Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


The Silence of Empire: Allan Bevere

posted by Scot McKnight

My friend, a pastor and a professor, Allan Bevere, keeps up with the political stuff better than I do, and this post is one worth citing in whole. Allan calls into question the prominence of empire language when Bush was President and the near absence of such empire talk under Obama.

Is “empire” code language for anti-conservative politics?
I know I am not the only one who has noticed that all the Christians comparing the USA to the Roman Empire during the reign of George W. Bush are strangely silent now that we are under the emperorship of Barack Obama. And yet, how much of President Obama’s foreign policy looks virtually the same as his predecessor.


Policy on Afghanistan– virtually the same


Policy on Iraq– virtually the same


Support for warrantless wiretapping– the same


Support for many of the provisions of the Patriot Act– virtually the same


Support for military tribunals– virtually the same (The civilian trial scheduled for NY will most certainly revert back to a military court.)


Asserting executive privilege in order to keep lots of information secret– the same


So, where are all those Christians, who for eight years were using the New Testament to critique Caesar George as a modern-like dictator? I do not deny that such a comparison was not completely false, but I only insist that such critiques be applied consistently.


I guess consistency is not to be preferred when it is your emperor residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.


As I have said in previous posts, people trot out the sorry cliche of “speaking truth to power” only when their people are not in power.



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Aaron

posted March 10, 2010 at 12:44 pm


Good call



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Andy Holt

posted March 10, 2010 at 1:05 pm


Sad, but true. I wish that we Christians could rise above politics and proclaim allegiance solely to the King…and yet I find the same pratfalls of politicization at work in my own heart.



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Doug Young

posted March 10, 2010 at 1:16 pm


I agree with Andy. The “empire” analogy may be unfair, but I don’t believe its completely unfair. Some who feel that way, couldn’t care less which side is in power. Both parties have perpetuated the “superpower” principle. That leftists called saw the right as empirical is really irrelevant. Libertarians contend the same about both.
I agree with Jesus (John 18:36).



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Randy G.

posted March 10, 2010 at 1:19 pm


Thank you Scot, for this post. But perhaps a better discussion would be whether America is an empire, than honorific or dishonrific titles of particular leaders.
As he posts this, Dr. Bevere is absolutely correct, and I have voiced my concern about the similarity of their rule on multiple occasions.
Mr. Obama continues policies of military aid to Columbia and other nations that use that aid to displace rural people so that corporations can mine for gold or plant palm plantations. Similar policies continue towards El Salvador and Honduras. In Honduras Association for a More Just Society, a Christian NGO, has worked hard to secure solid land titles for rural people in order to prevent just such actions.
I do see some differences though. I see Mr. Obama’s efforts to work with others, whether the GOP or other nations, as a breath of fresh air after Mr. Bush’s go-it-alone policies. I also note that yesterday Mr. Obama quickly rebuked Israel for its provocative approval of new housing permits for Jewish settlers in the West Bank at the very moment that American representatives were announcing a resumption of indirect peace talks.
All of that said, I suggest that interested folks consider Garry Wills’ new book “Bomb Power,” which chronicles the beginning of the national security state with the Manhattan Project. This was the root of both Mr. Bush’s theory of a “Unitary Executive” and of some very real limits on what Mr. Obama or any other president can accomplish given the huge apparatus of secrecy and national security that has arisen since 1941.
Peace,
Randy Gabrielse



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Richard

posted March 10, 2010 at 1:33 pm


I’m pretty sure the judgment of America being a modern day empire stands regardless of who or what party is in office. And as noted on Allan’s blog in the comments, there’s been plenty of criticism of Obama maintaining the same direction in so many things but that’s also been drowned out by the health care debate. Pretty sure Jesus for President and Jesus Wants to Save Christians and Everything must change would all still have been written by their authors. Now whether or not they would’ve been picked up by publishers without all the controversy and divisiveness of the Bush era, that’s another question.
“There will never be a savior on capitol hill” – Derek Webb



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Larry

posted March 10, 2010 at 2:18 pm


Anybody expecting things to change by which faction, red or blue, is in power is simply delusional. Although I, too, have noticed less “empire” talk since Obama came to power, I’m not sure that his election is the main cause. These things go in cycles and it could be that the word “empire” just fell out of fashion. The trivial has also drowned out more substantive conversations, Obama Derangement Syndrome from the red faction, where you would expect any substantive critiques of the current administration to come from, squabbles over the internal politics of the Senate, and much more have drowned out those who would like to talk “big picture”, the current role of America in the world, the role we should aspire to,



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Jjoe

posted March 10, 2010 at 2:31 pm


I don’t know anyone who is happy with Obama continuing those policies and practices. I’ve seen lots of scathing criticism from the left. It’s just confined to the tiny spot in our society where left-wing media is allowed. 95% of what we hear and read about Obama is driven by right-wing criticism, so it’s no surprise that Republicans aren’t aware of the left’s deep dissatisfaction with his sell-out on such moral issues and campaign promises of ending the occupation and implementing public health care.



