When I first encountered a prayer using “kin-dom” instead of “kingdom,” I remember thinking that it was a sort of liberal watering down of the robust vision of Christ the King in glory, diminishing the power of his lordship. The noted theologian Ada María Isasi-Díaz recalls originally hearing “kin-dom” from a friend who was a nun as an alternative to the language of “kingdom,” a word fraught with colonial oppression and imperial violence. “Jesus,” she wrote, “used ‘kingdom of God’ to evoke . . . an alternative ‘order of things’” over and against the political context of the Roman Empire and its Caesar, the actual kingdom and king at the time.
“Kingdom” is, however, a corrupted metaphor, one misused by the church throughout history to make itself into the image of an earthly kingdom. Indeed, Christians have often failed to recognize that “kingdom” was an inadequate and incomplete way of speaking of God’s governance, not a call to set up their own empire. Isasi-Díaz argues that “kin-dom,” an image of la familia, the liberating family of God working together for love and justice, is a metaphor closer to what Jesus intended.
If that sounds more like contemporary political correctness than biblical theology, it is worth noting that Isasi-Díaz’s “kin-dom” metaphor echoes an older understanding, one found in medieval theology in the work of the mystic Julian of Norwich. Julian wrote of “our kinde Lord,” a poetic title, certainly, summoning images of a gentle Jesus. But it was not that. Rather, it was a radical one, for the word “kinde” in medieval English did not mean “nice” or “pleasant.” Instead, in the words of theologian Janet Soskice:
In Middle English the words “kind” and “kin” were the same—to say that Christ is “our kinde Lord” is not to say that Christ is tender and gentle, although that may be implied, but to say that he is kin—our kind. This fact, and not emotional disposition, is the rock which is our salvation.
To say “our kinde Lord” was to say “our kin Lord.” Jesus the Lord is our kin. The kind Lord is kin to me, you, all of us—making us one. This is a subversive deconstruction of the image of kingdom and kings, replacing forever the pretensions and politics of earthly kingdoms with Jesus’s calling forth a kin-dom. King, kind, kin.
This excerpt from Diana Butler Bass’s newest book Freeing Jesus was featured in her newsletter The Cottage. Sign up here to begin receiving The Cottage and register to join us on December 19th for our RLC Book Club discussion of Freeing Jesus.