In his Free in Obedience, William Stringfellow takes up an absolutely vital point regarding the nature of Christian political ethics, what he terms “the ethic of witness”. The ethics of witness “means that the essential and consistent task of Christians is to expose the transience of death’s power in the world.” Herein lies the fundamental vocation of Christian political thought and action: to bear witness to the defeat of death itself through the cross and resurrection of Christ. The point of Christian politics is to point to the defeat of death through resurrection.
What this means, however, is that the Christian can never be satisfied with the political accomplishments of the principalities and powers. Since our purpose is to bear witness to the defeat of death and its power, “the Christian in secular society is always in the position of a radical…in the sense that noting which is achieved in secular life can satisfy the insight which the Christian is given as to what the true consummation of life in society is.” From the stand point of Christian theopolitics, we can never find ourselves fully, or even largely committed to the political accomplishments and movements of our time, given the reliance of the principalities on the power of death.
Thus, “the Christian always complains of the status quo, whatever that happens to be; he always seeks more than that which satisfies even the best ideals of other men.” This is precisely why Christian politics are not, or should not be “useful” to the principalities and powers. The Christian is always seeking to bear witness to the resurrection and the defeat of the powers of death. All the principalities of our world fundamentally operate on the basis of the power of death in order to secure and exercise their authority. Given that the Christian denies the legitimacy of the power of death to order and facilitate human life, the principalities should find no allies among Christians in their pursuits.
To again quote Stringfellow, “Or, to put it differently, the Christian knows that no change, reform, or accomplishment of secular society can modify, threaten, or diminsh the active reign of death in the world. Only Christ can doe that, and now his reign is acknowledged and enjoyed in the society which bears his name and has the task of proclamation in all the world for the sake of that part of the world still consigned to the power of death.”
This puts the Christian in the extremely unpopular position of remaining a critic of all forms of earthly political sovereignty, even (especially?) when they seem to be becoming more morally appealing and worthy. Because the whole logic of the principalities is based on the power of death to order and control human life, no amount of institutional maintenance, reform, or fine-tuning can satisfy the Christian ethic of witness, the call of Christ to live a life free from the powers of death itself, the invitation of resurrection life. What is important to note here is that the inherent antipathy of Christianity towards secular politics is not a negative reaction determined by that which it is against. It is rather the overflow of the abundant gift of life that is wrought by Christ in the resurrection. The issue is not that the world is so evil that Christians must be anti-world. Rather, it is that the resurrection of Christ has actualized the reality of true authentic humanity so utterly that we cannot settle for supporting anything less.