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Joe James

posted March 10, 2010 at 2:33 pm


I hear plenty of empire talk in my circles. If anything, it has been heightened under the Obama presidency. The Anabaptist types among us, do not find any more solace in liberal policies, than we do in conservative ones. Here is a church in Nashville, (Otter Creek Church of Christ) where Dr. Lee Camp from Lipscomb University preached a sermon “Neither Liberal nor Conservative”
http://www.leeccamp.com/wp-content/uploads/OCCoC-08-30-09.MP3



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nick gill

posted March 10, 2010 at 2:36 pm


Take a read through Thomas Madden’s Empires of Trust. It’s an enlightening read that compares Rome and America without the screaming hyperbole.



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Allan R. Bevere

posted March 10, 2010 at 2:47 pm


I really appreciate the comments I have read so far and look forward to reading more. Let me make one quick clarification in reference to the discussion, because I did not make it clear in my post. I am not saying that there has been little to no criticism of President Obama’s foreign policy. What I am proffering is that most of the Christians who leveled the empire critique against George W. Bush are not using the same motif now in criticizing President Obama’s foreign policy. They have completely dropped the sinister aspect of empire for a kindler and gentler “we are disappointed.”
That there are some true Anabaptists who are still using the empire theme is not a surprise. A “true” Anabaptist whould be consistent on this.
Thanks for letting me insert myself briefly into this discussion.



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RonMcK

posted March 10, 2010 at 2:54 pm


America still looks like an Empire from here.



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Tim

posted March 10, 2010 at 3:05 pm


As someone who voted for Obama, I’ll point out that in his State of the Union, Obama, declaring that America must continue to be the engine of the global economy, in many ways perpetuated Bush’s response to the 9/11 attacks when he said our best response to terrorism was to keep shopping. We need to be thinking about empire not only in military terms but also in economic ones.



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Kurt Willems

posted March 10, 2010 at 3:17 pm


I agree with Bevere’s comments in a lot of ways. Obama has not changed much of his approach to war as I would have liked. But, what do I expect from a politician? We are not going to vote into the presidency someone who holds to nonviolence (although… what a candidate that would be!). I think that the vote for Obama was the lesser of two evils (not that either candidate was evil, but the paradigm the represent) and at the end of the day, I will never be excited about American politics.



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Cody Stauffer

posted March 10, 2010 at 3:49 pm


I have been still talking it up, but mainly because I mostly take the economic approach, and mostly in reference to consumerism. But there is no doubt that our military (or at least usage of it) plays a big role in it. Though I supported Obama, even during my time of support I knew that as soon as he was elected, I would have to turn critical as he would be the head of the Empire. Just a sad reality.



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Cody Stauffer

posted March 10, 2010 at 3:51 pm


I should add that I mostly talk about it offline and in one-to-one conversations, as my blog and my preaching I tend to keep less politicized, though we did just do a series of Colossians that leaned heavily on “Colossians: Remixed,” but we focused mainly on consumerism.



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David Johnson

posted March 10, 2010 at 4:10 pm


>
Just in case you’re wondering, I think the closest we’ve come is Dennis Kucinich. I used to think he was loony with his idea to create a “Department of Peace”, but now he seems almost rational.
At any rate, Bevere is in a lot of ways correct. However, I still regularly refer to the U.S. as an empire and Obama as Caesar. But I’ve rejected politics as appropriate for the Jesus-follower anyway, so that should go without saying.



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David Johnson

posted March 10, 2010 at 4:12 pm


I was trying to point out that the closest we’ve come to a candidate who holds to non-violence is probably Dennis Kucinich. And he hasn’t ever had a snowball’s chance in the center of the sun of winning even his party’s nomination.



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David R.

posted March 10, 2010 at 4:20 pm


Yes, President Obama is doing many of the things that he criticized President George W. Bush for doing. I imagine that once Obama was sworn into office and debriefed on all national security matters, he realized why Bush was doing what he was doing. It’s easy to criticize without all the facts. Now that Obama has them he realizes what must be done. Since Obama has the ability to deliver a roaring speech read off a teleprompter he’ll be able to convince his critics that the Second Iraq War and other Bush-era policies were his ideas all along.* *(By the way, I support those Bush-era policies that you mentioned and believed they were justified and not the work of an Empire–but that’s a whole other matter.)



