The Borders of Baptism – Michael Budde [Feature Review]

Borders of Baptism - Michael BuddeWhat is your Primary Identity?

The Borders of Baptism:

Identities, Allegiances, and the Church

Michael L. Budde
Paperback: Cascade Books, 2011.
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Review by Chase Roden

What is your primary identity? Are you an American — or Canadian, Nicaraguan, or Texan first and foremost? Are you a mother, father, or daughter first? A Republican, Democrat, or Libertarian? Or does your faith inform your identity more than any of these allegiances? In The Borders of Baptism, professor of political science and Catholic studies at DePaul University Michael L. Budde explores this question from a wide variety of angles. What if, he asks, the identity-forming power we give to the state were reserved for the Body of Christ?

While the question is not new, Budde’s approach to the topic is fresh and insightful. Only the first two of eleven essays and lectures in the collection were written specifically for inclusion here so the connection to the topic is often tangential, but every piece stands on its own merits.

Budde begins with a pair of essays on “ecclesial solidarity.” In the first, the author highlights the fractured nature of the church and its diminished role in identity formation versus the power of the state. Budde introduces a question that will appear repeatedly throughout the collection: what if Christians refused to kill other Christians in war? Although the pacifist may ask why he doesn’t go further, the thought experiment works; why is national identity privileged over Christian identity so that, for instance, Orthodox believers in Russia and Georgia would be divided by geopolitical boundaries instead of united in faith? Budde applies the same thought to jus ad bellum, pointing out the irony of the present-day application of the Just War theory; prevailing wisdom holds that the people most qualified to judge the justice of a war are not the leaders of the church, who are not allowed to even know all of the facts surrounding an escalating conflict, but rather the leaders of the state, who can claim to take the Just War criteria into their own context and interests to proclaim a war acceptable in the eyes of God. If Christian identity were stronger than nationalism, Budde suggests, the lead-up to war could be dramatically different. He proposes that the leaders of the churches of the two nations in conflict might meet and discuss the reasons for hostilities before determining whether warfare is inevitable or not. Again, this image may seem preposterous (and the pacifist recoils at the idea of a war being signed off on as “just”), but perhaps it is only so foreign to us because we are enmeshed in on our nationalistic identities.

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  1. I would agree that the book does lack in new material.  The first two chapters and the last chapter I would say is a jumping off point for his editor collaboration with Karen Scott titled “Witness of the Body”.  I have not read it, but hope this would be the case.

  2. Many authors do not properly distinguish between the church and the kingdom and start mixing them, etc etc