Theology and Empire

What is Empire?

Empire describes “the massive concentrations of power that permeate all aspects of life and that cannot be controlled by any one actor alone … Empire seeks to extend its control as far as possible; not only geographically, politically, and economically … but also intellectually, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, culturally, and religiously” (Rieger, Christ and Empire, 2-3).

Why should theology be concerned with Empire?

There are at least two reasons why theology must address the issue of empire. First, empire shapes the way we do theology – how we think about who God is, who humanity is, and how we are related to God and creation. Second, the history of colonialism and the ever-expanding process of globalization makes empire one of the primary issues to which theology must respond today – empire is a fact of our everyday lives that must be resisted if we hope to bring about the kind of justice Jesus sought to bring about in solidarity with those on the underside of the power of empire.

Can theology make a difference?

Empires require that people believe there is “no alternative” to the ways of empire. In this context, theology can show that there are other ways of life and that empire can never really achieve absolute control. The ministry of Jesus that resisted the oppression of the Roman Empire continues to inspire churches to identify alternative ways of life and to take up sides with those exploited and excluded by empire today in resistance to empire. If theology does not account for the ways empire has influenced Christian history and continues to influence the thought and practices of Christians today, then theology is bound to reinforce imperial ways of life and legitimate imperialism today in the name of God.

Can churches make a difference?

While empire represents massive conglomerations of power that demand responses at an international level, postcolonial theorist Homi Bhabha makes the important observation that empire always begins at home. Accepting an imperial way of life always starts in the very communities in which we live every day. Therefore, resisting empire can begin in any church community as persons take up sides with those persons in the community around them who are on the underside of power, and who organize in resistance against those social structures and norms that exclude and oppress. With the ever-expanding reach of globalization, churches must also form broad coalitions in order to resist empire on national and international levels. The growing religion and labor movement has made progress both locally and globally.