the power of empire

Here's something from a conversation today. I was responding to this statement: "I would also like to argue that the power of people is [not] the power of empire. The power of empire is violence."

Is that really true? Your understanding seems to be a common one among those who struggle against empire nonviolently, but I think it misses the deeper truth. Yes, empire uses violence. But so does, say, a mugger. The mugger is not considered "empire," though, is he? The mugger is considered a "criminal" and is arrested and punished by empire, which uses violence to do it. So what's the difference between the mugger and empire? They both use the power of violence, but the violence of empire is considered (by society) right and good, while the violence of the mugger is considered wrong and is punished. Empire here seems to have more power than just violence, they have power to determine guilt, to define justice, to decide what is "good" and what is "evil."

Where does this (apparent) power of empire come from?

It comes from the support of the people. The power of every empire comes from the many, many people that support its laws, its rulers, its organization. People usually support governments because they want to use the power (and wealth) of large organizations of people. For example, Democrats and Republicans both want the power of empire so they can achieve their goals, so they all support the empire, though they fight against each other for control. But everyone thinks "united we are strong." Empire is the result of that uniting of human strength.

Jesus wasn't just against violence. He was also against the pride of people thinking "together we are strong." He saw that the power of humans gathering their united strength was a temptation to us, it corrupts us, it makes us feel like we can provide our own security and food and everything we need. It even makes us think we can define justice, what is "good" and what is "evil." It makes us think we don't need God. It makes us think we can be our own god. Just like with the tower of Babel, when human pride in their united strength tempted them to build a tower to heaven. So Jesus rejected that power of many organized people, the power of the crowd. He stayed small and few and weak and poor. All the power he demonstrated came from God, not the people.

I think we as his followers should do the same. Not try to muster the power of movements or cooperatives or denominations. Not try to use the media to get public opinion on our side. Reject the motto "together we are strong"; reject the call to "Organize!" All of these are simply smaller attempts to gather and utilize the very same power that empire uses: the power of the people.

Jesus, even when he was alone, wielded a power that made the power of all people seem like nothing, truly nothing. Jesus showed the power of God was even greater than death. With that power, we don't need any big organization to accomplish God's purposes, and we don't need to fear anything from governments or corporations or any other human group. We can experience the freedom and power that Jesus demonstrated, right now, right in the midst of empire.

But we have to reject the power of the people. And look to God alone to be our help, our protector, our source of food and shelter and every good thing.