Being Christian in a Time of Empire
So many people have asked me to write about the conference I attended last weekend! The event was called A January Adventure in Emerging Christianity (the conference website has already been updated to include tentative dates for next year’s event, which will feature Marcus Borg and Barbara Brown Taylor).
The speakers at the January Adventure last weekend were Marcus Borg, who spoke on “Being Christian in a Time of Empire: Then and Now,” and Walter Brueggemann, who spoke on “Practicing an Alternative in a Culture of Seduction.” Both speakers did four lectures each, along with two Q&A sessions. Borg and Brueggemann dovetailed very nicely with each other, Borg focusing mainly on the New Testament and Brueggemann on the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament).
Brueggemann had done a lecture at my church, St. Luke’s Episcopal in Atlanta, two weeks before, which was basically the same as the first lecture he presented at the January Adventure. You can hear his St. Luke’s lecture at Paul Hinson’s Episcoblog (the January 8th entries).
Both speakers talked at length about how the Bible is both personal and political. We’ve grown so accustomed to hearing the Lord’s Prayer, for example, that we don’t hear how political it really is. “Give us this day our daily bread” and “forgive us our debts” are about economic justice, making sure that the hungry are fed and debts forgiven. “Thy Kingdom come” is a call for God’s reign on earth, a political statement against the empire of Jesus’ time, the Roman Empire. Even the statement “Jesus is Lord” was political, even treasonous, because Caesar was called Lord. To call Jesus Lord is to say that Caesar is not. (Caesar was also called the Son of God, and it was also claimed that he was born of a virgin.) Borg said an equivalent for our day might be “Jesus is my commander-in-chief – George W. Bush is not.”
“Empire” seems to be a recurring phenomenon throughout human history. “The Bible is inherently anti-empire,” Borg said, from the empire of Pharaoh in ancient Egypt to the Roman Empire in Jesus’ day, to Babylon in the book of Revelation. Defining “empire” as “using military and financial power to shape the world in our own self-interest,” Borg said that today we live in a time of American empire – a post-industrial domination system that has the same characteristics as the ancient empires that Moses, the Hebrew prophets, and Jesus stood up against in the pages of the Bible:
--rule by a few (politically oppressive)
Taking the Bible seriously, according to Borg, means following Jesus’ teachings and taking a stand against much of American political policy. (As I noted in my January 27th entry here, Christianity Today has done a great job of taking a stand against American-endorsed torture.)
I took several pages of notes during the conference, so over the next week or so, I’ll write more about what Borg and Brueggemann said. Your comments are welcome.