This post is part of my ongoing response to the questions I posted as part of this month's book discussion
on Colossians Remixed
by Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat over at the Emerging Women blog
. (read my other responses - here
So Question #2 -
Empires are defined here as (1) built on systemic centralizations of power, (2) secured by structures of socioeconomic and military control, (3) religiously legitimated by powerful myths and (4) sustained by a proliferation of imperial images that captivate the imagination of the population. In comparing how both the Roman and current Western empires maintain the status quo of privilege and oppression the authors give the examples of "most major corporations use the equivalent of slave labor to produce clothing, toys, tools and some foods. Most of this labor is done by people in Asia, Latin America or Africa. While cash-crops farmers include both men and women, the majority of those who work in sweatshops, on coffee plantations and in the sex trade are women and children. ... although our culture does not openly subscribe to an ethos of patriarchy, racism, and classism, the effects of the global economic market create the same kind of societal dynamic that was present in first-century Rome." (p 59-60). I want to ask the same questions the authors then ask - "In the face of an empire that rules through military and economic control, what is the shape of a community that serves a ruler who brings reconciliation and peace by sacrificial death rather than military might? If the empire elevates economic greed and avarice into civic virtues, while Paul dismisses such a way of life as idolatrous, then how does a Christian community shaped by Paul's gospel live life in the empire?" (p61).
Start calling America an empire and you get in trouble (even if you are the Vice President
). Granted I’ve heard dispensational interpretations of Daniel’s vision that insist that Rome never fell so we are therefore still living in that fourth empire waiting for the seventieth week pre-trib rapture and all that, but even then the spin was pro-America.
I agree with Walsh and Keesmaat that America is an empire in the tradition of Rome and I don’t think that’s a good thing. The very raison d’etre of empire is power which directly contradicts the way of service and love preached by Jesus. But the systems and values of empire creep into the lives of its people, even those who ostensibly profess other values. Under the Roman empire the apostles had to combat warped values like it being okay to use people as slaves if it increased your profit or made your life easier; if you didn’t like another people group or wanted resources off their land, you liberated them of such land; sexual promiscuity and gluttony being considered natural indulgences of one’s appetites; and women being seen as mindless sex objects. But of course that’s all different today, right?
What really gets me is the subtle replacement of the values of the cross with the values of empire. The propaganda machines that push the virtues of the state have swayed Christians so that now civic virtues are promoted and Christian virtues questioned. When I can sit in a church and hear sermons in support of capitalism, preemptive war, racial discrimination, and sexism and fail to hear the words of Jesus actually preached, empire has won. When we sing hymns in praise of our country and think that forcing our children to say creeds of allegiance to an idol is a form of Christian witness, empire has won. When it is more important to be patriotic than care about the children we blew up, then empire has won. We have been taken captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.
So how do we live in this empire? How do we love and not fear and yet challenge that which promotes evil? How can we (and I am very much included in this) stop pointing fingers at individual sins and actually think about how we’ve bought into (been indoctrinated into?) the values of empire? Can we stop trying the mesh or replace the values of the Kingdom with the values of the empire? Basically can we take a step back and ask why? Why do I believe/buy/promote this? Is this really a good thing? Does this fit into Jesus’ message? What is Jesus’ message anyway? How do I need to change?
Labels: Book Reviews, Colossians Remixed, Reflections, Theology