Messianic Politics: Toward a New Political Paradigm
by Yong-Bok Kim
Kim Yong-Bock (family name Kim), Ph. D., is President of Hanil University and Theological Seminary in Chonbuk, Korea (Wanju-Kun Sangkwan-Myun, Shinri, 694-1; Chonbuk, Korea 565-830). He received his Masters of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from Princeton University. He has been a teaching fellow at Princeton Theological Seminary, an international consultant to the Commission on Ecumenical Missions and Relations, National Board of Missions, of the United Presbyterian Church (USA), and is founder and Director of the Christian Center for Asian Studies, and Director of the Doctor of Ministries Studies, a joint program with San Francisco Theological Seminary. This article appeared in The Christian Century, July 15-22, 1987 pp. 628-630. Copyright by The Christian Century Foundation; used by permission. Current articles and subscription information can be found atwww.christiancentury.org. This article was prepared for Religion Online by John R. Bushell.
Humankind in the 1980s faces a grave political crisis, as its very existence is threatened by the most powerful and destructive political entities in history: the totalitarian and imperialist powers. Linked up with authoritarian and military dictatorships around the world, these global powers are becoming absolute, beyond the control of any government or institution. With their weapons systems and military alliances, set up to provide absolute security from, or absolute destruction of "the enemy", they have the sophistication and power to annihilate all of humanity. The are potentially and actually "demonic", as they cruelly oppress and destroy human life in order to maintain and continuously expand their power.
These global powers include the military, the giant transnational corporations and the global information and communication industries, as well as the powerful nations themselves, which have permitted these powers to grow unchecked. The U.S., Japan and West Germany are among the countries which have allowed and even encouraged this "transnationalization" of power, against their own liberal democratic principles and in violation of basic human rights and popular sovereignty. The victims are people of all countries, but especially those in the third world. The traditional balance-of-power and parliamentary processes used to limit the excessive growth of any one power, are useless in the present global reality, where a single transnational structure can have a dominant influence over many national governments. And the escalating rivalry among the superpowers for supremacy leads to their ever stronger control over the third world nations.
In this situation the Christian faith is being tested by the political victims, who cry out for relief. For this political crisis is closely associated with the Christian civilization. Nazism rose in the Lutheran Christian civilization, and Fascism in the Catholic civilization. Modern colonialism has its origin in the Christian West. Even Communist totalitarianism was conceived in the Christian West as a reaction to the Christian civilization. Furthermore, the imperial domination of the Western powers over the third world is the source of the dire suffering of many people. The military dictatorships in third world countries are closely related to the military domination of the Western powers in the world. Of course, there are other factors in these political developments, but Christian association--historically and structurally--with such developments cannot be completely denied. It is also clear that these developments cannot be identified with the Gospel message. And since the churches and their theologies have not been able to prevent these monstrous political developments, the Christian faith is now under severe test in the political arena.
The global political powers are growing and expanding without limit. They pretentiously uphold the causes of freedom, justice and peace, while actually suppressing the very reality that they claim. Their capacity to control and manipulate and their efficiency in the use of force are beyond the imagination of the people, who are originally supposed to be controlling them.
Meanwhile, the world's most "enlightened" historical and philosophical wisdom, such as Aristotelean and modern social philosophies, and the social and political sciences, do not explain or solve the current political crisis. Rather, they undergird the rule of the dominant powers; and their ideological, scientific and analytical tools are mostly subservient to these powers and thus cannot reveal their true nature.
We propose to make a theological response to the question of the principalities and powers through a method that is based on the socio-biographical description (story) of the experiences of the people themselves, rather than merely on analysis of the political powers and their systems. The social biography describes the experiences of the people in a wholistic, integrated way, including the objective conditions of their life as well as their subjective experiences. This methodology rises out of the people's self-expression and self-communication of their own sufferings and hopes throughout the generations. A prime example is the Biblical approach, which reveals the nature of the power of "Babylon" through the story of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53, and the power of the new Babylon--the Roman Empire--through the story of Jesus the Suffering Servant. The biblical literature is a social biography of the people of God.
The only way to reveal the true nature of power is through the cries and the stories of the oppressed people who are the victims of that power; and from our point of view, another way, connected with the first, is a theological perspective that can show the true reality of power in the world today. This means that the religious resources of the suffering people also can be useful in discerning the nature of power in the contemporary world, provided that these resources can be brought to bear upon the present political realities of the great powers and their nexus of power relationships. Throughout history, religious resources have been used by the powers to justify their own existence, maintenance and expansion. But religious resources must be seen in the light of the sufferings of the oppressed people who are the victims of the powerful. The intertwining and correlating of the stories of the people and the religious resourcs--in our case, the stories of the Bible and the religious perceptions of the people--will reveal the nature of the political powers.
The so-called scientific analysis of political power often misses the true reality of the powers, present and past. Political analysis has never been able to expose the true nature of the power realities. The political and social sciences have been tools of the political and social elites and the ruling powers to undergird the strategies and tactics of the power game aimed at dominating and oppressing the people and the opposition powers. Our contention is that the story of the oppressed people as the victims of power reveals the true nature of power.
Historical reason has not clarified the experiences of the people of God in the Bible, just as metaphysical reason has not clarified but rather dogmatized the biblical stories. Socio-economic analytical reason, as scientific reason, has clarified the socio-economic political background of the powers in biblical history, but has not clarified the experiences of the people of God as they experienced the power realities in relation to their God.
Scientific analysis, structural or otherwise, of political power is useful as long as it reveals the nature and mode of operation of that power in the light of the experiences of the people who are oppressed and victimized by it. Analytical knowledge cannot replace the experiences of the people in history and in the Bible; it can only serve to clarifiy the objective dimension of the experiences and help to clarify the story of the people.
The Korean people have experienced two kinds of totalitarianism: the Japanese colonial power--an ultra-nationalist militarism--and the communist totalatarian power. In the past they suffered under a Confucian despotic monarchy; and today they experience the modern imperialism of the superpowers.
At present, in the South, the people live under a military dictatorship and in the North under a proletarian dictatorship, both "sponsored by imperial domination.(The establishment of the proletarian dictatorship in the North is exogenous rather than endogenous in its origin and development, although the juch'e idea has been developed to cope with the influence from the outside.) Not only the Korean people but people all over the world are caught up in systems dominated by imperial, totalitarian and dictatorial powers. (Hannah Arendt, Totalitarianism, New York: H.B. Janovich, 1973.)
The story of the jongshindae: a paradigm of the political victim The story of the jongshindae exposes the real character of the colonial-imperial power of ultra-nationalist, militarist pre-War Japan, which ruled over Korea during the first half of this century. During World War II many young Korean girls were forced to serve as official prostitutes for the Japanese soldiers on the battlefields. In this process they experienced the ravaging of their bodies, and even if they survived this, their humiliation prevented them from ever returning home.
