Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527)

Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) was born on this day May 03. Now you are probably asking, “who in the name of Niccolo, is Machiavelli?” Well he was an Italian born Political Philosopher who believed strongly in political stability by enforcing power. His thinking was guided by the idea that the ends (stability) justified the means (autocratic power). Morals and ethics were irrelevant to him.

Today we use the term Machiavellian to describe persons or organizations that have the ends and not the means at the forefront of their minds. So today we sing Happy birthday to a man who lived well his namesakes description. We take a moment to acknowledge the man who gave us, in his very persona, a word to describe that which frustrates us to no end in our modern day. I wonder what word they used to describe persons and institutions that had lost their way and were power driven before Machiavelli came along?

Now I write about this today because I must confess that there are days that I find myself frustrated with the institution of church and have described it as Machiavellian. As I see it, the church has, from time to time, lost any semblance of our greater calling to follow The One who loves all, embraces all and calls all to a higher sense of being.  The present debate about human sexuality in the church is a great example. The ends that so many seem to be seeking are “unity at all costs.” That phraseology has even been used. In a recent letter from the Anglican Essentials to the Canadian House of Bishops the following statement is made; If we will not make clear our willingness to remain within the Communion it will be determined that we have walked away from it” They go on later in the letter to add,  “We acknowledge the heaviness of the responsibility which God has placed upon your shoulders and we assure you of our prayers as you work to preserve the unity and integrity of the Communion which has been entrusted to you.” Nowhere in their letter is there any conversation about the nuances and complexities of this debate in the church. There is no mention of the pastoral concerns, not a word about Justice. In this edict to the Bishops we do not see any talk about the “means” of being the people of God. The Essentials Movement in the church has one idea of what it means to be the People of God. There is little to no concern about how we get to being the People of God. Now that is, indeed Machiavellian. It frustrates me to no end that people like Don Harvey of the Anglican Network in Canada endorse that organization’s Vision statement; “Through God’s grace, to provide a national ecclesial structure in case the Anglican Church of Canada or any of its dioceses “walk apart.”  It is ironic that the whole purpose of these organizations is sup[posed to be UNITY – oddly they are by their very nature splitting the communion. These groups assume that unity means uniformity and they believe that has to be the primary goal. Their refusal to engage in conversations about HOW we might live together as a church that has room for all people, conservative and liberal alike is a Machiavellian attempt to force people into one reality with fear and authority as tools to achieve their intended goal.

Alas there is hope. If I take time to focus my energy on my own church community and not on what is happening or not in the wider church, I actually get excited. I am fortunate to be in a ministry setting where the disciples are firmly fixed on seeking Christ in all persons and loving neighbour as self. I am thrilled to be able to say that we are not wasting our energy on Machiavellian church management. There is hope in the church – we just need to keep reflecting hope to all. So I encourage us all to pray and to act. That is to say we should be ever conscious of the ongoing nature of being church in this new day. We should encourage openness, dialogue and we should work for the ideals of justice, love, tolerance, respect and dignity for all persons – that is to say we should make the goal of BEING disciples the primary concern for us, holding our baptismal covenant which is all about a means of living a way of being, as our raison d’être.

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  1. I take your conclusion to say that the means are the end.  I think that sentiment is right.  The Christian end is in the journey with others – all reflecting God\’s love to one another – all building each other up – all being the good people of the world.  Unfortunately, we tend to get caught up in (among other things) talk of the end in a very temporal sense.  The end of the world.  The end of our lives.  The end of pain and suffering when the Kingdom of God arrives at the end of time.  An ultimate revelation.  However, the Christian calling is concerned with the "end" in each of our daily words and actions.  The story of Jesus is a story without an end.  Christ died, Christ is risen, Christ DOES come again.  Again and again.  Our acts of goodness; our acts of forgiveness; our acts of seeking forgiveness; our gratitude – as the Spirit works within us, Christ appears among us.  When we bring peace into our homes, workplaces, friendships, churches, etc. we are the resurrection – we are Christ\’s reappearance in the closed room, with all our scars and all our baggage – we are simultaneously the means and the end – for ourselves, for others, and for God.
    In "The Prince", Machiavelli himself recognized that the way we behave (or operationalize, to use tactical terminology) has profound influences on our outcomes.  Christ emphasized that our behaviour is our outcome.  The Good Samaritan helped his neighbour while on a journey – a journey that began earlier and ended later than the act of kindness we are told about.  The father of the Prodigal Son did not die at the welcome home feast; his journey continued.  The Church adopted a New Testament that does not end with the resurrection of Christ – it continues with the words and works of the new Church, a story that continues to this very day and will continue on as long as the children of God are the Body of Christ.
    Christ likely would have agreed with Machiavelli that there is nothing more difficult nor more doubtful of success than to bring about a new order of things.  As Christians we live that challenge in seeking to be more like Christ in all our daily deeds.  Our personal successes in this regard are the ends that Christ promised.
    Thanks for getting me thinking, Kevin.

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