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Mike Clawson

posted March 10, 2010 at 4:22 pm


It’s important to note that a lot of folks who talk about empire within
Christian circles (e.g. Wallis, Claiborne, Walsh/Keesmaat, etc.) do not identify our current “empire” solely with the USA. The empire in our day is the whole system of global consumer capitalism, of which America is only one part – a major part of course, but not just identical with the empire as a whole. Thus, on this analogy, neither Bush nor Obama are the “emperor”, but perhaps simply one set of client kings under a much larger system.



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Joe James

posted March 10, 2010 at 4:23 pm


Mike Clawson,
Good point and well said.



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John Mark Harris

posted March 10, 2010 at 4:33 pm


I don’t know if we’re an empire, but I know this, until we get back to (or put in place if we were never really there) a more free-market capitalist economy, more people will suffer. Free-market capitalism has created more wealth and alleviated more poverty than any other economic system in the history of the world and the USA has been the chief example of that system. The more centralized our government is, the more people suffer because (among other reasons) God’s kingdom resources are more tied-up.



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Barb

posted March 10, 2010 at 4:55 pm


download for free at iTunesU–a speach given by NT Wright at Seattle Pacific University–”The Christian Challenge in the Post-Modern World”
his view of “empire” is in-line with Mike@19–and his accent is very cool to listen to.



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Glenn

posted March 10, 2010 at 5:34 pm


“Consider the hijacking of Christian hymnody by President Bush’s speechwriters: “There’s power, wonder-working power, in the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people.” Or this, from President-elect Barack Obama: “I still believe that America is the last, best hope of earth.” (Note that Obama changed Lincoln’s line describing freedom to a description of the U.S.)
The temptation of politicians throughout history is to claim eschatological significance for their penultimate governance. Christians know better. Last. Best. Wonder-working power. Only Israel’s Messiah, the world’s true Lord, can claim these things.”
From my letter to Christianity Today magazine. Both sides, Bush & Obama, same mistake.



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Tony Scialdone

posted March 10, 2010 at 6:18 pm


You know, I’m getting really (really, really) tired of this kind of commentating. Here’s another way of putting it:
You say XYZ is wrong. Why didn’t you say XYZ is wrong when “your guy” did it?
You’re not actually saying anything about Bush or Obama here…you’re simply criticizing people. How about a nice, refreshing take on commentating? How about we stop pointing the hypocrite finger and start simply calling it like we see it? Like this:
You say XYZ is wrong. I agree.
or
You say XYZ is wrong. I disagree.
See how that works? Instead of only engaging in silly name-calling, you’re suddenly engaging in the conversation! My work here is done. Next stop: Hannity and Hardball.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted March 10, 2010 at 7:16 pm


Okay Allan. You hit a nerve with me. :-)
The defining feature of Empire is its totalitizing agenda. Everything and everyone must come under the service of the Empire. That certainly has implications for how and empire relates to those outside its immediate influence but it equally involves how it subjugates those who reside in the empire.
Liberals have used the Empire motif for American international interventions under Republican leadership. It is a characterization worthy of reflection. But what about the Empire building of progressivism?
Not long before being elected senator, Obama talked of Second Bill of Rights ? channeling FDR. It is common mindset shared by the left. The original Bill of Rights list ?negative? rights, telling what the government will not do. The Second Bill of Rights would be ?positive? rights guaranteeing everyone a home, health care, education, recreation and so on. In other words government moves from being a referee for free and virtuous people taking responsibility for themselves and their communities to government being the direct or indirect provider of aspect of our basic existence. Every sphere of life ? business, education, medicine, compassionate care ? becomes an extension of government management used toward government?s guarantee of positive rights. All institutions and traditions in our various spheres of life are made to serve the Empire.
If you?ve read much of Roman history you will know the Rome was a Republic until just a couple generations before Christ was born. There was some separation of powers and checks on power in a system governed by patricians and plebes, each with own pyramidal network of client/patron connections . With the rise of the Empire, Augustus and later Caesars began to portray Rome as household with Caesars as the paterfamilias of the household. All other households were now clients to the one household of Caesar.
At Christ birth there was still a considerable distribution of social strata running from senator to slave. But over the next two or three centuries, freedoms eroded while land and produce was steadily siphoned away from citizens by powerful government elites to the point that the elaborate hierarchy of Roman society had been flattened to a handful of wealthy elite and everyone else. That was the Empire that had just found its legs during the era of the N.T. Church.
Thus, Empire isn?t just about international expansionism but bringing every sphere of life under one authority placing those spheres into the service of that authority. True Anabaptists that I have known over the years get that. That is why they come apart from society to be a separate witness. What I don?t get are the self-proclaimed Hauerwasian Emergent style Anabaptists who level the Empire critique against Republican internationalism while actively and fervently campaigning for social progressivism. It strikes me merely as social progressivism dressed up in spiritual language.
I?m not an Anabaptist but neither do I believe political solutions are the primary answer to most human problems. The threat of Empire is ever present yet I believe we called to be present in all spheres of human life, and discerning how best we can continue to nudge our communities and structures toward a more shalom ?filled world. My experience is that most of the Empire talk has little to do with robust theological analysis and much to do with legitimizing political agendas.