The first recruiting of prostitutes for the Japanese army was among women from the "red light districts" in Japan. Since the majority of these women had VD, however, and since very few wanted to work for the soldiers, young, healthy Korean women were then forced into service. The colonial authorities tricked Korean women from farming regions, offering them "a chance at easy labor" such as washing army uniforms or working in factories. These verbal enticements being mostly unsuccessful, finally the Japanese colonial power began forcing poor, unmarried women into military prostitution. The numbers of these women increased rapidly during the Pacific War; from 1942, over 100,000 women were known to have been forced into such prostitution. A graphic description of these women's experience was given at a conference of the Korean Association of Women Theologians:
According to one victim's testimony, they had to eat rice balls brought by a managing soldier while other soldiers were on top of them. They were even forced to wash themselves while lying in bed. Even though their lower parts were infected and swollen, they were forced to continue working. During air raids, they were made to service soldiers in air raid shelters. During one day, 10 women would service a total of 3,000 soldiers, who would wait in lines up to 3 kilometers long. When Japanese defeat was certain, the soldiers treated the women more brutally, forcing them to continue as prostitutes at the front lines. Most of these women died from starvation or other illnesses at the front. Moreover, the Japanese soldiers often killed these women with machine guns, particularly during battles. The story of the A-bomb victims
Another story, that of the Korean A-bomb victims, reveals the demonic destructiveness of the modern powers with their military mega-mechines. The historical reality of the Hiroshima holocaust can be deeply probed through the stories of the truly innocent Korean A-bomb victims, who numbered more than 100,000. (Nobody knows the exact number.) Many of these persons were dragged from the peaceful rural villages of Korea and taken to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where they were put to work in military production. They underwent immense suffering in the inhuman work places and in the city slums. They endured discrimination, subjugation and humiliation as Chosenjin (Korean Niggers). And, of all the victims of the A-bomb explosion, they suffered the most, for they were the last to be evacuated and treated after the explosion, following evacuation of the Japanese victims.
Upon the surrender of Japan, the U.S. military government designated all Koreans in Japan as "people in a special category", which prevented them from claiming any compensation for damages and injuries they had suffered in Japan. It thus came to pass that these victims were abandoned by both the victorious and the defeated parties in the war. After their repatriation to Korea, they continued to suffer, from their wounds and from radiation diseases, from discrimination by their own people due to their diseases, and from the negligence and maltreatment of their home government. No one else can imagine their sufferings; even the victims themselves refuse to recollect their horrible experiences. These Korean victims of the A-bomb and their stories reveal the real nature of nuclear destruction, then and now.
Through my contacts with Church Women United in Korea, which is the support community for the Korean A-bomb victims, I began to realize the importance of their experience for the debate on the issues of peace and justice. These victims provide us with the real impetus and insight needed for our commitment to peace-making. The A-bomb victims--the Minjung of this history--become not only the subject of historical perception, but the visionaries of a new history of justice and peace, and the protagonists in this historical project.
The people of third world nations share similar experiences of turmoil under various kinds of domination: traditional authoritarianism, colonial domination, nationalist power, militarism and various forms of total domination. The stories of people's experiences under such domination are complex and difficult to tell. But all are stories of suffering, which reveal the real nature of the powers.
The Story of the Disappeared is a contemporary parable of the suffering of oppressed people, exposing the nature of political power. This power regards its own citizens as the enemy, simply because they regard it as unjust and oppose it. Many citizens are executed by paramilitary or vigilante groups, their very life and dignity as human beings denied by the power-holders. Such cases are rampant in many third world countries such as the Philippines and pre-Alfonsin Argentina. (CCIA and Amnesty International publications on Argentina and the Philippines testify to this reality of disappearance and "salvaging". See Disappeared! A Report for the Independent Commission on International Humanitarian Issues, Hong Kong, 1986.)
The story of the South African Black person reveals the character of the political power of the modern state, based upon racism, military power, and ideological use of religion (Christianity). It exposes the nature of the international support of apartheid by the Western powers, which share the role of domination, not only through their historical connections but also through their relationships of economic, military and political support. (The Kairos Document and Evangelical Witness in South Africa, and PCR publications give a Christian response to the reality of the apartheid system and its cruelty.)
Today when we deal with the historical issues of peoples and powers, we are dealing with the question of the comprehensive penetration and impact of technocratic power into the nations of the third world as well as the first and second world. The problem is the penetration of the technocratic system, which envelops the life of the people with its inherent rationality. Whereas the national economic system is capitalist or socialist, it is a technocratic system which plans the economy and executes the plan, mobilizing capital, production, marketing, distribution, and so on. The state bureacracy is run by the technocrats. The national security system, i.e., police and military, is a technocratic organization, as is the communication and information apparatus. Likewise, in the third world the politics of development and national security have actually been the politics of technocracy and the technocratic elite.
What is technocracy? It is a political concept, not a technical notion. Technocracy is that system of government in which the entire society, or its major dominant sector, is controlled by an elite who systematically apply science and technology in solving economic problems, creating political processes and ordering society. This was one of the key factors in the industrialization of Western nations: the use of the modern science of technology went beyond the economic field, reaching the fields of military armaments and communication, and these played a crucial role in the political and cultural processes. Now the global political economy, both socialist and capitalist, is dominated by "technocracy". (See Langdon Winner, Autonomous Technology: Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought, The MIT Press, 1977.)
Technocracy has four components: political, military, economic and cultural. The political component is the so-called modernizing elite. The military in third world nations, as well as in the West and the East, is organized and equipped in an increasingly technocratic manner. The corporations, particularly multinational corporations, have become the dominant component of the technocracy by their ownership and control of technology. Information and communication systems, including educational systems, have become an integral part of the technocratic complex. All these components are inseparably interrelated, and interact with each other to create a fierce historical dynamic in world history today.
While the rhetoric of development was previously used by the political elite in third world societies, this group has now been replaced by the technocratic elite, which is committed to the systematic employment of the fruits of modern Western technology in the field of economic development. In the absence of the former political elite, the military is now most favored to take over the role of technocratic elite for economic modernization, in the context of the Cold War military objectives. In this process, technocracy has meant the organization of the military as the most efficient agency to impose violence upon the enemy, in both quantity and sophistication.
As the military takes command of the politics of economic development, the political process is bound to be both "technocratized and militarized", inherently interlocking the military and Western technocracy to the highest degree, i.e., through the multinational corporations. When the giant Western corporations, equipped with the most sophisticated technology and massive economic and financial resources, come to the third world nations, they deal with the commanders of economic development, that is, the military-technocratic power elite. These elite power groups in Asian nations move to eliminate all the budding and "feeble" democratic processes in the name of economic modernization and national security, as the inevitable cost of economic growth. This is translated into massive political repression, rampant in the third world today. Such action by military or dictatorial regimes against their own people is certainly an internationalization of the national security ideology. Instead of being aimed at an external enemy, military violence is directed against a nation's own people in the name of combatting "communist" subversion.
