Category Archives: Theology – Ecclesiology

The diaspora politics of the church

In his rather polemical work, A Peculiar People: The Church as Culture in a Post-Christian Society, Rodney Clapp offers a series of provocative (anti-Constantinian) reflections on the state of the church in North America. In close conversation with folks like Stanley Hauerwas, L. Gregory Jones, and especially John Howard Yoder, Clapp maintains that the fall of Christendom is in fact a gift to the church, clearing the space for the recovery of the church’s own self-identity as a sojourning or diasporic people of God. He writes,

“[. . .] Diaspora reminds us that God’s people are sometimes dispossessed and spread throughout the world. Jerusalem and the temple are sacred places, but God is not left without witness when they are burned to the ground by invading barbarians. Now God’s people will sing the Lord’s song in a strange land (Ps. 137). The kingdom may be proclaimed even — perhaps especially — in exile.

“Exiles, of course, do not speak from a position of relative strength. They are not the governors of the land they inhabit. Yet they can point to God and, in their bolder moments, remind those who govern that they are not God.

“The church in a post-Constantinian world finds itself in a kind of diaspora. It no longer governs or defines the lands in which it dwells. But the church’s diaspora heritage lets it know that it need not govern or define. In diaspora it is in some ways freer to witness to God and God’s way of life. In diaspora it has no reigning home to mistake for God’s kingdom and is less likely to confuse the power of the sword with the power of the cross. In diaspora it cannot lean on the surrounding institutions to enculturate its children in the ways of God, but must take responsibility to be its own culture. And in diaspora it cannot ignore the outsider, for it lives inside the outsider’s walls” (p. 149).