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Phil

posted March 10, 2010 at 7:25 pm


#21, John Mark Harris
John, the US owe’s it’s wealth to far more the free market capitalism. Read Ha-Joon Chang’, Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism. Chang teaches economics at Cambridge and grew up first hand as South Korea went from 3rd world to 1st World in the matter of a generation. South Korea practiced the the same non Free Trade practice’s that the early US did (non copyright enforcement, protectionism and state projects), without these practices they would have never succeeded in finding a niche in the auto or technology sectors. If any country was completely free-trade it would be anarchy.



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sean leroy

posted March 10, 2010 at 7:57 pm


I’ve long said the same thing…”empire” is code for anti-conservatism



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Allan R. Bevere

posted March 10, 2010 at 8:27 pm


Michael (#25):
I am in complete agreement with everything you wrote. My focus was narrowly on foreign policy, but you are completely right… Empire has to do with the total package, including economics. Conservatives can’t see it in reference to foreign policy and progressives can’t see it in reference to domestic policy. That is, of course, a generalization, but one that has merit.



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Jim Hogue

posted March 10, 2010 at 8:32 pm


I wish it were that simple. Many of the policies and problems creating this “imperialistic” approach have been in place before Bush. Bush accelerated much of it, but now the current administration has to face political damage if they try to dismantle it in one term. This is a totally impossible situation.
The political pressure is being applied from many directions and diffused across both houses of the legislature, the media, the courts, even (in some cases) the states themselves. The current president, at best, may be able to begin a small reversal of this, but that’s about all we can hope for.
There is such a power play going on now that nobody has the political will to sacrifice himself for any one of these conflicting causes. Special and opposing interests are ready to take advantage of anyone who tries. It’s all going to have to collapse eventually.
I wish it were simple enough to blame the executive branch alone, but it is far too complicated and far too late for simple and uncostly solutions.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted March 10, 2010 at 9:27 pm


Allan #28
Just know that when I said you pushed my button that I wasn’t complaining. I so resonate with what you wrote (and so rarely see this issue raised) that you it was like you hit my “on” button. Thanks for the opportunity to vent. :-)



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Nitika

posted March 10, 2010 at 9:30 pm


Ok, the presupposition that no one seems to be challenging is that “empire” is something evil.
@Michael #25, you say “Empire isn?t just about international expansionism but bringing every sphere of life under one authority placing those spheres into the service of that authority.” What distinction do you make between “empire” and “kingdom”? Within our Christian ghettos we’ve assigned an evil connotation and a good connotation to synonyms.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted March 10, 2010 at 9:55 pm


Two comments lost now, the first Beliefnet’s fault, and now maybe Google Chrome(?).
Great point, Allan. I agree. I am not well settled on just what Christians’ relationship to the state and as citizens of that state, just what that relationship should be, or involve- from my largely Anabaptist perspective.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted March 10, 2010 at 10:27 pm


Nitika #31
Interesting question. As I hear it used in these discussions, I think ?Empire? connotes a drive toward expansive domination . That can be in the literal sense of land or in the figurative sense of expanding control over human affairs. I don?t think ?kingdom? necessarily carries that kind of connotation. But I think you raise an excellent point because it is only in the past couple of centuries with rise of democracy many Westerners hear ?empire,? ?kingdom,? and ?monarchy? in negative terms.



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Nitika

posted March 10, 2010 at 11:07 pm


Michael #33,
Exactly. We have mistakenly come to understand morality in terms of NOT feudalism, or NOT empire, or NOT whatever. When the truth is that we all make moral decisions in whatever role we may find ourselves, be it emperor, president, lord, plebe or whatever. Bush and Obama had no choice in the amount or extent of influence, control, power, etc. they inherited as they took office. But every day they make moral choices about how they use or abuse that power.