The present world problems are intricately related to this question of political power. It is a common assumption that the human race cannot survive without some sort of political power. But power has given only troubles to humanity. The instrumental and pragmatic view of power is too optimistic to deal with the reality of power. It must be reassessed in the light of the biblical teachings and in the light of the political experiences of the people. Political realism of any sort, whether secular or religious, must be questioned, just as the doctrine of just war and power as a necessary evil must be re-examined.
The human race has faced the perennial problem of the power reality throughout the ages. From ancient times, authoritarian despotism and imperial powers dominated humankind; and in modern times, fascist powers, totalitarian powers, authoritarian powers, military dictatorships, technocratic powers and capitalist powers with a liberal facade dominate the peoples of the world. Powers such as the Soviet and American "super-states" have achieved mighty influence over the world, with an imperialist tinge.
The powers-that-be in modern times are not a natural phenomenon of political life, but a demonic distortion of human reality. The ideologies they use to justify themselves are absolutistic; and the means by which they exercise their power are brutal and destructive, characterized by the use of secret police and intelligence organizations. Their powers are uncontrolled except by their own will and logic, and therefore tend toward unlimited expansion.
Traditionally, religions, myths and philosophies played an ideological role for the dominant powers. In modern times, it is totalitarian ideologies such as national socialism (Nazism), communism, capitalism, liberalism, nationalism, militarism, and various combinations of these "isms" that play this role.
The organization of modern political power is so far-reaching that it encompasses virtually the entire life of the people, including their inner spiritual and psychological experiences. It has functionally efficient mechanisms to deal with whatever powers might oppose it, legitimately or illegimately, internally or externally. Its scope is no longer limited to specific geographical confines, but is universal and global, beyond national and even continental boundaries.
Throughout the ages, power organization in terms of the administration of authority, economic production, social relations and military mobilization has been crucial for the expansion and maintenance of monarchic and imperial power. The Roman military and administrative organizations were the foundation of Roman imperial power. Chinese civil bureaucracy was the base of Chinese imperial power.
Modern power is equipped with sophisticated and efficient science and technology to manage its tasks, ranging from economic planning to the building of security apparatuses. The military powers of the super-states are global and even extra-terrestial, preparing for military combat in space. Modern wars are designed as total wars, mobilizing and integrating every aspect of human society into the war machine, which is made to destroy the totality of the "enemy people".
Modern power is based upon the combined total strength of the national and global economies. The strength of the world's economic systems, socialist, capitalist and otherwise, provides the foundation from which the dominant powers seek to monopolize the world's resources. Modern power is comprehensive, drawing together the components of military organization, economic corpus and government bureaucracy; and these in turn are linked with science and technology to constitute the technocracy.
Modern power furthermore handles enormous amounts of information through a network designed to control the people. Sophisticated information technology is integrated with the power apparatus, and propaganda is replaced by public communications strategy. The communication apparatus is used universally to justify the actions of the power, manipulating and distorting facts and information and boosting arguments for the "legitimizing" of power.
Power is inherently self-righteous in its judgments of just and unjust, good and evil, order and disorder. These judgments are expressed by legal, philosophical, conventional and institutional means. Power seeks to be justified in ideological terms, and sometimes in religious terms. The justice, peace and order that the dominant power seeks to maintain is not universal justice, peace and order for the people, but for its own benefit. From the people's point of view and experience, such order consists, on the contrary, of injustice, disorder and institutionalized violence.
Power is an ever-expanding, unstable dynamic which constantly seeks to control other power centers through the process of integration and domination. It seeks incessantly to overcome the balance of power, for it is inherently insecure and unstable so long as there is another center of power challenging its existence.
Power is also ever-smart in mobilizing and monopolizing science and technology for its ever more efficient modes of operation. There are no limits to its use of technology for production of military weapons to conquer the enemy and for enhanced economic production to dominate nature. In the name of security and prosperity, power seeks to be almighty. The victims of war and exploitation know the reality of this power. The people themselves have no access to the process of science and technology.
Thus, the peace, security, justice and freedom that the powers claim to be securing and maintaining for the people is a BIG LIE, as seen from the experiences of the oppressed people, who are victims of the violence of power in the societies of the third world. This big lie is used to suppress the basic human rights and existence of the people.
The Christian church has not dealt seriously, according to Biblical standards, with the violence and destruction wrought by the principalities and powers. By and large, the churches have lived by adapting themselves to the reality of the power rather than by transforming it. As demonstrated by its history, the church has sought to live in a friendly political atmosphere rather than in hostile political circumstances. The relation of church to state has been that of accommodation in most cases. Whether it was Papalism or Josephism, Luther's two kingdoms doctrine, the Calvinist doctrine of separation of church and state, or the covenant tradition, the basic political framework of the relation between church and state has been that of Christendom. Even in the context of secularization of the state, the church's relation to the state has not been changed in any fundamental way in the West.
But the churches' relation to the political powers of the state in communist states and in the non-Christian West, especially in third world countries in Asia and Africa, is of a completely different nature. The traditional teachings of both Western and Eastern churches have provided no help to third world churches in dealing with the political powers in their respective situations. Their churches exist not in the context of Christendom but in a "hostile" environment. Churches in the third world have found themselves in the religious and cultural minority among a wide variety of cultures and religions.
The question of the relation of the churches to the political power is not merely that of the tolerance of religious freedom, but is the very question of the mission and witness of the church to the Gospel in the context of the political power realities. This question has been grossly neglected in our theological thinking, but it is a particularly urgent task for the churches to deal with, given the reality and nature of the modern political powers now dominating the peoples of the world.
Although there are great Christian thinkers on politics and powers such as Augustine and Reinhold Niebuhr, they have developed their political thinking in the context of the "pro-Christian" political situation where the political power was not hostile to the Christian church as such. This political context is remarkably different from that of the New Testament and the early church, where the political power was diametrically opposed to the church and even to Jesus Christ, who was crucified by the power of the Roman Empire.
The history of ecumenical social thought has not seriously treated the question of totalitarian and revolutionary powers; it has only reacted to it. Whether it was Nazi or Communist totalitarian power, colonial or imperial power, despotic or authoritarian, militaristic or chauvinistic, the Christian church--including the ecumenical movement--has not developed serious social thought to transform such power realities, although it has criticized them generally on the basis of the liberal political philosophy to which Christianity has been too accustomed. (Jose Miguez Bonino, Christian Political Ethics, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983.)
There has been a tradition of political resistance since the beginning of church history. Martyrdom in the early churches as well as in the contemporary churches has provided signs of political witness against tyranny and totalitarian dictatorship. One celebrated example is the martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the heritage of the confessing churches under Nazi Germany, including the Barmen Declaration, which is manifestly a political confession. Many incidents of Christian martyrdom under the authoritarian regimes of the third world have been expressions of political resistance, such as Rev. Chu Ki Ch'ol's witness to the Gospel under the Japanese colonial regime, and El Salvadoran Bishop Romero's political witness for human rights. This heritage of political witness is regarded as something extraordinary, however, and therefore, has had no generalized implications for the political life of the people.
