This is how Catherine Keller begins her chapter in PostColonial Theology. [Keller podcast]
The people that I know who love, quote, and believe the Bible the most happen to be the least aware of the Bible’s concern with /critique of Empire.
What is fascinating to me is that those who are most unaware of the nature of the American Empire (Imperial reign) are also those who claim to take the Bible the most seriously.
Whenever I bring this up, some who will question ‘How can this be so?” While others will say “What are you making such a big deal about?”
Here is how it works: The biblical narrative details many empires – all of whom have a devastating effect on the people of God.
The Exodus narrative, the Babylonian captivity and the Roman occupation are all examples of Empire. The Bible is through-and-through saturated with imperialism and the disastrous effects that it has on those who are faithful to God.
This is where is gets tough: Moses, Daniel and Jesus all suffered (and subsequently overcame) Imperial regimes. The Bible is saturated with themes of ‘Empire’ and resistance.
The problem is that those who are most imbedded in the Empire (and believe the Bible) are the most unaware of this theme and may have no idea that the Bible that they believe so much has anything to say about the issue what so ever!
If you have never heard of ‘Empire / Imperialism’ then the Bible reads a certain way which allows you to be complicit in the current American imperial impulse and actually believe that you are serving the Kingdom of God by participating in that said structure.
The shocker is when you find out that Moses, Daniel and Jesus were on the underbelly of the beast and were figures of resistance seeking to undermine the established order – the systems, structures and institutions of repression and containment.
It can be eye-opening!~
There is not a single part of the New Testament that is not haunted by the shadow of Empire and Imperial domination.
One might as well not even read the Gospels or the Book of Revelation outside of this lens!!
As long as we are on the subject, it is impossible to talk about the Cross of Christ or Paul’s diatribe in Romans 1 without a thorough understanding of Empire. Take a minute and think about what a cross was – an instrument of intimidation and public terror reserved for those who threatened that stability of the Empire (like sedition).
I might go as far as to say that Empire and Imperial pressures dominate and dictate every facet of the Bible and especially the New Testament.
Here is the shocker: those who take the Bible the most seriously (or least read it the most) may know the least about this aspect of its original context …
… and may be those what are most blind to the current role that their nationalistic government plays in the world.
Think about this: if you do not see the role that Egypt, Babylon and Rome played in the Biblical narrative … by what lens would be able to see the role that post-Cold War America plays in the global War on Terror?
I don’t think that you could.
Here is the bottom line: The people of God have frequently been oppressed and dominated.
Scripture tells us of their resistance and deliverance.
If, then, the people who claim to be ‘with God’ are complicit in the oppression and marginalization of those who claim to be fellow believers ‘in Christ’ … let alone those who come from a different tradition…
… you can see the problem.
Empire dominates everything. Domination is actually the Modus Operandi of Imperial regimes. The methods are predictable:
- Road blocks
- Security checks
The Bible testifies to this and to the resistance of it. The great irony of history is that so many Bible believing people both don’t know this – and subsequently participate (even complicetly) in the continuation of this oppressive system.
The Bible tells us that Moses, Daniel and Jesus all suffered under Imperial oppression. We need to make sure that we don’t use the Bible to defend or extend any Nationalistic/ Empire ambitions in the world that we live in via the systems that we participate in and support.
For further examination:
Beyond the Spirit of Empire – Rieger, Sung, Miguez [Rieger podcast]
Arrogance of Nations: Paul and Empire – Elliott [Elliot podcast]
God and Empire – Crossan [Crossan podcast]
Jesus and Empire – Horsley
New Testament and Empire – Carter [Carter podcast]
If interested, here is a blog series I wrote about social imaginaries (nationalism)
In case one would think that I made too much out of the absence of this topic in certain circles, it is illustrative that neither Grenz nor Gonzalez – the two resources I am utilizing in the series – have an entry for ‘Empire’ in their dictionaries. They do however both address ‘Empiricism’ (as in ‘empirical evidence’).