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Dan S.

posted March 11, 2010 at 12:59 am


Ok, so liberals are less vocal about Obama’s sins than they were about Bush’s. Guilty as charged. I suspect their conservative counterparts will be equally lax with the next GOP President.
Still, there’s a big difference between the following statements:
A) Bush and Obama have virtually the same position on some issues.
B) Obama’s entire presidency is virtually indistiguishable from Bush’s.
A does not equal B.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted March 11, 2010 at 4:04 am


I think Dan does make an important point. There is reason why the world looks more favorably on an Obama presidency over a Bush presidency. Which doesn’t mean no longer empire. But diplomacy and seeing oneself as simply one of the players would mean a more humble position in “world empire” which would include other nations, I suppose. Moving in that direction, which sadly for many Christians here spells nearly, or practically, anathema.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted March 11, 2010 at 4:07 am


Maybe that last sentence was too strong.



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Allan R. Bevere

posted March 11, 2010 at 9:34 am


Dan (35),
Your first paragraph highlights my point. The fact that Christians side up with either conservatives or liberals, and therefore are more critical of the opposition than their “own” demonstrates, in my view, that we have been co-opted.
And, I never said B.
Ted,
I agree that your last sentence was too strong and I appreciate your recognition of that. I continue to appreciate your fairness when you write as well as your anaylsis of the issues.
There were things I liked about Bush and vehemently did not like, and there are things I haved about Obama and vehemently do not like. Certainly no one should suggest that Christians should not look more favorably on an Obama presidency in some respects, nor a Bush presidency in other respects.
But I think that the reaction we are seeing here in the comments from many folks is much deeper. Finally, many Christians (including myself) have come to see that we Christians have been co-opted by both Parties and that we have lined up as conservatives or progressives and that falls far short of the Kingdom ethic of the Sermon on the Mount.
Many of us years ago allowed ourselves to be co-opted by the religious right and we were burned, but we do not see the progressive left as another option. In fact, more and more of us in the evangelical tradition see the religious left as simply the same coercive politics as the religious right, except with different issues now in the name of social justice, which, as a Mainline Protestant I can tell you is often code language for a progressive left agenda, not Kingdom politics. That does not mean, of course, that we Christians will not agree with some things that the left desires and other things that the right desire, but it is high time we quit all the high-sounding talk about Jesus not being a Democrat or a Republican, and then moving off to our individual right and left corners in practice.
As much as respect and admire Jim Wallis in many ways, his agenda is left and Democratic as much as James Dobson’s agenda is right and Republican. More and more of us are standing up and saying “Enough already!” We need to understand that as Christians our task is not to be co-opted, bought and paid for by either Party, nor do we need to find a third way, which only legitimizes the first two ways. We as the church need to be the alternative way. I think Michael Kruse’s points about the Anabaptists are right on… and I mean the true Anabaptists… not in Kruse’s words… the “Hauerwasian Emergent style Anabaptists” who are just Democrats in disquise. The more I have thought through this over the years, this Methodist has become convinced that the Anabaptists have this right. I call it the politics of witness, which is the title of a book I am writing and hope to be finished with shortly.
What we are witnessing is a growing disatisfaction among Christians with the desire to get our particular emperor elected so that we can serve in Caesar’s court, thinking we can be prophetic, when we end up looking like the court’s jester. May their Tribe increase!
Sorry for the rant… Thanks for everyone’s thougths. It has been a good discussion; and I am ready to read some more thoughts if anyone has them.



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Scott W

posted March 11, 2010 at 11:04 am


This criticism is partly true,in terms of specific policies of the Obama Administration but the Progressive activists have been very vocal about their disappointment to President Obama’s policies on an array of issues. In this sense, his “honeymoon” was very short by the “Left” along with the Right. I don’t know who you’re alluding to as the hypocritical silence in regards to this administration compared to Bush’s. President Obama is getting skewered from both sides!



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Naum

posted March 11, 2010 at 11:07 am


Which Christians?
Names, quotes, titles (and today, links) so readers can see for themselves?
These are not the habits of a serious critic who wants to engage with people who are wrong.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted March 11, 2010 at 11:29 am


Great stuff Allan. I wonder if you have read John Stackhouse’s Making the Best of It: Following Christ in the Real World, where he unpacks a case for Christian Realism?
We can envision two poles: Transformationists and Anabaptists. The Christian political left and right are twin expressions of the Transformationist pole. The believe that a primary … if not the primary … means of witnessing to God is remaking the world through the political process. Anabaptists opt to come out of the world, including politics, to be a separate community that gives witness by being a new community.
Now my view is that we are called to be witnessing communities that engage the world and work for shalom. But here is the kicker. We can’t fully achieve shalom this side of the consummation of the new creation. We are commissioned to work for that which we can not ultimately achieve … and that is the paradox we are called to live and work in. Christian realism relies on the Spirit leading us via the Wesleyan quadrilateral of reason, tradition, experience, and Scripture as we engage the world.
Stackhouse does such a great job of unpacking all this. It explains both my dissatisfaction with transformationism (right and left) and Anabaptism. If you haven’t read him I’d strongly suggest giving him a look.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted March 11, 2010 at 11:34 am


#39 Scott W
“President Obama is getting skewered from both sides!”
Yes, but this misses the point. Where is the explicit denunciations of Obama’s collusion with empire? When both men take the same positions, Bush is colluding with the empire while Obama is just someone we are unhappy with.