We find the most penetrating understanding of power and politics in biblical literature. Thus far we have tended to suppress the biblical passages that radically expose the reality of power, such as Revelation 13, and remained preoccupied with Romans 13, which has often been misinterpreted.
There are three levels of power reality in the Bible: One is the imperial powers, second is the power of kings in the history of Israel, and third is the politics of the Messiah and politics of God (the Kingdom of Messiah and the Kingdom of God) among the people of God. The Sovereign Rule of God is an overarching theme of the Bible from beginning to end; and the imperial powers of the surrounding empires, from Egypt and Babylon to Greece and Rome, are placed in the context of the sovereignty of God. The powers of the kings in the history of the people of Israel was also set in the context of the Reign of God.
The people of Israel experienced the imperial power of the great empires as well as the rule of kings. In the midst of their political experience of oppression and exile under these powers, they struggled to keep their faith in the Sovereignty of God. The political vision of the people of God emerged in the form of prophetic movement, priestly movement and messianic movement.
The establishment of monarchy in the life of the people of Israel was an ambiguous project, for its relationship with the Sovereignty of God could not be clearly spelled out and the only model of monarchy available was that of despotic rule, which was already established among the peoples surrounding Israel. The covenant community of the tribal people of Israel needed security against the powers of the despotic kingdoms that threatened Israel militarily, as is recorded in Judges; but at the same time the establishment of a monarchy modelled after despotic rule or modified despotic rule subverted the very essence of the covenant community.
This is the reason why Samuel in principle opposed the establishment of a monarchy in Israel, for it would enslave the people, God's covenant would be broken, and the security and rights of the people would be violated.In God's Covenant with the people, the Sovereignty of God entails the sovereign rights of the people, which God has ordained, and which the kingdoms and empires are to protect.It is in this light that the kingship of David, the monarchy and the empires must be judged. This means that the Davidic kingship was understood as permissible only as he was the servant king of Yahweh, and as his kingship consisted of service to God and to the sovereign rights of the people. This is called the Davidic Covenant. The Davidic kingship was permissible only in the framework of God's Covenant with the people of God.
We quote here the full text of objections as it appears in I Samuel 8:10-18.
All that Yahweh had said, Samuel repeated to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, "These will be the rights of the king who is to reign over you. He shall take your sons and assign them to his chariotry and cavalry, and they will run in front his chariot. He will use them as leaders of a thousand and leaders of fifty; he will make them plow his plowland and harvest his harvest and make his weapons of war and the gear for his chariots. He will also take your daughters as perfumers, cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields, of your vineyards and olive groves and give them to his officials. He will take the best of your man servants and maid servants, of your cattle and your donkeys, and make them work for him. He will tithe your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out on account of the king you have chosen for yourselves, but on that day God will not answer you."
Historically, David the King of Israel violated the covenant code, as illustrated in the story of confrontation between David and Nathan over the "robbing" of Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. This confrontation reveals the nature of the Davidic rule, which followed the way of despotism and broke the covenant. At the same time it shows the true nature of political leadership as preserver of justice, on the basis of the covenant (II Samuel 12:1-15).
King Solomon was a typical despotic ruler in violation of the covenant, due to his building of the kingdom along the lines of a despotic monarchy. Chaney's following description is very apt:
"Solomon's attempts to finish the transformation of Israel into a typical agrarian nation-state, complete with his erection of the Temple as a royal chapel to house Yawehism as a state established and state-legitimizing religion, were minus that flow of booty. To finance ambitious building programs, the importation of military materiel and luxury goods on a grand scale, and the maintenance of burgeoning military, court, and cultic establishment, Solomon pressed his agrarian economic base to the breaking point." (See Marvin L. Chaney, "Systemic Study of the Israelite Monarchy," Semeia, pp.53-76.)
Subsequently all the kings of the people of Israel are judged by the same covenant; and the Deuteronomic assessment of monarchs in the history books of the Old Testament reflects this understanding of the relationship of kingship and covenant. King Ahab became the symbol of the king who breaks the covenant, through his appropriation of the vineyard of Naboth.
The protest movement of Elijah rises against this background. When the covenant framework of political life for the people of God was completely broken, there arose a vision for the restoration of the covenant political community.
The covenant community had emerged from the Exodus movement of the Hebrew people out of Pharaoh's Egypt. The Exodus is the story of the Sovereignty of Yahweh in the political life of the Hebrew people. The covenant is that Yahweh is the Lord of the Hebrew people and they are the people of God; and that therefore, the people's loyalty is to Yahweh alone. The Sovereignty of Yahweh means denial of, and resistance against, the "sovereignty" of the Egyptian Pharaoh. The Exodus movement was the historical beginning of opposition to all despotic and imperial rule over the people of God; and the covenant community was the first political and socio-economic expression of the Sovereignty of Yahweh, who liberated the Hebrew slaves from the land of Egypt.
This covenant politics was expressed in the prophetic movement, which was a political resistance against all despotic or imperial rule, a witness to the Sovereignty of God, and the political expression of that sovereignty, that is, the restoration of the covenant community.
The Deuteronomic view of the kings and their rule is a manifestation of the covenantal view of the politics of God with the people of God, and it is in this context that the prophetic movement of politics should be understood. Prophetic politics is not only the criticism of the despotic powers that have violated the covenant with God by oppressing the poor and the weak; but also and specially a projection of the shape of the Sovereign Rule of God, which allows no absolute despotic powers, but which subjugates the powers into the form of "Servant" to the Sovereign God. This is the only form of power allowed under the Sovereignty of God the Servant, who protects the rights of the poor and oppressed as prescribed in the covenant with God.
In prophetic politics the Sovereign Rule of God is just, protecting the poor and the weak against imperial and despotic rule, both of which are rebellious against God the Sovereign. The prophetic movement was to restore the faithful relationship between God and the people of God, which meant the restoration of the covenant community. Therefore, prophetic politics is not merely critical and negative politics, not merely transcendent politics, but politics for the concrete restoration of the covenant community. It is not legalistic but dynamic (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
Nevertheless, the prophets' reminder that the true Sovereign is God means that the people of God had to have concrete legal provisions of do's and don't's.
The people of Israel wanted the restoration of Davidic rule in its ideal form, not in its historical form, for the Davidic kingship was permitted in the form of Servant King to Yahweh, a polity of Servanthood to the Sovereign and to the sovereign will of the people. And this polity was radically different from the despotic and imperial polity, which was authoritarian and absolute.
The people of God experienced the various kinds of imperial powers in tragic and dramatic ways. Biblical literature, especially in the Apocalyptic writings, regards the imperial powers of Babylon, Egypt, Assyria, Greece and Rome as powers of darkness and chaos. Any reverence shown to these powers is seen as religious idolatry and political prostitution.
In Genesis chapter one, chaos and darkness represent the empires' rebellion against the Sovereignty of God; there is no life, no justice and no shalom of God in their imperial rule.
