Slavoj Zizek, in a lecture, told a story of when he was a boy in college in Ljublijana in the former Yugoslavia. It was time for local elections, and, as it was in many Soviet bloc countries, the resulted were rigged for the Communist party. Zizek was working for the college newspaper and he and his editorial staff thought about what to do. Should they publish an article about the elections were rigged? They thought that was futile, as it was a reality everyone already knew, and it would only get their paper censored. Rather, they decided to publish on the election results that took them at their word. The front page read that it seemed the Communists might actually win this year. This article got them brought before a party bureaucrat who threatened them, but, when asked for a reason, only repeated his threats. The unspoken secret was put on the table, and everyone had to pretend to ignore it.
As I heard this story, I considered the role of Christians in our imperial society. America pretends to be the bastion of freedom, but it really is not. There are all kinds of liberties that are offered, but their enactment is an understood falsehood. One example might be how the courts and the police function. We know if the police ask for evidence, we have every reason to refuse unless a court of law mandates it. But we know if we refuse, it will only bring suspicion and increased investigation, even if there is not enough evidence to get a warrant. We also know that a trial by jury is supposed to be a fair trial, where justice is to prevail. But we know that the jury system is supposed to produce convictions, and the ill accommodations, the interruptedness of their lives, is a kind of whip to produce a verdict for the prosecutor.
There are many other forms of forced choice present in the American concept of freedom. It's a false offering, and most people have accustomed themselves to this. The high-minded principles of liberty, justice, democracy, whatever are slogans that never live up to the reality. To question this, to even speak about it, is to let the cat out of the bag. It's to invite accusations of being a lunatic, someone who just doesn't know how things works.
The Church of Jesus Christ does not have a mission to take control or transform the kingdoms of the Earth. Babylon will remain Babylon, in whichever form it takes, until Christ returns and destroys it once and for all. But Christians remain in the city as they remain in Christ. They look for a City not made with hands. Rather, as sojourners in This Age, we are to actively promote peace and justice, even as we remain a tenuous loyalty. Nothing is worth more than the Kingdom of Jesus Christ and the Life of the Age to Come.
The Apostolic advice to honor the emperor, to submit to the governing authorities, to live peaceably with all if able, and to work with our hands quietly has been at times miscontrued as a kind of passive engagement with government. This construal of these texts have made Christians into arch conservatives of any/every regime they've been under. However, if we understand these as proof-texts, removed from the rest of the text, then we will imbibe this same understanding.
What if these commands are, in fact, subversive in the same way Zizek's story is? The kingdoms of This Age remain enthralled to the demonic, slaves to the power and function of death. They are built on lies, murder, theft, and delusions. But, following Christ, Apostles Paul and Peter knew that standing up, resisting, shouting out accusations, mobilization will do little in the end. What if the ultimate embarrassment for any regime is to engage in a crafty naivete? What if all it takes to make the powers that be nervous is to take them at their word, to hold them to their promises and ideology?
It's in this way that the foundations are laid bare. This intentional simplicity will get you killed much faster than being loud-mouthed and enraged. It's the work of showing the emperor has no clothes, to use a cliche. For the Church, this isn't to gain power, but to do the work of the prophets. The spiritual darkness that reigns has to hide as an angel of light. The simple truth, the obvious question, is all it takes to destabilize an empire and find oneself a martyr.