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Gordon Hackman

posted March 11, 2010 at 11:46 am


Amen and Amen to the original post.



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Naum

posted March 11, 2010 at 11:49 am


>As much as respect and admire Jim Wallis in many ways, his agenda is left and Democratic as much as James Dobson’s agenda is right and Republican.
Jim Walls a “leftie”?
Haha. A lot truly on the left chortle at that, and assess him to be a left leaning centrist at best.
And as far as Obama and empire, a google search (obama empire site:sojo.net) would turn up many an article protesting Obama’s Afghanistan and Iraq (and pro-war/”empire”) policies at Wallis’s flagship publication?



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Ted M. Gossard

posted March 11, 2010 at 12:16 pm


Allan, Yes, my last sentence was too strong but so has been the rhetoric along with the divisiveness I’ve witnessed from Christians on the religious right.
I am confused. Why if we are to have a true Anabaptist stance, which Michael says simply leaving transformation behind and being a witness in itself, how does that translate into having opinions about the war and America’s policies in it? Another thing: I think most of the Anabaptists I know do exercise their right of citizenship to vote and do have a leaning to one party, while not accepting the platform of either party (hopefully, at least not totally). Does that mean they’ve/we’ve been coopted? I don’t think so myself, though no one can say they are above and beyond being impacted by the world in a way that moves them/us out of conformity to God’s kingdom in Christ.
Surely it is good that we have Christians active in both parties, working according to their convictions according to Scripture and the kingdom of God revealed in it. Though again I agree that if Christians simply line up across the board with one party or the other, it at least smells of being coopted.
Though I’m glad to be able to register an Independent, at this point, I do have a leaning toward one of the two parties. But I intensely dislike some things that are a part of both parties. And neither one of them, nor America for that matter, to me passes in light of the kingdom of God come in Jesus. But why would we expect either one two, or any nation/kingdom here on earth? Never.
Certainly I continue to want to continue to work on and think better on this issue. Thanks for providing this outlet, Allan (and Scot) and I do look forward to whatever you might say in response to this.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted March 11, 2010 at 12:22 pm


Naum #44
I did your Sojo search and find many articles that contain the words “obama” and “empire.” I looked at eight of the top hits and I see none of them using empire describing Obama’s policies as collusion with Empire. Could you direct us to a couple you read that make this link?



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josenmiami

posted March 11, 2010 at 2:24 pm


I appreciated these comments from Alan in #41, and M. Kruse in #42. Certain definitions of ?Ideology? drawing from the Marxist tradition of ideology as ?mystification,? see distortion of reality as an essential part of the purpose of ideology.
The Right and the Left are both two side of the same classical liberalism ideology. Focusing on getting ?our guy? elected from either the Right or the Left only serves to distract us from the power of the gospel or what Stackhouse might call ?Christian realism.? Faith in Christ might be made to serve ideology but should not be inherently ideological. It seems to me that Jesus fiercely resisted all attempts to recruit him into ideological struggles.



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Dave

posted March 11, 2010 at 2:28 pm


I never lectured about Empire when Bush was in office because it was too obvious. With Obama it seems that I talk about it all the time because it is hidden.
This is the time for the prophets to talk!
I am very disappointed in what has gone on since Obama took office because it made me realize that the evil powers in our government are quite strong. I thought Obama would be able to rise above them more than he has.
Dave



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Ted M. Gossard

posted March 11, 2010 at 2:39 pm


Let me add to my comment that I see myself theologically as largely Anabaptist, but influenced by the transformative wing of theology that may be largely Reformed. And in the end we have to struggle to get our view from Scripture, of course including tradition, reason (and experience I suppose, as far as God confirming his will and working to us collectively).



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Allan R. Bevere

posted March 11, 2010 at 3:17 pm


Michael, yes I have read Stackhouse and he is worth reading for anyone who hasn’t. What I would say here (and I think this gets at Ted’s questions as well) is that Christians in the West have been so used to the politics of power and coercion as the norm that it is impossible for us to imagine the transformative power of the politics of witness, and I am not sure that even Stackhouse quites appreciates it (that may be somewhat unfair). Couple that with the fact that the church often does not look like the witness it should be, that in discouragement we embrace the politics of power and coercion because we want to get something done. The latter approach frankly does not need the rigorous practice of discipleship and a robust ecclesiology; the politics of witness cannot be effective without it. I would also suggest that the politics of witness needs a vital church to sustain it, whereas the politics of power and coercion does not.
None of this rules out the fact that Christians vote and express their views, and also that some can be called to public political service, but I have long believed that such a calling should be confirmed by the church as much as a calling to pastoral ministry, because of the dangers and the pitfalls involved.
It is not a matter of whether or not the church will be political; it is a matter of how we are political.
As far as liberals not happy with Jim Wallis, I know of plenty of conservatives who are not happy with James Dobson. That tells me nothing.