God's Sovereign Rule means the created order and the garden of God in it. In the garden there was the tree of life; and as a limit to human sovereignty there was placed the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Human rule violated the prohibitio and claimed the place of God, whose wisdom alone knows good and evil. The power that claims the knowledge of good and evil is in itself a rebellion against God. But such is the truth-claim of the absolute powers.
The human power that is rebellious against God's Sovereign Rule finds itself naked (self-knowledge of self-contradiction) and defends itself through its own rationalization before the Sovereignty of God.
This rebellion of human power is manifested in the vicious cycle of violence and enmity in human community. The koinonia of Adam and Eve had been realized in their household; however, not only were they both chased out of the garden, but there was conflict between the serpent and the woman, and later in Cain's killing of Abel. Adam and Eve and Cain defended themselves before God, for they could not stand naked before God. The naked power must hide itself with the veil of self-justification and rationalization, which is the ground of self-legitimation.
In the story of Noah the people of God were under the threat of the flood. The Tower of Babel rose as the first symbol of empire defying God's sovereign rule, and a monolithic language, the ideology of modern-day power, was established for the erection of the Tower of Babel, the Babylonian Empire. This monolithic language and ideology did not create communication, but imposed the will of the power upon the people. The consequence was confusion between what the people wanted and what the imperial power wanted; there was a contradiction between what God willed and what the empire willed.
In Daniel and Revelation, the principalities and powers are referred to as animals and mythical beasts which form a jungle of killing and death. These political perceptions show a profound understanding of history as dominated by ruthless imperial powers claiming to be absolute. Historicism and rationalism, in their interpretation of this apocalyptic literature, are bereft of any such a deep understanding of power. We need to recover these apocalyptic stories as a way of understanding the reality of power today. The stories of the victims of the oppressive political powers possess keen political insights into the reality of the powers of domination. The apocalyptic literature should be regarded as the story of politically oppressed people about the powers that dominate them.
The stories of the Behemoth and the Leviathan in Job (40:15-24 and 41:1-34) contain symbolic and graphic descriptions of the imperial powers.
"Behold, Behemoth, which I made as I made you; he eats grass like an ox. Behold, his strength in his loins, and his power in the muscles of his belly. He makes his tail stiff like a cedar; the sinews of his thighs are knit together. His bones are tubes of bronze, his limbs like bars of iron. His is the first of the workers of God; let him who made him bring near his sword! For the mountains yield food for him where all the wild beasts play. Under the lotus plants he lies, in the covert of the reeds and in the marsh. For his shade the lotus trees cover him; the willows of the brook surround him. Behold if the river is turbulent he is not frightened; he is confident though Jordan rushes against his mouth. Can one take him with hooks or pierce his nose with a snare?"
"Can you draw out Leviathan with fishhook, or press down his tongue with a cord? Can you put a rope in his nose or pierce his jaw with a hook? Will he make many supplications to you? Will he speak to you soft words?...Lay hands on him; think of the battle; you will not do it again. Behold, the hope of a man is disappointed; he is laid low even at the sight of him. No one is so fierce that he dares to stir him up... His sneezings flash forth light, his eyes are like eyelids of the dawn. Out of his mouth go flaming torches; sparks of fire leap forth. Out of his nostrils comes forth smoke, as from a boiling pot and burning rushes. His breath kindles coals, and a flame comes forth from his mouth. In his neck abides strength, and terror dances before him. The folds of his flesh cleave together, firmly cast upon him and immovable. His heart is hard as stone, hard as the nether millstone. When he raises himself up the mighty are afraid; at the crashing they are beside themselves. Though the sword reaches him, it does not avail; nor the spear, the dart, or the javelin...Upon earth there is not his like, a creature without fear. He beholds everything that is high; he is king over all the sons of pride."
The author of the Book of Revelation compares the Roman Empire to Babylon and the Leviathan. These empires are described in mythical and symbolic language as monsters of evil and chaos. Most importantly, the empires are depicted as rebelling against the Sovereignty of God; by identifying themselves as gods, the rulers absolutize their political authority. The second characteristic attributed to the empires is their power of violence, symbolized by Behemoth and Leviathan, mystical beasts which are violent and all-powerful--the main players in the jungle. The third but most significant reality of these powers is revealed by the suffering of their victims, the oppressed and persecuted people. These characteristics are not merely symbolic realities, but the very concrete, inner, dynamic realities of the imperial powers. It is noteworthy that the reality of the imperial powers is "revealed" rather than analyzed here, though concrete facts are not lacking in the descriptions.
The story of the Suffering Servant is the political history of the people of God under oppressive imperial rule. Jesus' suffering on the cross was the point in history at which imperial injustice clashed with the justice of God, when the Roman Empire executed the Son of God--Jesus, the Messiah of the people. The mission of the Suffering Servant is to expose the inner nature of the imperial powers and to witness to God the Lord of history, who is present as justice for the suffering people. The politics of the Suffering Servant demands the working of the Spirit among the people, giving them visions of the Sovereign Rule of the world.
When the covenant framework of political life for the people of God was completely broken, there arose the vision of restoration of the covenant political community. The Exilic experiences and colonial experiences of the people of Israel is reflected in the story of the Suffering Servant( Isaiah 53) and in the story of Messianic visions (Isaiah 11, etc.), which are to be understood against the background of the imperial powers. The New Covenant and the Coming of the Messiah, the New Jerusalem under the New Heaven and New Earth are connected with the story of the vindication of the Suffering Servant and the resurrection of the Crucified Messiah. This is the political story of the Restoration of the Sovereign Rule of God and the Rule of God's Servant--the Messiah--which includes the restoration of the sovereign rights of the people. The core of Messianic politics is koinonia, meaning shared authority and power, the vindication of justice, protection of the powerless and the suffering, and shalom as it is manifested in the stories of the Garden of Eden and the Messianic visions.
The New Heaven and New Earth, or the New Jerusalem, is a political vision which is the fulfillment of God's Covenant: God dwells with the People of God (Rev. 21). God's Sovereignty over the whole universe, over heaven and earth, is envisioned here, beyond human community. The antithesis of New Jerusalem is Babylon, that is, the Roman Empire. Here, Messianic politics and imperial politics are counterposed. Imperial politics is the broken covenant, the rebellion against God's Sovereignty.
In the Book of the Prophet Isaiah the Spirit is shown to be the guarantor of the security of the people of God, and the establishment of the just rule of God is envisioned, to judge in favor of the poor. Isaiah also describes the "garden" where all the ferocious beasts are transformed and tamed into playful animals that do no harm. This is the reverse vision of the jungle, where the beasts kill each other for their own survival.
The vision of New Jerusalem is also the response of the persecuted community to the imperial domination and oppression of the Roman Empire. This is the vision of the confrontation of the peace of Jesus Christ and his community with Pax Romana. It is also the vision of the Messianic banquet, and the vision of God's Sovereign Rule: God dwells with the people of God.
There shall be no sorrow, no mourning, not even death.
