Compassionate Imperialism

Even if Christendom is only a vague European memory, the United States suffers from a sort of Constantinian hangover. The Emperor Constantine just won't go away. Nor will the problems he created when he conflated the City of God and the City of [Humanity]. As contemporary theologian Stanley Hauerwas explains Augustine's view of empire: "The earthly city knows not God and is thus characterized by order secured only through violence" [The Hauerwas Reader]. Empires always rule by the sword. Is anything else possible? Even Augustine would say no. Christian empire is an oxymoron, an earthly impossibility....

How does a Christian live in empire? Especially when that empire claims, in some way, the blessing of the Christian God? God's reign of peace, a kingdom of love, where swords are beaten into plowshares? What of Jesus' words, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near" (Mark 1:14). Were such promises a cruel joke, a scriptural taunt of what never will be? How to live in the empire and not be of it? September 11 forced me to come to terms with Stanley Hauerwas' assertion: "How to understand the relation between the two cities [is] the central issue for the development of what comes to be called Christian social ethics."

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 2003
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