American Christians in American Empire

Like many of you, I have watched the videos and listened to the reports coming out of Afghanistan with a mixture of grief & anger. Few of us are trained experts in geopolitics. Most of us add little with our takes. 

But if you’re like me, and I’m wagering you are, it’s not geopolitical expertise that draws you into the situation in Afghanistan. It is our shared humanity. When it comes to humanity, we all have a stake. We’re right to express outrage at the stolen futures of women, the collapse of religious freedom, and the violence which serves power. 

For American evangelicals and American Christians, it is also our sense of Spiritual kinship, of solidarity with Afghan brothers and sisters, which moves us. There is a sense of grief & anger, mixed with profound solidarity & compassion amongst American Christians. There is a tension, and a reality we must face.

These sort of decisions are only possible in a country which is busy with the demands of Empire. And I believe the time is right to name this tension for American Christians. It is the tension of Empire. American Christians share an eternal destiny with Christians around the globe. Yet we spend our lives benefiting from the security and dominion of a world power. In Afghanistan, the canopy of security afforded by American Empire has collapsed, even as this same canopy extends over our day to day lives. This is something of a paradox.

Systems of dominion rely on systems of exploitation. No, America is not the Taliban. It is the violence & domination of the Taliban has brought darkness again to the people of Afghanistan. But it is also true that many of us are seeing the limits and tension of keeping American Empire. This is the reason so many ask, “couldn’t this have gone differently?” The sight of Afghani citizens falling from American jets will not be easily erased. Just as the bravery of USAF pilots to welcome 800 refugees on an outbound flight. What are we to make of this tension?

Dominion brings a sort of security which makes the doing of good flourish. But dominion is inseparable from the bitter cost that systems of security extract from those left on the margins, or the wrong side of the border. No empire can fulfill the justice & righteousness of the City of God. The Church is called to live in the gap between systems of dominion and exploitation.

American Christians must ask how do we fit in this American Empire? Especially in how we relate to global Christians? We cannot praise the security of Empire without admitting the human cost of maintaining Empire, and our place in that cycle. Geopolitics cares little about the morality of Empire. Today’s empire is just the latest king of the hill. In geopolitics, the focus of Empire is on variables like economy, State-building, the military mission, etc. But theology takes us somewhere else. 

Most of the Bible’s story takes place against the backdrop of Empire. Egypt, Assyria, Solomon’s Israel, Babylon, Greece and Rome. The question there, as always, is this: what does faith, hope, and love look like? Jesus shows us totally and finally what it is to reject the power of Empire for the subversive power of love.

Walter Brueggemann puts it well, “The gospel is fiction when judged by Empire, but the Empire is fiction when judged by the gospel.” There is little about a criminal’s cross outside the city that appeals to an American sense of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. There is little about the way of Jesus that accommodates the pursuit of American Empire.

US Christians are watching our country make the decisions that only an Empire can make. We must reimagine our place in this country as citizens of Jesus’ Kingdom first. This means being ready to welcome refugees as Christ, not political pawns. It is crucial to express our spiritual kinship with Afghani brothers and sisters, and our gratitude for troops who sacrificed in their land. This is good. Grappling with our life & witness in the heart of American Empire is the next step. This is the work to which must commit ourselves. 

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Published by Jared Stacy

Jared is an American Pastor, writer, and PhD Candidate in Practical Theology at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.

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