In New Jerusalem will be the water and tree of life. The people of God will enjoy the messianic banquet, participating in it with the Messianic Ruler; they will enjoy the fullness and wholeness of life. This is the Garden again: the Garden in the Book of Isaiah and Genesis is in the natural setting, while in the Book of Revelation it is in an urban setting. But all the visions of the Garden are visions of full life.
The story of the Garden of Eden has already reflected the messianic vision. God is the Lord of the principalities and powers, the heavenly hosts and gods, the kings and emperors. God is the Lord of chaos and darkness, the Creator of the universal order of peace and the garden therein, for God is the Lord of the Jungle, where beasts struggle accoding to the "laws of the survival of the fittest".
Messianic politics culminates in the cross and resurrection of Jesus the Christ and his community. The Reign of God is the main focus of the witness of Christ, as testified in the Gospels. The crucifixion of Jesus by the Roman Empire shows the historical reality of the political "struggle" between the Sovereignty of God and the Roman imperial rule. It was not merely the question of restoration of the independence of the Israeli nation, though the liberation of the Israeli people should be an integral part of the Sovereign rule of God over the peoples of the world.
Both the Exodus movement for the covenant community and the mission of the Suffering Servant are fulfilled in the cross of Jesus the Messiah, whose overcoming of the power of death is the political movement of God in history against Babylon, that is, against all political powers which are against God's Sovereignty over the people of the world.
How do we understand messianic politics in history? The politics of Jesus is, in the first place, that of the Suffering Servant, who says, "Whoever wants to be the first shall be the last; and whoever is the last shall be the first." This political "order" envisioned by Jesus is exactly the opposite of the political order of the Roman Empire and its colonies. The politics of Jesus is the formation of a new covenant community which is faithful to the great commandments. Jesus becomes the mediator of the covenant between God and the people, and among the people, so that justice and shalom prevail.
In the politics of Jesus, who stood in front of Pontius Pilate, the authority of the Roman Empire, we find the decisive confrontation between the Sovereignty of God and the Pax Imperium of all ages. In the formation of the Resurrection community, the messianic politics of Jesus is concretized in history.
One of the fundamental premises of Minjung Theology is that the minjung (people) are the subject of history. There are some theologians who object to this position, arguing that it absolutizes the minjung, when God is the Subject of history. They point out that the minjung are sinful and unreliable, as evidenced in their finally crying out for the crucifixion of Jesus. A strong objection comes from Germany and Japan about the dangers of political romanticization, as in the case of Nazism and Japanese ultra-nationalism. However, all these objections are based upon an anti-minjung position, emphazising the objectified and negative side of the minjung.
The problem is that such arguments, contrary to the biblical message, exclude the possibility that the Minjung are the subject of history. The affirmation of the Sovereignty of God is the very political and social affirmation of the sovereign rights of the people, seen in the context of the covenant between God and the people; and the covenant is the foundation for the securing of the people's rights and shalom. The people as the subjects are to fulfill the covenant and participate in the koinonia of the Messianic Reign. It is the people who are workers for justice, not the powers; the people who are peacemakers, not the the powers; the people who are free in the covenant; not the powers.
The people, as subject, experience history in the most comprehensive sense, suffering the pains of the world aspiring for justice and crying for the coming of a world where the Just God is Sovereign.
The minjung are actors in politics, they are partners of God in covenant: partners of love, of just relations and of peace-making. They are partners in the koinonia of the people of God. This is the politics of participation, and the minjung are the subject of this participation. Therefore, their political rights cannot be violated by any name or authority. The political insitutions must serve the minjung.
It is from this perspective of the people as the sovereign subjects of politics and history, that despotism, authoritarianism, militarism, and totalitarianism, as well as the powers of the liberal polity, must be evaluated. The problem is not merely to limit the powers, but to transform and "tame" them to serve the sovereigns, that is, the minjung. Political thinking must engage in theoretical enterprise not for power, but for the people, through the efforts of the people themselves. It is not a matter of theory about power itself. The purpose of the people's political participation is not to obey, but to be the sovereign rulers. The problem is not merely to limit the power--to criticise and resist it when it becomes tyrannical, but also to question its very foundation and source, to transform it from lord to servant, and to witness to the Sovereignty of God and to the Messianic Sovereignty which is the foundation of the sovereignty of the people.
The political experience of the people is caused by their subjugation to the principalities and powers and their loss of sovereignty in life and history. The arch-paradigm of this profound experience under political oppression is the story of the Suffering Servant and the story of Jesus on the Cross. Servanthood under the despotic and imperial powers is the annihilation of the subjecthood of the people, who are created, protected and promised new life by God. The social biography of the Minjung is therefore the most fruitful way to go deeply into the political experience of the people, since all social biographies of the people are those of suffering servants.
The first and most important political experience of the people is their resistance against the oppressive powers. The first theological task therefore is to discern the dynamics of political resistance among the peoples of God. God is the resistance leader against the despotic and imperial powers, and the prophets are leaders in this resistance struggle. The resistance movement here is not merely action against the oppressive powers, but affirmation of the justice and shalom of God over against the oppressive powers.
The Calvinist tradition of a covenant of resistance against unjust power, which was originally understood within the established political order, can be reinterpreted for a third situation. As is eloquently analyzed in the "Kairos Document", Romans 13 and I Peter 2 have been misused by Christendom to justify the unjust powers.
The political resistance against the apartheid system in South Africa is an example of political witness; the "Kairos Document" and the "Theological Rationale and Call to Prayer to End the Unjust Rule" are theological examples that spell out the politics of resistance.
The democratic movement in Korea and its "Theological Declaration of 1973" is another example. The political witness of the confessing churches under Nazi Germany is yet another. The Status Confessionis tradition began in the Biblical traditions, where loyalty to the emperor or the king meant idolatry against God.
Messianic politics in Korean history has had two dimensions: 1) the people's resistance against the oppressive powers, including despotic power, totalitarian rule, authoritarian and military dictatorship; and 2) struggle for a new political life in which the people are liberated as subjects for their own life of justice, peace and well-being.
Among the Messianic traditions of the East there have been the Confucian notion of the Great Peace (T'aip'ing), the Buddhist messianic Pure Land or Western Paradise, and the Donghak Heavenly Nation on Earth (Chisang Ch'onkuk), all of which represent such politics.
The suffering minjung are searching for a new community and society in which they will no longer suffer. They dream of justice and shalom in a new world. As the bearers of a new social vision, their social imagination is so powerful that it generates great energy for the minjung movements. Ideologues of the established power and intellectuals of the status quo dismiss the social imaginations of the people as naive, irrational, crude or partial, but in fact these imaginations are usually subversive of the existing social order which is making the people suffer.
