|Christianity and Empire
As Epiphany approaches, Witherspooner Byron
Bangert reminds us that the story of the wise men also includes the
slaughter of the male children in the area of Bethlehem – a clear
confrontation between the reign of God and the rule of Empire.
The Rev. Dr. Bangert is a Member at Large
of the Presbytery of Ohio Valley, living in Bloomington, IN.
As Epiphany approaches, recall an important theme that often gets lost in
the schmalz of the Christmas season. The Gospel of Matthew tells the story
of the wise men’s pilgrimage to the infant Jesus. In the course of their
search, King Herod is alerted to the existence of this potential future
rival. Herod, the titular King of the Jews–a surrogate king, ruling on
behalf of the Roman Empire–issues an edict commanding the slaughter of every
male infant near Bethlehem under the age of two. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus
must flee to Egypt to escape. So Matthew begins, showing us the inherent
contradiction between divine and imperial rule. All four
Gospels confirm this contradiction by their accounts of Jesus’ death by
crucifixion at the hands of the Empire under the Roman governor, Pilate.
The first–and still central–Christian creed was "Jesus is
Lord." Its meaning has largely been lost, however. This creed arose in a
political context in which Caesar, the Emperor, claimed to be God and Lord.
The early Christians were people whose faith expressed an ultimate
allegiance that countered or trumped any claims of the Empire.
Ironically, three hundred years after Jesus, the Empire
co-opted Christianity. The Emperor Constantine first made it legal, then
made it the official religion, and convened the Council of Nicaea as part of
a strategy to help unify, consolidate, and secure his rule through the
imposition of doctrinal uniformity and organizational discipline. The
"freedom of religion" that we now cherish was not a gift of the Empire, but
rather had to be wrested from the State and established ecclesiastical
authority centuries later.
Today, the American Empire is celebrated by some. Others
rue its emergence. Christians must be wary of the nation state, especially
when it exercises imperial power.
When it is construed as unpatriotic to dissent, when dying
for one’s country is considered the highest form of sacrifice, when the
demands of national security are surreptitiously invoked to limit civil
rights and liberties, when "democratic" values are selectively applied in
ways that permit torture and other abuses of persons who have been labeled
enemies or terrorists and condemned without due process or trial, when the
Emperor invokes God and stands above the law, religious freedom is also
profoundly jeopardized. Any authentic way of being a Christian or other
religious person is fast becoming a mortally hazardous path.
ratified (or not) by the presbyteries
A number of the most important actions of the 219th
General Assembly are now being sent to the presbyteries for their
action, to confirm or reject them as amendments to the PC(USA) Book
We're providing resources to help inform the
reflection and debate, along with updates on the voting.
Our three areas of primary interest are:
which would remove the current ban on
lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender persons being considered as
possible candidates for ordination as elder or ministers.|
which would add the Belhar Confession to our Book of
10-1, which would adopt the new Form of Government
that was approved by the Assembly. |
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Some blogs worth visiting
Mitch Trigger, PVJ's
Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where
Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and
views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both
personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!
You can post your own news and views,
or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.
Voices of Sophia blog
Heather Reichgott, who has created
this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:
After fifteen years of scholarship
and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the
voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy,
students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers
and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God
in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God
through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through
articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and
John Harris’ Summit to
Theological and philosophical
reflections on everything between summit to shore, including
kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology,
politics, culture, travel, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New
York City and the Queens neighborhood of Ridgewood by a progressive
New York City Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the
Witherspoon board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian
Church in Flushing, NY.
John Shuck’s Shuck and Jive
A Presbyterian minister, currently
serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton,
Tenn., blogs about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized
and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and
Got more blogs to recommend?
send a note, and we'll see what we can do!