The Accidental Empire: Christian Resistance in the Age of Trump

What does Christian political resistance look like in the age of Trump?

Mark Lilla in his book The Stillborn God describes Christendom as an "accidental empire." Of the three Abrahamic faiths, both Judaism and Islam articulate their theology in explicitly political terms, as the governance of a theocratic nation.

Christianity, by contrast, acquired its empire accidentally with the conversion of Constantine. The tenets of the Christian faith were articulated and lived out while Christians lived as a tiny, marginalized group within an empire. Thus the political theology of the early Christians basically reduced to respect the government, pray for the Emperor, pay your taxes, and keep your head down.

But what happens when the Emperor becomes a Christian? How is the Christian virtue of agape to be worked out from the place of political power?

The New Testament doesn't give a lot of answers to these questions.

In our day, the question is less about Constantinianism than about how a Christian should act within a representative democracy. Still, the New Testament doesn't give us a lot of answers to these questions.

And yet, for many progressive Christians this has become an urgent and pressing question. What does Christian resistance look like in the age of Trump?

Due to the New Testament's social location within empire, New Testament political theology focuses upon the local church. According to the New Testament, resistance to empire is sharing life with and caring for a local fellowship of believers who welcome, serve and share with "the least of these." See Acts 2 and 4. That's how the early church, given her social location, defined resistance to empire.

Today, as members of a representative democracy, American Christians are in a different social location. We have access to the levers of power through our votes and voices. So the questions present themselves:

Should Christians use their political power to bring the state into greater alignment with the kingdom of God?

Or should Christians ignore the state, like the early Christians, and keep to the work of resisting empire through the local community of believers?

The answer, I think, is that this isn't an either/or. We should do both.

But with that said, if I had to choose I'd have to pick the witness and practices of the early church. Resistance to empire is rooted in a local community of believers who confess Jesus as Lord and who welcome and care for "the least of these."

Lose that and you've lost touch with a Christian vision of political resistance.

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