The history of Korean minjung movements is a depository of messianic visions and utopian dreams. The messianic vision of the Maitreya Buddha and the yearning for the coming of the Western Pure Land played a decisive role for minjung movements in the Silla Dynasty (B.C.57-A.D.935), and eventually provided the foundation for the United Kingdom of Silla, which integrated the two other kingdoms in the Korean peninsula. The Maitreya Buddha influence appeared againin rebellions by the people at the end of the United Kingdom of Silla and throughout the Chosun Dynasty (1392-1910). Especially during the last quarter of Chosun, the minjung movements found their utopian dreams in the language of the Western Pure Land, into which the Maitreya Buddha would bring the people out of the bondage of their sufferings.
An indigenous religious movement which was founded in 1860 by the messianic figure Choi Je-U, and which inculcated the utopian dream of a heavenly kingdom on earth, inspired a powerful social imagination among the minjung movements. This religion was the minjung religious force behind the famous March First Independence Movement of 1919 for freedom from the colonial power of the Japanese Empire.
Just as the Buddhist vision of the Western Pure Land provided the minjung with a new vision of the world, and just as the Tonghak religion inspired the minjung belief in the earthly kingdom of heaven, so the Christian vision of the Messianic Kingdom of New Heaven and New Earth catalyzed a powerful social imagination among the Korean minjung for their new future. When the Roman Catholic Church entered the Chosun Dynasty at the beginning of the 17th century, it spurred a powerful social imagination among the believers, leading them to dream of a society without division between yangban (ruling echelon) and commoners. For this reason Roman Catholicism was regarded by the rulers of the Chosun Dynasty as a subversive teaching.
A Catholic novelist wrote a popular tale, called the Biography of Hong Kil Dong. The story is about a young man who was born of a yangban father and a commoner mother. Because his mother was not of yangban origin, he was disqualified from any high government post. Dissatisfaction grew deep in the heart of the young man, and finally he revolted and joined the rebels, who were called " Hwalbindang" (bandits who aid the poor). At the end of the story he established a utopia called Yuldo, which was characterized by the elimination of the division between Yangban and commoners. This utopian vision made Hong Kil Dong one of the most popular tales among the minjung of the Chosun Dynasty.
The Christian religion also played the role of a minjung religion, a religion of the oppressed, providing a messianic vision to the oppressed Korean people under the Japanese imperial rule, although official Christianity sought to divert Korean Christians from their concern with political liberation from Japan.
Protestant Christianity became a powerful source of social imagination among the Korean people during their oppression under the Japanese. They identified themselves with the people of Israel in the Old Testament. The biblical stories were by analogy and metaphor the powerful social biographies of the oppressed Korean Christians and, vicariously, the Korean minjung. The vision of the New Heaven and New Earth was powerfully present in the Declaration of Korean Independence, 1919, which still provides the foundation of the political life of the Korean people. In other words, the Korean oppressed were able to appropriate the biblical stories to create powerful social imagination among themselves. This is the case today among the poor in Korea.
The Bible provides a political vision that is the fulfillment of God's Covenant: God dwells with the people of God (Rev. 21), and is sovereign over the whole universe. The only permissible political authority is that of servanthood within the framework of God's covenant with the people. The Minjung and Political Ideology
In the political life of the people the ideology is that of the powerful. This is the experience of the people under the powers. The ideology takes various forms, but it justifies the violence of the power and legitimizes the unjust power relations and structures. Various forms of ideologies such as oriental despotism, totalitarianism, authoritarianism, liberalism, Marxism and capitalism are ideologies of the dominant powers that subjugate the people in various different ways. This is the primary role of the ideology. Thus, there can be no separation of the dominant power and ideology. The question of ideology, therefore, should be discussed in relation to the power; and this should be done in relation to the people as the subject of politics.
The political ideologies are the language of the powerful; and the stories of the people are expressions of their suffering under the dominant powers, and expressions of their political sovereignty and subjectivity. Therefore, the issue of ideology should be seen in the light of the relationship between the power and the people, that is, the self-justification of the dominant power and the stories of the people's experience of that power.
The powers are exposed to the Sovereign God, who is the Lord of all principalities and powers, for in their self-centeredness, they seek to be autonomous and even absolute. Therefore, the powers are "fugitives" like Cain needing to cover themselves up before the just God, for they have violated the covenant. The dominant powers rise to justify themselves as Cain did, before God, who asks about the slain Abel. The need to justify is because the power has injured the people and violated the covenant, which is the framework in which the people are sovereign subject, established by God.
The ideology in the revolutionary situation is closely associated with the story of the minjung. We cannot consider the revolutionary ideology as such; for ideology is basically a justification of the dominant power. For example, the Marxist ideology is regarded as revolutionary ideology; but it is a powerful ideology of domination in Marxist states. It is a counter-ideology primarily against the capitalist ideology. When an ideology serves the people as the subject of political life, then it is not the justification of the dominant power, but the language of liberation. We cannot isolate the question of ideology as a philosophical problem of truth, or as a political instrument of the dominant power or the revolution, just as we cannot deal with the question of power by itself. It should be dealt with in relation to the stories of the people.
We are insisting that an ideology cannot substitute for the stories of the people; and that the stories of the people cannot be reduced to an ideology, especially not to the dominant ideology. They cannot be reduced even to a revolutionary ideology, for the people's stories are a social biography, which is a comprehensive langage of their experience.
Biblically speaking, the stories of slain Abel, of the Hebrew slaves, of Naboth, of the Suffering Servant, of Jesus on the Cross, are the stories of the people under the oppressive powers; and through these stories is exposed the justificatory nature and function of all ideologies for the dominant power.
The stories of the people are not merely the stories of their suffering under the dominant powers; they contain the stories of resistance and struggle for justice and liberation. They are the political wisdom of the minjung which rises out of their suffering. The political experiences of the people cannot be reduced either to an ideology or to a tactical tool. The political wisdom of the people is the reservoir and cradle of political vision, which is ignited into powerful social imagination upon contact with the political vision of Jesus the Messiah, as we have already elucidated.
The people live and move through the history of yesterday, today and tomorrow with their accumulated wisdom. No ideology can substitute for this wisdom, and if it is to serve the people, it must be subsumed to their wisdom. The wisdom of the people is the correlate of their subjectivity in politics and history.
The vision of the people for their new future is not merely an inverse picture of the present, which would be a mere reflection of the present social order. The vision is an alternative social order which rises out of the experiences of suffering and wisdom of the past. This vision is rooted in the historical experiences of the people. It is not an abstract projection into the future, but a concrete imagination for justice and peace in the new future. It is not a tabulation of the negatives of the present order, but a creative formulation of the positive values that have roots in the people's historical experiences and are newly envisioned into the new tomorrow.
The existence of the powers-that-be as the ordained servant of God for justice and peace, has certain structural implications. The problem of power's self-centeredness, its being its own master rather than having the Sovereign God and the sovereign people as its master, is profoundly exposed in the resistance of the Suffering Servant and Jesus the Messiah against the oppressive political powers.
Jesus's teaching that 'if anyone would be the first, he must be last of all and servant of all' (Mark 9:35) is the political order of the Messianic Reign. The servant is a prominent image of political and religious leadership in the Bible. Indeed, the Messiah is the very servant leadership that manifests the Sovereignty of God to serve all people, making them the sovereigns of politics.
