In my last post, I said Jesus regarded the Roman Empire to be a fraud and pretender that had no legitimate authority.
It’s tempting to follow up with a post that shows the US-led empire is similarly fraudulent, pretending to be our savior, but actually taking us ever closer to destruction. Examples are not hard to find.
Yet such a discussion would miss an important point. I doubt that Jesus regarded the Roman Empire as the agent of death because of uniquely bad behavior. More likely, he viewed it as just another domination system that brought the worst out of people: violence, fear, injustice, deceit.
If so—and if we aspire to follow Jesus—then our urgent task is not to catalogue the empire’s sins, but to honestly encounter the Bible’s insistence that the people of YHWH always resist the empire, no matter what its name and how it rules.
In recent years, I have spent much time and energy detailing the fraud and deceit of the US-led empire. People of all stripes love to think the USA is an exceptional nation, an indispensable force for global peace and prosperity. Generally, I attempt to dislodge this fanciful view with the facts: the ambitions of al-Qaeda do not explain the spectacular success of the 9/11 attacks, “faulty intelligence” does not explain the US war of aggression against Iraq, “humanitarian emergency” does not explain the violent dismemberment of Libya and Syria, “pro-democracy demonstrators” do not explain the violent rebellion that overthrew the elected government of the Ukraine.
Without disparaging this painstaking work of telling the truth, I rarely sense the effort is making headway; the empire’s ability to manipulate events and manufacture morally-compelling propaganda simply charges on, leaving facts in the dust. For example, just two years ago, President Obama abandoned his plan to send the US Air Force into Syria because alternative media poked holes in his propaganda and public opposition mounted. Yet this past week, he sent the U.S. Air Force into Syria with hardly a peep of protest. Few people seem to remember that this is a replay from two years ago.
In moments like this, I find encouragement in Jesus’ response to imperial power. And I remember how important it is to acknowledge the prophetic tradition in which Jesus stood, a tradition that rejected illusions of benevolent rule from one end of the Bible (Genesis/Exodus) to the other (Revelation). All those other stories about Israel’s kings, all those other accounts of Ezra’s and Nehemiah’s cozy relationships with the emperor, are included to remind us of what is certain to fail, what is certain to lead to death.
In short, the Bible is the best ground on which to make our stand against the current empire. When last did you hear a preacher say so?