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Naum

posted March 11, 2010 at 3:28 pm


Falsifiable point made about nebulous, unidentified “left” not raising same ire over empire and Obama like was done for Bush.
A request for sources, names, links unmet.
Please show me progressive/left voice that (a) remonstrated against Bush administration and (b) is silent on charges of same offense with Obama. Other than loyalist Democratic apparatchiks that are routinely scorned by a *majority* of progressives.
That is all.
Charges against a nebulous “they”/”them”/etc.? are hollow and bespeak more on the ideology of “them” that make such blank slate charges.



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Naum

posted March 11, 2010 at 3:36 pm


@Michael (44)
As this comments software does not handle links (at least in my XP), here is a brief synopsis of top articles returned on a search (obama empire site:sojo.net)
1. God’s image and Caesar’s Image: Torture and Currency of Empire
2. Dear President Obama (An Open Letter on Afghanistan)
3. My Reaction to Obama’s Speech? It’s a start but I want more?
Better yet, punch this in: http://blog.sojo.net/tag/empire/
I don’t see anything radically different from Bush than Obama in these accounts. At least in the degree ? while Obama has been in embrace of empire, he has at least been a “kinder, gentler”, at least in rhetoric
But this deflects from my point ? show me who shouted about Bush and empire that does not acknowledge the same in the Obama administration now?



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David Johnson

posted March 11, 2010 at 3:44 pm


“Surely it is good that we have Christians active in both parties, working according to their convictions according to Scripture and the kingdom of God revealed in it.”
As someone who is pretty thoroughly Anabaptist, I disagree. I would dearly love to see the Church in unity. Politics inherently divides the Church. I have Christian friends on the right who think of those who voted for Obama as “fools” and I have Christian friends on the left who think of all the people who listen to Limbaugh, Beck & Co. (or at least think those guys are on to something) as “right-wing nutjobs”. Why do we think it’s a good thing for us to hold on to certain extraecclesial political philosophies (or follow personalities who espouse those philosophies) and be at odds with each other over such things when Paul criticized the Corinthian church (sarcastically, even?) for following different personalities WITHIN the Church?



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Allan R. Bevere

posted March 11, 2010 at 4:42 pm


And Ted…
I forgot to say it in my last point, but you are very right… the extreme rhetoric of the right has also been a problem.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted March 11, 2010 at 5:06 pm


David, That’s a problem only if we insist on making it a problem. Though inherently the way we live does make it a problem. I have been at 180 degree odds with a good sister at church on politics, but we love each other as brother and sister in Jesus because our unity is in Jesus, period. Not in the world’s politics. That kind of thing can unnecessarily strain relationships, and we have to work against that. Like Scot said in the current Galatians/freedom series, there needs to be freedom in the area of political preference and convictions or otherwise it is a form of legalism, making something central which is not.
Allan, Thanks. Very helpful, good words.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted March 11, 2010 at 5:10 pm


This doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t develop a hopefully humble stance on why I look at politics and the state as I do because of the theology of the gospel of the kingdom in Jesus. But it does mean I cut slack for brothers and sisters who disagree. And they need to do so for me as well! :)



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Michael W. Kruse

posted March 11, 2010 at 5:13 pm


Naum #52
I looked up each of the three articles and none of them make the case that Obama is perpetuating or operating under the premise of Empire. The first article mentions Obama only in the sense that he will undo the evil Bush has done. The other two don’t even mention the word “Empire.” You still have not provided evidence of one case where Obama is taken to task for perpetuating or promoting “empire.”
I have heard the riff that America, and George Bush specially, are the agents of Empire in a variety Emergent, Presbymergent, and PCUSA, settings. It has popped up in comments from time to time here at Jesus Creed. Here are a few references that make my point.
Books:
?The Folly of Empire: What George W. Bush Could Learn from Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson?
?Imperial Overstretch: George W. Bush and the Hubris of Empire.?
?Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire?
Internet:
From Brian Walsh?s blog:.
?It is no overstatement to describe the presidency of George W. Bush as imperial in character. You don?t have to be a left wing ideologue to observe that the Pax Americana of the last eight years, the centralization of coercive power legitimated in a post 9/11 America, and the American exceptionalism that has laced the rhetoric of the White House is all the stock in trade of empire.?
http://empireremixed.com/2008/11/05/barack-obama-a-post-imperial-presidency/
From a post at Open Source Theology:
?Elsewhere President Bush said:
This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace. America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time. None of us will ever forget this day, yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.
Is anyone else seeing, as Paul saw, that the empire?s mythic language must be confronted by the truth of Jesus??
http://www.opensourcetheology.net/node/1369
From the Independent Institute:
?Empires, such as that here in America, exalted by the neoconservative faithful such as William Kristol, are especially in need of rationalizations to explain the awful things happening abroad such as global ?terrorism,? as well as the quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan. ??
http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=1372



