As readers of this blog know I get discouraged by the limited voice that is heard from the powers that be – either in the Episcopal Church or in the realignment group (The Anglican Communion Network, etc) confronting the war powers of an empire. There are storms brewing that have little or nothing to do with the stormy state of the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Communion, storms that make the pitiful snarls and growls of our internal problems with the "bonds of affection" seem a gentle breeze.
I just received today a copy of The Philippine Episcopalian (December 2006). In it are excerpts from a Reflection delivered by Bishop Erme R. Camba during the 19th Ecumenical Bishops Forum National Assembly, Tagaytay City, Nov. 27-28, 2006. Bishop Camba is bishop emeritus in the United Church of Christ, Philippines. His remarks are reprinted in the Provincial News Paper without editorial comment.
The title of the Reflection is, "The New Roman Empire." It begins with the observation that "When the World Alliance of Reformed Churches meeting in Accra defined "empire" as "the coming together of economic, cultural, political and military power (constituting) a system of domination led by powerful nations to protect and defend their own interests," it minced no words by mentioning the "government of the United States of America and its allies, together with international finance and trade institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Trade." The article then goes on to recount the experience of Empire as felt in The Philippines. It is a devastating critique of the United States as Empire.
The Episcopal Church has a great friend in the Episcopal Church in the Philippines. They stand with us as partners in mission, they have close religious and personal ties with the Episcopal Church, they grew from the missionary engagement of the Episcopal Church. And, like a good friend they have also been able to be good critics. They have named the skunk on the table, the Imperialism of the United States
That same critical ability is brought to the political life of The Philippines. The ECP Council of Bishops issued a statement on December 14th on the Proposed Constitutional Assembly in The Philippines. They say, "The watchfulness to which Christ calls us behooves us to challenge them (the leaders) to examine their priorities. After all, part of our mission is to break down unjust structures in society. Only then can we ever become the church that Christ wants us to be – a beacon of hope and reconciliation in the world."
There have been critical remarks on the war from the Episcopal Church leadership. The Presiding Bishop has spoken out, as has the Bishop of California and others. The Archbishop of York fasted for peace and the Archbishop of Canterbury has said the war is morally flawed. I am not aware of the Anglican Communion Network or the American Anglican Council saying a single word of caution or warning to the people of the Church concerning the war powers of the nation. If there have been any I am sure someone will correct me.
But no one has put the skunk on the table, that the United States has become an Empire, with all the negative and positive consequences of that role. And one cost of Empire is permanent war for permanent peace. It is a cost borne by the whole of the developing world, the underclass in America, the nations of the world, and indirectly by every American who is by nationality identified with the Empire.
Americans may spend a few hours and several millions of dollars this weekend for a three hour spectacle in which a hand full of gladiators fight it out in the Super Bowl, but it is not big thing. The big thing is going on elsewhere and the Empire is happy enough that we are diverted by the circus.
The Government of the United States calmly throws people, money and honor at a War that has no clear purpose or end. Today's count puts that cost of the war at $365,000,000,000. (That's 365 billion dollars.) Today the number of US Service personnel dead has risen to 3095 and the wounded to 23114. The number of Iraqi citizens killed as a result of the chaos that is now Iraq stands over 60,000 by very conservative estimates. The US has of course proposed to send an additional 20,000 troops to Iraq and has put in the budget requests for 110 billion for this year, and the news today is that there may be the need for an additional 70 billion. All of this is the working of empire, of empire that doesn't give a damn except for its own agenda.
One of the important, indeed central, values of the Anglican Communion is that it provides a context where criticism can be directed at friends. The Episcopal Church in the Philippines has done well by us in its criticism. Its views of the United States and its power are shared by many.
Some have taken that critique and proposed that American Episcopalians are similarly imperial in attitude by its decisions of the recent past. The ECP has not done this. They are critical of our actions, yes, but have not equated these actions with absolute and arbitrary power of the sort exercised at times by the forces of empire.
I believe we can take courage from the example of the witness of the ECP – the courage to address the powers of Empire from within, bringing the critique of the faith to the life of the community. To quote the bishops, "After all, part of our mission is to break down unjust structures in society. Only then can we ever become the church that Christ wants us to be – a beacon of hope and reconciliation in the world."