Migrations of the Holy: G-d, State, and the Political Meaning of the Church

William Cavanaugh, Eerdmans, 2011, reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        State and church! Two entities in which we seek security. But Kavanagh is not so confident of that trust. The state has colonized the political imagination of Christians; we find it easy to assume that the nation-state promotes the common good, expecting salvation from that perspective and resorting to violence to defend them, thereby obscuring our identities as members of a different body, the body of Christ. The nation state is but relatively recent way of organizing bodies in space. What we need is a radical pluralism that allows for a plurality of states.

        And to keep our resources identifiable. The easiest option, eg in dealing with poverty, is for the church to mobilize new lobbying initiatives in the state legislature, rather than modeling Christians in a program of involvement, bypassing the people of G-d. The common good could mean the creation by the church itself of relationship in the community as opposed to advising the state on technocratic solutions to poverty.

        Cavanagh develops powerful metaphors to focus in the contribution of individuals: migrant, tourist, pilgrim, monk, and points out how easily we write people off as illegals; ‘the identity of the universal Christ is found in the one lonely migrant who knocks at the door, looking for rest (p 87).

        He pleads that we need an ecclesiology that is robust enough the counter the powers that be, but humble enough not to reproduce the exclusion and pride of those powers.

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.