Advent Reflection: Deviants, Vigilantes and Empire
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.” Matthew 2: 16-18
“The new cultural and institutional systems of Empire support a monopolization of resources by the ruling elites, whose lives become concerned in competing with one another for the top positions in the dominance hierarchy. Because power struggles are continuous and often treacherous, relationships commonly feature a substantial element of distrust, fear, and duplicity. Fear is Empire’s friend, as it creates a psychological need for certainty, control, and structured relationships that motivates acquiescence by those below.” – David Korten, The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community
Thought: When the present/established order is challenged it recourses to violence, coercion, and labeling to squelch the alternative voice, perspective and practice. In the context of North American Christianity establishment forms of Christianity are adept at using fear (e.g. believing such and such will lead you down the slippery slope to relativism and hell) and using the word heretic. A survival function of establishment Christianity is to label serious challenges or what is perceived to be a threat as ‘heresy’. This is a quick way, it is thought, to disregard a troublesome expression of Christian faith. History teaches us that establishment Christianity is normally blinded by its own epistemological and moral totalitarianism. It cannot see its own crumbling from the inside-out. As it dies on the heap of its own rigidly structured world it sends out assasins to eliminate the threat to its existence. It sends out what New Testament scholar Bruce Malina calls vigilantes: Vigilantism is establishment violence against a person or persons successfully labeled as deviant by some moral entrepreneur in the community for the purpose of maintaining prevailing values…The object of vigilantism is to eliminate deviant behavior. - The Social Gospel of Jesus (p.57)
Thought: Apparently, Jesus was not a part of the establishment. According to the establishment of Jesus’ day he was a heretic and a theological deviant.
Reflection: While many Christians feel compelled to maintain the center I find it interesting that Jesus worked primarily in the periphery. The coming of baby Jesus was not received with joy by those in the establishment…by those that held the power to name what was and what was not orthodox. Herod and Company’s orthdoxy was driven by fear and a particular kind of certainty that did not have room for the deviance of Jesus and his rag-tag group of disciples. Jesus’ deviance was perceived to be a grave threat. So much so that Herod had every little boy killed in Jesus’ town. He shot wide of the mark hoping to squelch and kill the deviance. This Advent season has me asking myself: will I be a vigilante…or a deviant?