The source of authority of all powers is the Sovereignty of God. Terms like lord, king, ruler and lordship, kindgdom and empire are used to express the authority and power of the dominant political regimes. The Sovereignty of God is not a projection of the authority of power; rather the exact opposite is the case. Just as the patriarchal language in the Bible and theology is detrimental to the message and witness of the Gospel, so is the hierarchical, authoritarian, despotic and imperial political language that radically distorts the political message of the Gospel.
The Sovereignty of God radically rejects an autonomous, self-centered authority that refuses to serve the people. The Sovereign Rule of God opens up a political space where the people become sovereign over the power that serves them. It is not anarchy. It cannot be hierarchy. It is political authority that turns political power into service to the people. If we are to name this authority, it may be called doularchy (Doulos Arche).
Liberal democracy has embarked on a small journey in this direction; but the fundamental problem is that the autonomy of political power as an individual entity subverts the servanthood of power and at the same time subverts the sovereignty of the people. The Marxist powers similarly affirm the autonomy of state power as a collective entity in the name of the people, meanwhile subverting the sovereignty of the people and the servanthood of power, and even becoming absolute powers suppressing the people's sovereignty.
Thus, political theories based upon the autonomous reason of the Enlightenment have made the powers autonomous and prevented the sovereignty of the people from being taken seriously. In fact, in the political theories of the West, the sovereignty of the people has been formal recognized on the basis of the autonomy of reason, as the essence of human existence. The Sovereignty of God has no place in the formation of the sovereignty of the people, according to modern political theories. Therefore, the absolutization of power and the subjugation of the people by the powers has taken place, on both ideological and functional levels. The people become the subjects of political life only nominally; in reality they are negative "subjects", the subjugated objects of the political powers.
The biblical passages in Romans 13 and I Peter 2 as well as Revelations 13 are fundamentally affirmations of the Sovereignty of God. This opens up some freedom in which the people take charge of their political affairs. This is true obedience to the Sovereign God, who created the principalities and powers to serve God and God's people.
We have testified to a political history of the world in which despotic powers, authoritarian and military dictatorships, totalitarian and liberal regimes are oppressing the people, while giving freedom to the powerful classes and elites. These powers and their ideologies and theories have served only political domination, not the people. The situation is reaching a critical stage, for these powers are becoming far-reaching enough to destroy the very existence of people everywhere.
Humankind must now face this political crisis in a fundamental way, so that there may be a real reversal of the current political trend. We believe that the Sovereignty of God and Messianic Politics of Jesus Christ is the reality that will bring about a new political paradigm for the world, if we seek to be faithful in the midst of the political sufferings, struggles and aspirations of the peoples of the world.
The sharing of political wisdom and vision among the peoples of the world is the beginning of a creative political imagination for political praxis and theoretical reflection. The political visions and wisdom of the struggling peoples in the world, with their different religious and political heritages, provide the context in which the Messianic communities of Jesus Christ share their political wisdom and vision as it is revealed in the Bible. This is the beginning of political reflection and praxis by the Christian community in the world. It is the very story of the people of God in the Old and New Testaments.
The experiences of the Basic Ecclesial Communities in Latin America and some parts of Asia, involvement of Christian communities in human rights in Africa and Asia, Christian witnesses in liberation struggles, and martyrdom experiences in the history of political witness provide the historical wisdom and imagination needed to engage Christian communities in the formulation of a new political paradigm for the world of today, for the liberation of oppressed peoples.
Popular democracy in the Philippines is an example of a movement toward broader participation. The political expression of the Korean people's March First Independence Movement and their recent "minjung politics" provide other examples of such development. These experiences indicate the necessity of going beyond the traditional political theories of liberal democracy and Marxist ideology, as these theories do not fully include the experiences of the oppressed peoples in the world today.
One of the most debated issues in political action and thinking today is the question of power. This question has been dealt with in the context and the perspective of the established political order. In a sense, political theory is theory on political power from the erspective of the power-holders. Political theory is never theoretical reason to overcome the domination of the powerful by the powerless people. Liberal theories and Marxist theories are no exception, and it goes without saying that neither are the despotic and totalitarian dictatorships.
Here the question of power starts with the existence of the present power reality as the basis. The "ontological" status of the powers that be, the source of their authority, and their relation to the people are not raised. The instrumental and functional aspects of power are often discussed. Political theory, therefore, becomes the theory of governance by the ruler, government, and public policy.
The Sovereignty of God opens up the questions of the authority of power, and its source, its ontological status, its pretensions and self-justifications, and its ideologies. The Covenant of God and the people brings these questions into relationship with the people's political experiences and their movements to overcome their suffering under the oppressive political powers.
What is power in the context of the people's movements and people's politics? We have stated that the status of power can only be that of servant, that it cannot be master of the people. The function of power is therefore service, and service alone. Power therefore serves the people as its sovereign. Here political theory is not about power, but about the sovereignty of the people in relation to the powers- that-be.
It has been the tradition in the West to understand power from a realistic, not a utopian or idealistic perspective. This is sometimes called political realism. The theological version of this is to understand the powers-that-be from the perspective of the Fall and sin. This position has always undermined the relevance of the messianic political visions in the Bible and church history, and in the history of the people. That is because political realism is fundamentally the theory of power from the perspective of the powerful, not from the perspective of the oppressed people. Reinhold Niebuhr's fundamental limitation was that he neglected the imagination and visionary heritage of Messianic politics in the Bible and in Christian history, and he depreciated the popular visions that rise in the context of oppressed peoples. His assault on pacifist traditions is just one example of his limited vision of peace in the world.
The ethics of the middle axiom, such as justice, freedom and order in the framework of responsible society; justice, participation and sustainablity in the framework of the Just, Participatory and Sustainable Society; Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation in the JPIC framework, do call for fundamental questioning of the existing order from the theological and confessional perspective. But such a universal call has not been consistently related to the movements of the people, although there is a general thrust that these concerns should be related to theological questions. Recently there have been increasing tensions as to how these middle axioms should be related to the suffering and struggles of the people, especially in the third world.
It is fair to say that the middle axioms of the Responsible Society, JPSS and JPIC bring about mixed results, depending upon how these are related to the particular political and social contexts. But it is clear that the peoples' movements do not occupy the central place in ecumenical thought. This means that the existing power structures are not being seriously questioned, either theologically in relation to the Sovereignty of God, or politically in relation to oppressed people. Furthermore, Christian communities tend to be silent on the question of power as long as it is related to revolutionary actions, even if the will to power in the revolutionary movements is open to question. This attitude serves neither the revolutionary cause nor the cause of the Christian commitment. The powers, in whatever circumstances, revolutionary or established, must be subject to the Sovereignty of God and the sovereignty of the people. When power is tamed by the sovereign will of God, even the monster Leviathan will be turned into a playful creature of God (Psalm 104:26).
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