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Michael W. Kruse

posted March 11, 2010 at 5:29 pm


#50 Allan
Fair Enough. I think Stackhouse offers insights I haven’t seen well articulated elsewhere.
I sympathize with the issues that compel you to embrace an Anabaptist posture. My read of scripture is that at the core of the mission God gave humanity in Genesis … the cultural mandate. It is part of what God has sent us into the world to model and seek its redemption. To me, a truly Anabaptist approach effectively abandons this mission. Less traditional Anabaptists see some sort of partial participation but the justifications for what should be embrace and rejected frequently strike me as tenuous. Thus, my embrace of paradox and realism.
But as Stackhouse notes with the war issue, it is possible that God has given us both just war types and pacifists. The tension is their as ballast to keep us from slipping to extremes.



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Naum

posted March 11, 2010 at 6:23 pm


@Michael
Your cite (from Brian Walsh, who I am not familiar with, admittedly) was from before Obama even took office. Let’s see what is written as Obama term progresses.
The articles I cited address the manifestations of “empire” if not specifically the core political philosophy of American Exceptionalism.
But here are some writers that have been consistent in tagging Obama in the same light as Bush on Empire:
Garry Wills: Obama Still Runs Bush’s Secret Empire
Chris Hedges: (just about anything he writes on a weekly basis)
FDL: Obama Embraces Bush’s Afghanistan War
Chalmers Johnson: Dismantling the Empire
See also Andrew Bacevich, Kevin Phillips, Matt Taibbi, etc.?



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Allan R. Bevere

posted March 11, 2010 at 7:33 pm


Michael, you write, “I sympathize with the issues that compel you to embrace an Anabaptist posture. My read of scripture is that at the core of the mission God gave humanity in Genesis … the cultural mandate. It is part of what God has sent us into the world to model and seek its redemption. To me, a truly Anabaptist approach effectively abandons this mission.”
I disagree. It does not have to and I think this is often where I and others are misunderstood. The mission of Genesis is not being abandoned. I go to back to the late John Howard Yoder on this who wrote to his fellow Mennonites to tell them they did not have to accept Reinhold Niebuhr’s critique of being culturally irrelevant.
I realize that some Anabaptists have embraced that. I, as a Methoanabaptist (I cointed a new word!), do not. Again the issue is not whether the church is political, but how it is political.
Having said that, I have no doubt that you and I have much more common ground than not. We have a good starting point.



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Scot McKnight

posted March 11, 2010 at 7:46 pm


Michael,
I would say the truly Anabaptist, in some ways, has abandoned the Reformed and the Constantinian approaches to the cultural mandate, but I’m not sure the Anabaptists have abandoned the cultural mandate. They have a different cultural mandate to follow, and the history of the Anabaptists — think Pennsylvania or Indiana — reveals industry, family, involvement, simplicity, freedom of conscence, etc..



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Michael W. Kruse

posted March 11, 2010 at 8:34 pm


I appreciate that Anabaptists have been very industrious and exhibit many stellar qualities. But they have also been separatist and non-evangelistic. I don’t see that offering much redemptive power to the cultural mandate. And to the degree they try to become more relevant I sense they are moving closer to something along the line of the realism I’m espousing. :-)
I think Anabaptists run the risk of irrelevancy as witnesses to God’s redeeming work. The transformationists risk enslavement to ideology. Realists like myself risk accommodation. There is no fool-proof posture to take toward the culture.
Allan wrote:
“Having said that, I have no doubt that you and I have much more common ground than not. We have a good starting point.”
Bingo!



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Ted M. Gossard

posted March 12, 2010 at 5:36 am


I attempted a post on this, as I’m trying to begin to think through the politics of witness you refer to here, Allan.



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Ben Hammond

posted March 16, 2010 at 1:57 pm


I haven’t stopped talking about America as Empire. Obama isn’t doing much different… (and to get an idea of where I’m coming from – I voted for him).



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