Skip to main content
Center for Action and Contemplation
Christianity and Empire
Christianity and Empire

Jesus, the Empire, and the Gospel

Monday, October 18, 2021

Christianity and Empire

Jesus and the Empire
Monday, October 18, 2021

On his podcast “Another Name for Every Thing,” Fr. Richard discussed with co-hosts Paul Swanson and Brie Stoner what he sees as the “trajectory” of the Jesus movement and how Jesus lived a simple life of non-cooperation with the empire of his day.

Paul: Richard, can you help us understand how the original spirit of the Jesus movement kind of lost its momentum as it got institutionalized [and the church colluded with the empire]? How did we lose that ability to speak truth to power and to empire in such a way?

Richard: It’s possible to trace the movement of Christianity from its earliest days until now. In Israel, Jesus and the early “church” offered people an experience; it moved to Greece, and it became a philosophy. When it moved to Rome and Constantinople, it became organized religion. Then it spread to Europe, and it became a culture. Finally, it moved to North America and became a business. This isn’t much of an exaggeration, if it’s an exaggeration at all. The original desire or need for a “Jesus” experience was lost, and not even possible for most people. Experience, philosophy, organized religion, culture, business—in each of those permutations and iterations, Christianity was seen as above criticism. It simply was the religion, the philosophy, the culture.

Those are the big historical reasons that we look to different places for our authority. We gave it to emperors and kings and presidents instead of the Gospel, pretending Jesus was Lord but we didn’t really mean it. Now, I know it’s easy to be cynical, to look at the disastrous effects of Christianity’s complicity with empire and want to give up on the whole endeavor, but I also want to proclaim that the flow of grace is a truly wonderful thing. Even inside of each of those iterations, misguided as they were—and we still are today—humble, loving people emerged—in every one of them.

Brie: At the end of the day, I think we’re all longing to really live this out. And there’s a cost to wanting to live into this type of prophetic imagination that Jesus is showing us.

Richard: I think if we try to communicate what Jesus’ social justice teaching is, we won’t find a highly rarefied explanation of justice theories, and so forth. The way to do justice is to live simply, to not cooperate with consumerism, with militarism, with all the games that have us trapped. Jesus just does it differently, ignoring unjust systems and building up a better system by his teaching to his disciples. His name for the better system was the kingdom of God or the reign of God. The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. He’s showing us “We’re just going to do it better. Let’s not be anti-anything. Let’s be for something: for life, and for universal love.”

Adapted from Richard Rohr, with Brie Stoner and Paul Swanson, “Jesus and the Empire,” Another Name for Every Thing, season 3, episode 4, March 7, 2020 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2020), audio podcast.

Story from Our Community:
I give to the poor and apologize for not giving more. I am not a rich person, although I live on much more than a dollar a day. So, I serve God. My wife and I have worked to ease the lives of those less fortunate, but now we are older and so I pray. I pray for God to give me the strength to write to those in charge to look seriously at the condition of the poor. I am sickened by our leaders’ allowing multi-billion-dollar corporations to pay no taxes, which could well go to improve housing, education, and salaries of those oppressed in our world. —Russell C.

Learn more about the Daily Meditations Editorial Team.

Image Credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 13 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States.
The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to Dr. B as part of an exploration into contemplative photography and she returned this wonderful photo.
Image Inspiration: Our state-sanctioned history celebrates explorers who chose separation, conquest, and domination. What if we chose differently and looked instead through our own “windshields” with humility, reverence, and awe for the diversity of God’s creation?
Navigate by Date

This year’s theme

A candle being lit

Radical Resilience

We live in a world on fire. This year the Daily Meditations will explore contemplation as a way to build Radical Resilience so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or burning out. The path ahead may be challenging, but we can walk it together.

The archives

Explore the Daily Meditations

Explore past meditations and annual themes by browsing the Daily Meditations archive. Explore by topic or use the search bar to find wisdom from specific teachers.

Join our email community

Sign-up to receive the Daily Meditations, featuring reflections on the wisdom and practices of the Christian contemplative tradition.

Hidden Fields

Find out about upcoming courses, registration dates, and new online courses.
Our theme this year is Radical Resilience. How do we tend our inner flame so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or out? Meditations are emailed every day of the week, including the Weekly Summary on Saturday. Each week builds on previous topics, but you can join at any time.
In a world of fault lines and fractures, how do we expand our sense of self to include love, healing, and forgiveness—not just for ourselves or those like us, but for all? This monthly email features wisdom and stories from the emerging Christian contemplative movement. Join spiritual seekers from around the world and discover your place in the Great Story Line connecting us all in the One Great Life. Conspirare. Breathe with us.