The Empire Has No Clothes
Updated: Jan 11, 2021
Actually, I want to talk today about two different empires that have a little self-deception going on. For me they are both reminiscent of the Emperor in the famous fable by Hans Christian Andersson. As you may recall, the poor Emperor thought he was wearing exquisite garments, and it took a child to speak the obvious truth that he was, in fact, naked.
The first empire is a historic one as old as Constantine if not older. Christianity has always had its religious, politically powerful counterfeit. I wrote about it here so I won't repeat myself. I called it Christendom, but a better term may be Imperial Christianity. It occurs to me that Trumpism has many of the very same characteristics: a focus on money as a measure of blessing, military might, a promise of law and order, and protection from heathen folk, in this case, via a wall. They have highly touted moral principles, but keep their moral framework safely concentrated into key areas that don't actually incriminate themselves (i.e. Sabbath observance, sexual norms, etc.). In other words, they like to put scarlet letters on people on the fringes -- think Salem Witch Trials. Of course, this is not true of everyone who voted for Trump, but this is what strikes me when thinking of Trump and his most vocal followers. The phenomenon is further described in this piece from the Gospel coalition. This empire is the reason I now say that I am pro-life, but I am not part of the "pro-life movement." The pro-life movement is now associated with the same crowd that says preventing 100,000 deaths is not worth the inconvenience of a little mask. They talk about respecting governmental institutions until their man loses. For those of you badly triggered by now, hang with me.
The second empire is the empire that, in all transparency, I am more tempted to join, but is just as powerful and insidious in America as the first. This is the empire of false peace and only positive vibes. This is the one guilty of tokenism and photo ops. They paint the street with big letters that say, Black Lives Matter, but continue to doll out prison sentences in this same disparate way Too many of my mainline Protestant brothers follow this path. These folks pretend to care about East New York while living in Westchester and sending their kids to private schools in Manhattan. Their activism might lend them an invitation from Oprah, a spot on NPR, or a nice professorship, but it won't make them fit in with the homeless, rabbi who yells at priests (Matthew 23:27). They may follow the greatest commandments of loving God and loving people, but struggle with the concrete ones that require individual, self-denial. They seek self-actualization always, and justice when it doesn't cost too much. They claim to be all inclusive but don't realize that the post-modern ideology they hold is actually a very niche perspective that is shared by a small number of people relatively speaking. They claim it would be narrow to say their is only one way, yet they promote their one way as the only reasonable and charitable option for civilized people.
Now, I know I have painted two caricatures, so don't send me hate mail. But, honestly, which empire tempts you?
Both value freedom above all, both offer shinny new clothes of self-righteousness, both need to hear the innocent, unfiltered words of the child calling their bluff. Good news is that a child has spoken, the Christ-child to be exact. He says it like it is in this passage, then invites himself over for dinner. He even bring along real clothes for you to wear.
"You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me."