Anthems of the Absurd: Rejecting the co-equality claims of Caesar and Nation-States.


Preparing to write, I read something that not only reminded me of early Quaker troubles in 17th-century England related to oath-taking, but reinforces the problems with taking oaths or swearing truths; or accepting invitations to share or pledge allegiances. Early Christians were asked to swear an oath to Caesar, or allegiances to Rome, at least annually. When they did so, they were violating the commandments, and affirming that Jesus and their own God YHWH maintained a status of co-equality with Rome and the emperor.

This was seen as serving two masters by those Christians refusing to take oaths. It also sheds some light on Jesus’ instruction to not swear any oath at all, because often, such oaths will be proven to lack one cannot do that with integrity (see Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis). Regardless, taking the public oath was important to Roman leaders and the unity of the empire. In fact, it did not matter to the Romans if Christians were resistant to state authority, had quarrels with the claims of emperor divinity, or even made trouble in the cities and synagogues. What mattered to Rome was public participation and acquiescence to the public unity centered around Caesar and the empire as the ultimate arbiter of truth, peace, and progress. It did not matter if your heart was in it, or that you did not believe that Caesar was a god.

What was important was that when in public, you should at least join the rest of the empire in celebrating Caesar, his divinity as savior of the world, and Rome as the divine order of peace and security throughout the world. If you were refused to participate, there was no crime committed. All they did was ask you to swear an oath of loyalty and make a sacrifice to the divine emperor, and all was forgotten. Even if you were lying - the oath to Caesar would set you free from the death penalty. That's right - there was the potential to be executed even though no crime was committed. This is because folks like Pontius Pilate were given the authority to arbitrarily rule on behalf of Caesar in the various provinces and ethnic regions across the empire. There was no trial, and if you challenge the authority of the empire, you end up on a cross if you lack citizenship.

If you took an oath to Caesar as a Christian, you were either lying, or rejecting God, and rejecting Jesus as King. Many Christians would not want to lie, and would not claim that Caesar co-equal with God, or Jesus. Not as a Priest, as a king, or as a god. So rather than take the oath, innocent Christians accepted martyrdom and would be executed. The question raised here should be obvious, but to many Americans, it is not even an acceptable question. How does standing with the national anthem, or for a pledge of allegiance, or for a judge and jury compare with Jesus' instructions to take no oath so as not to be in a potential future context of being identified with anti-Christ rather than Christ, just so your neighbors feel better about the nation state and civic religion.

Most all of the safety pins have been put away, there is still no catholic Christian program for racial justice, and sexism is rampant as well as poverty, mass incarceration, and violence. Much of those who call themselves the church stand firmly with the nations that maintains this status quo, and maintains the status with violence. The church even celebrates the nation state as the author of freedom of worship, despite the fact that Paul reminds us worship is a joy, even when we are persecuted, jailed, or martyred because we only worship and give allegiance to one God. Just who is being offended when we refuse oaths and allegiances - racists, sexists, and nationalists - or God? We are asked to bear a cross, we are commanded to reject oath taking, even if it risks friendships to state the truth about God and State.

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