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Government, Religion, Jesus Christ and Empire

I have been hearing a number of things about how Christian’s should relate to empire.  Since I’ve seen a number of things on this, I thought I would throw my two cents in as well.  Over at Evangelical Political Analysis I pointed out a few days ago that Kelly thinks that certain Christians like Shane Claiborne, while having good intentions at heart, have made us too distrustful of the government (which, she argues, can sometimes be a good thing).  Over at Jesus Manifesto, Maria seems to be making a similiar argument saying, that while she agrees that America is not perfect:

No matter what political entity was in power, whether heathen or believer, God’s Spirit made use of it. He used godly kings to restore his people to faithfulness. He used godly men and women within heathen governments to testify to his faithfulness and redeem his people.

The pattern I see of God working in the Old Testament is very similar to what I see when I read Church history. God used a pagan Empire’s efficient road system and general peace to spread his good news, He used the effective Roman administration and educational systems to bring order and theological rigor to the new faith. Sometimes, God spread his word through kings such as the conversion of King Olaf of Norway, other times he brought repentance through the poor and enslaved such as St Patrick. Sometimes, it was the religious who broke the power of the secular. Other times, secular power punished immoral religious leadership. Throughout, political power was important for both preserving and promoting religious faith.

Cornell West takes a different approach (and so do many of the people over at Jesus Manifesto):

I like that Cornell West says about “Constantian Christians” vs. “prophetic Christians.”  Now, West may be a bit extreme for some, but he does make at least one good point.  To what extent America is an empire is up for debate, but America does, for better or worse, hold much of the power in the world (although, as I have mentioned before, we are losing that power).  How are we to act as Christians as the peculiar people of God in the midst of empire?

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