alive to defend himself.

  3. Travis Greene

    “one’s tradition, one’s culture and one’s heritage”

    Ugh. It’s totally unclear what it is exactly that he’s talking about here. Christianity? Western civilization? European culture? Anglo-Saxon political history? Democracy? America? Capitalism?

    I suspect his answer is yes, all of these, and that’s the biggest problem with his critique. And exactly where Yoder and Anabaptism are so essential.

    Keep up the good work.

  4. Ryan

    Pretty much on the mark, here. Many on the left (myself included, on occasion) tend to confuse the reign of God with some form of reworking the state *as is*. I attended an interesting “Jesus Seminar on the Road” with a couple of scholars from the seminar, and they gave a brilliant account of Jesus’ critique of the Roman (and Temple-state) domination system. However, they quite self-assuredly made the jump to say that Jesus was advocating that the system be run by God’s principles. There is a certain amount of truth to that. However, if the system itself is inherently coercive, violent and unjust, what then? Unfortunately, just about everyone on the left and right takes the modern nation-state as a natural outcome of human civilization and a given and can’t see past it.

    I voted for the social democratic party in the last Canadian election. But I know that God’s reign is a mustard-seed weed that doesn’t depend on the state to do so. Even if a more generous, less bloodthirsty, less dick-ish Caesar is preferable, he’s still Caesar.

  5. Charles

    the problem with notions such as “sphere sovereignty” is that any institution can be considered to have moral “autonomy” (freedom of choice) apart from the Lordship of Christ Yeshua

    Having recently come from working at a university run by Kuyperians, I figure can address this. That’s not how sphere sovereignty works. Every sphere is under the authority of Christ; the autonomy is in their relations to each other. The government does not have the authority to command a congregation to adopt a specific policy, your employer does not have authority to tell you how to raise your children (there’s an obvious joke there for those who know the school I used to work at), and so on. But Christ is Lord of all spheres. I can’t really go whole-hog with sphere sovereignty, because there are too many areas of overlap (the government does have authority over the family if children are abused, for example), but I do see a certain validity to it.

    1. Rod of Alexandria Post author

      Hey Charles,

      As a former Calvinist who affirmed Kuyperian sphere sovreignty, I understand this, but Yoder and I are saying that even in relations to each other, it is Jesus who determines how these “spheres” are to related and not arbitrary and contextual choices defined by Reformed ethicists/theologians.

      I no longer affirm sphere sovereignty. South African Apartheid is a major reason why.


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