I think that I might be done with the kingdom – not the dynamic of God’s power or God’s interaction with the world – just the word ‘kingdom’ and its imperial implications. It comes with too much baggage, it is so antiquated, and it is masculine in the way that is unhelpful.*
Here are three reasons that I think we have permission to move on if we were so inclined:
- Jesus didn’t use the word.
It might seem simplistic but Jesus didn’t speak english and there is nothing magical about the english word ‘kingdom’. The New Testament uses the phrase Basileia Theou. Maybe we should just go back to that. We keep words like ‘koinonia’ and ‘selah’ in their original form so maybe we could just say when Jesus did and let it go untranslated. Then people would have to reconstruct what the concept means without importing all of their preconceived impressions.
- The age of Kings is over.
I can not believe the hysteria that occurred around the ‘Royal Wedding’ of William to Kate Middleton – especially by Americans. Just the name the House of Commons make me wince. I am so glad that Age of Kings is over. Divine Right would be just laughable to me … if I didn’t know how much sway it held for so long. Regardless, those days are over and maybe it is time to update our language about God’s ways as well.
- The power of pronouns.
Even those who acknowledge that the nature of language is symbolic and metaphorical – even those who recognize that God language is not univocal – can get caught up if one refers to God as ‘She’. Even those who know that it is only a pronoun that functions as a place holder want to be careful about the antecedent to the pronoun. That is why I am not sure that it would work to move to a counter Queendom, a more inclusive Kin-dom or a non-authoritarian Commonwealth.
Now I know that there will be some obstacle to overcome.
Number one among them will that ‘it is in the Bible’. Let me say two things
A) I love that it is in the Bible. It was powerful imagery for its day and it says something really important about God.
B) The authors of scripture conceptualized of God’s work in a way that was relevant to their time. Maybe we should as well.
Another problem I see is Christmas pageants. What will be do when we quote passages like Isaiah 9:7 which get translated into english as “His kingdom will have no end”. But I think it would be fine to have passages like this along side the shepherds and the manger (both are virtual artifacts of an agrarian society) - as long as it was not our primary (or only) way of articulating and conceptualizing the work of God in the world.
One last thing to suggest: Jesus was in a context that was dominated by Empire. He positioned his vision and language in contrast/opposition to it. But is that our predominant contemporary element? I would suggest that in a venue of Global Capitalism it may be more appropriate and powerful to speak of the Economy of God.
* I always have to clarify that as a man, I am not anti-masculine. I really like being a man – it’s just that only using masculine terms may have been helpful for clarity when Genesis 1-3 was written, it has become unclear and unhelpful. The hegemonic patriarchy of religious language is pitiful to hold onto and especially when it is done in a univocal way.