First and foremost I think that the goal of Christian anarchism seeks primarily justice, after identifying state, church, and other institutional structures as systematic generators of injustice. Free markets often get included in this list, but I think that is wrong.
Further, I think many approaches suffer from the Nirvana fallacy. This is a term from economics, coined by Harold Demsetz. The problem has to do with fomulation of ideals rather than approaches. We cannot get to anyone’s ideal just state. There is no way to sufficiently constrain people, whose motives have been twisted, from harming others. Injustice will always occur. Institutions which systematically generate injustice may be improved, but the road to getting there is seldom described.
Any system of injustice will create oppressed peoples and privileged peoples. As time goes on, however, the effects of the injustice get spread, both the costs and the benefits. Slavery imposed horrific costs upon a select class, whether in Roman times, in colonial Caribbean times, or in America. It also created concentrated benefits. However, over time, costs spread throughout society. First, economically. Chattel slavery is a most inefficient way to produce sugar. But also, living in a society in which slavery is normative damages the imago dei in all of us. The benefits are also dispursed over time. The man who first enslaves another human has robbed them of their lives. But the man who buys the slave for use on a farm winds up spending a good portion of the expected future benefits of owning the slave in the initial purchase. To suddenly emancipate all slaves without compensation would rob the man who purchased the slave without in any way punishing the man who first robbed the slave of his liberty.
In economics we talk about such a situation as a “transitional gains trap.” That is, the gains from the injustice were captured during the transition to injustice, and to transition out of the injustice would simply impose a new injustice on someone else.
Thanks be to God there is a way out of this trouble!
Jesus Himself demonstrated this way to us, in His personal sacrifice. We were all unjust in our sins, and yet he died for our sins, paying the price of our unjustness, freeing us from injustice, and simlutaneously redeeming those who had done injustice to us!
This is the way we must imitate. The path to justice, the way to do justice as Christians, is through personal sacrifice. Any attempt to reform, amend, or destroy the institutions around us through political means serves only to impose the injustice on someone else. But as believers, we are to redeem even the oppressors. This is among the most offensive of all Christian doctrines, particularly to those who have been oppressed. Indeed, inasmuch as Christian Anarchists of various stripes have recognized and adopted this doctrine, we become unattractive to oppressed peoples who desire retribution for the injustices which they have suffered. This may, in part, explain why Christian anarchism is easier for white men than for others.
The way to justice is through sacrifice. The movement for abolition in Great Britain served more to get Evangelicals permanently ensconced in Parliment than to free slaves. The real heros were those who purchased and freed slaves sacrificially.
But, wait, wouldn’t this only encourage slave drivers to bring more slaves? Initially, yes. But this point only serves to highlight a more essential miracle. That the act of sacrificing for the sake of others’ justice has a transformative effect on the oppressor. If more Christians had sacrificed in order to free slaves through peaceful, subversive means such as I have described, then perhaps more lives could have been transformed. As it was only very few adopted this approach, Anabaptists such as Quakers and Mennonites being among the best, though even few among these sects participated. There is injustice in the world only inasmuch as Christians are not sacrificing to change things.
Another will object that there will never be enough Christians who do adopt the right way to have a meaningful impact. This might be true. And here again, I will offend. God is sovereign over the suffering of His innocents. This world is not the end. We are not promised justice in this life, but in the life to come. To that effect then, it seems the primary purpose of acting for justice is to rescue not the oppressed, but the oppressors! That the oppressed are redeemed becomes a mere by-product of rescuing villians!
Here we must remember that we are all the villains. And this is difficult to do. We want to feel good about doing justice. We want to be deserving of a reward for doing good. We want it to be about us being the good guys. But when we remeber that we were once sinners, we see that sacrifice for the sake of redeeming the enslaved is merely our reasonable act of worship. None of this is satisfying for those who believe that it is possible for us to change the world and to create a better earth. Indeed, almost all of it is offensive and humiliating to the prideful mind of men. Again, all of this is particularly offensive to those who have been oppressed.
It is likewise offensive to the state, which becomes strictly a wicked influence, incapable of redemptive good. The only hope then for those who are oppressed are those who have previously enjoyed privilege, but have repented and become willing to sacrifice for the sake of the oppressed. This leaves the previously oppressed in a state of debt to the previously privileged at first glance. This will not do.
What is required is a right understanding of what makes it possible for a person to willingly sacrifice for the sake of the oppressed, that is, regeneration. But Anabaptists are light on regeneration, preferrign to focus on the sanctification which occurs in community. Here, I come across as Reformed. Apart from regeneration which is the consequence of an existentialist encounter with God, repentance, and acceptance of God’s justification, there can be no change in the heart of men and women which makes them capable of anything other than self-interested motivation. If they do good it is for reward, or to assuage guilt. It is never freely given apart from regeneration. There is also never any joy in it.
And further, for those who are redeemed, we are not then required to sacrifice for every person under oppression whom we encounter! Jesus Himself did not heal every sick person, nor exorcize ever demon, nor tear down every wicked institution. He only did what He saw His Father in heaven doing, and we are only to do the same though listening to the Holy Spirit.
Ah, now having added this Charismatic element I have nearly absolved myself as a white man from all responsibility to the oppressed! Surely this is evil! But it is only evil inasmuch as God Himself does not immediately come down from heaven and set all aright. He tarries, not because He has wicked motives, nor because He is ambivalent about the suffering of His innocents (notice again whose innocents they are!) but because He desires that all should come to repentance.
To those of us who become too focussed on injustice rather than God’s sovereignty this will always be a difficulty. We must always rightly understand the motive to justice coming as a consequence of regeneration, and accept full responsibility for doing justice, in response to the Holy Spirit, as an act of worship to God, not as service to the oppressed.