Kenneth R. HIMES, Christianity and the Political Order: Conflict, Cooptation, and Cooperation. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2013. Pp. 340. $40.00 ISBN978-1-62698-028-0. Reviewed by Nathan R. KOLLAR, St. John Fisher College, Rochester, NY 14618
Two extremely important questions about any culture are how those holding power in that culture actually relate to each and whether there are norms outside those holding power that determine that relationship. Politics is both the theory and the practice of these power relationships. Power, of course, may take many forms. Two of significance in what follows is “coercive” where the powerful physically force one to do what they will and “elicitive” where the powerful engage the dynamics of the inner self of others to do what the powerful wish. In both instances those in power are directing others to follow their wishes. It is also important in what follows to be cognizant of the fact that we are talking about people sharing the same physical place and those necessary relationships in that place to produce for all concerned as good a life as possible.
Himes accepts the challenge of dealing with these possibly abstract questions by making several distinctions. His focus is on Western culture and a dominant religion in that culture: Christianity. He also wants us to remember that state, government, and politics are distinct ways people act and interact within a given society. The challenge, of course, is for him and his readers to keep all these distinctions in mind when thinking about these actual relationships in everyday living. Sometimes they are clear; sometimes, not. This is especially true in trying to sustain a division between Christianity as a way of life and Christianity as a political institutional imperative in relation to other political institutional necessities.
The book is most clear when it describes the relationship between the two institutions we have come to call “church” and “state.” The “church,” in this book is usually the Roman Catholic Church and the “state” is the diverse configurations of political alignments western culture has enjoyed over the last two thousand years. The book is actually two books: one a brief history of this relationship as portrayed in the Christian bible until the present; the other, a Roman Catholic theological perspective on how this relationship plays out in the United States. The second part of the book is excellent in describing, explaining, and providing practical menus for how these relationships, now called church-state, do and should interact.
His review of the Tanakh (Old Testament) highlights the role of the Kings, Priests, and Prophets in the tribal realities of the Jewish nation. The kings, while acknowledged as playing a central role in Jewish politics, are also seen as limited in power and necessarily critiqued by the prophets. Justice is central to how the King is to act toward his subjects. The New Testament describes the multiple reaction of the young Christian community toward the Roman Empire. Himes strongly argues that there is no universal teaching about church-state in the bible in general or the New Testament in particular. We do find, however, three responses to the community’s political situation: subordination as found in Romans, distancing as found in the Synoptic gospels, and resistance as found in Revelations. We also may claim the New Testament as affirming that the political order is part of God’s plan for human history; that it is distinct from how God’s plan is operative in the Christian community; and, that authorities and institutions in both the political community and the Christian community are to be obeyed. With the perspectives of the early Christian church in hand Himes leads us through examples of how both the political and Christian institutions evolve in tandem to each other. If this history demonstrates anything it is that there is constant change in this relationship throughout history. Which is only natural when you think of it because everyone shares the same physical space even though they may have diverse views on what and how to make life better?
So what should we do today? Himes provides us with carefully articulated choices and the reasoning behind these choices in chapters titled “The Nature, Purpose, Role, and Form of the State,” ”Why the Church is Engaged in Politics,” “The Church and Domestic U.S. Politics,” “Christianity and International Politics.” He covers all the contemporary issues in U.S. politics such as voting, single-issue politics, Catholic bishops and politicians, human rights, justice, subsidiarity and the common good.
This is a good book for college educated readers seeking a deeper knowledge of the relationship between Christians and the political order. Thanks to the publishers for putting the footnotes at the end of the page – even though I wish there were more. The index is good but sometimes the pagination is off.