The Hardest Question was an experiment in preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. All posting is finished, but the content will continue to live here in archive form. You can discover new content by former THQ curator Russell Rathbun at Question the Text.


Exiles in the Empire of Capital

Is there an oppression and a suffering so internalized that we do not even recognize it as suffering?

by Russell Rathbun

Epistle Reading: 1 Peter 1:3-9

For Sunday, May 1 , 2011: Year A – Easter 2

Grace and peace to you all in exile in the Babylon of the United States, Western Europe, Australia, the Mall of America and those lost on line. My your blindness to your suffering at the hands of Global Capital and vacuous striving be revealed to you, so that you may see that you have been freed through the bodily resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, that utterly abundant life has been given to you. You are Holy because God is Holy.

Where Are We?

Or something like that. The author of 1 Peter is writing to a young Christian church struggling to live out the Empire of God in the midst of the Roman Empire. While many comparisons can be made between ancient Rome and the present dominate Capital empires, the position of the Christian church in these empires is much different. We are not on the bottom we are on the top.

The Nature of Our Faith

This difference has been explored a few times before in this blog, but really bears repeating: Our faith is full of contradictions—I mean that in a good way—full of dialectical truths. Like the one the texts for this Sunday hold out to us. Our faith is utterly dependent on the proclamation that God gets a body, and as God with a body is killed. And further, God with a body defeats death and rises from the dead. It is a profoundly physical foundation our faith has. Yet we have no body.

But the contradictory nature of our faith that calls out to me in this epistle reading is that the Christianity we find witness to in our Holy Book is for and from the outsiders, the oppressed, the marginalized—yet it has been experienced for most of its history as the faith of the Empire, the powerful, the oppressor.

The Hardest Question

Does 1 Peter have any relevance to us? Is there an oppression and a suffering, though different, that is just as real, that we are experiencing, but one we have so internalized, made our own, that we do not even recognize it as suffering?

Russell Rathbun is a preacher at House of Mercy in St. Paul, Minnesota, the author of Midrash on the Juanitos (Cathedral Hill Press, 2010) and the curator of The Hardest Question.


  1. CJ says:

    There has never been a time in my Christian experience where I felt that 1 Peter 1 and similar passages have not been directly relavant to my life and to the Christian communities that I have been a part of.

    I read an article by Roland Martin several years ago that included a story about a group of white pastors who called on a black pastor to participate in a pro-life march but when asked by that same black pastor to participate in a march against crack houses they responded with “That’s your problem, not ours”.

    And as a result of the Jeremiah Wright episode, there were several white Christian leaders on television condemning liberation theology without being willing to have a serious dialog on the actual subject of liberation theology.

    I have only touched on those aspects of my Christian experience that are the easiest to articulate. I haven’t gone into what it was like being a Christian with Major Depressive Disorder. I haven’t gone into what it was like being a Christian in a campus ministry that was ostracised by the university establishment. I haven’t gone into what it’s like to defend the faith to people who have been very legitimately harmed by people of faith. And I’m only 28. And, everything I’ve mentioned has been in this century.

    But despite all of that, I have been guilty of using my faith to condemn others. I have been guilty of mistreating others because of my understanding of my faith. And I have gotten away with accusing people of things they didn’t do because of my position (or rather my father’s position) in the church.

    So if there is a suffering so pervasive that we don’t recognize it as suffering, it is the suffering that we as Christians cause others.

How do you read?