The New Roman Empire

Out of studies on the Roman Empire in the New Testament especially the Book of Revelation, I follow a thesis that the United States of America has become today’s New Roman Empire.

United Church of Christ in the Philippines
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When the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) 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” (Par. 11), 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 Organization) as the ones using political, economic and military alliances to protect and advance their interest of the capital owners” (Par. 13).[1]

This paper is presented from the standpoint of a nation and people that has been a victim of the “American Empire.” Starting with a brief historical survey as a case study of a suffering people from the designs of today’s Sole Superpower, the study proceeds with reflections on the Book of Revelation and on the concept of Kingdom of God.

The Story of a People

From tribal peoples who have already been trading with China and Southern Asian peoples, my country, the Philippines, succumbed to Spanish colonization, following colonization of Central and South America peoples. It remained under the Spanish Crown for three hundred sixty years until the new American Empire took over. It cannot be denied that both Imperial Powers came for economic interests and used both their international political and military might for their territorial and economic expansion. Spain came for the rich spices of the East and America came to exploit our natural resources and dominate our economic and political life and make our country a gateway to the riches of China. In the process Spain divided the rich agricultural country among its citizenry and created the haciendas that became today’s agribusiness conglomerates. America expanded its big business conglomerates siphoning our rich natural resources, minerals and agricultural products.[2]

Our people by degrees rose against the onslaught of these imperial adventures. We can count some 300 revolts and rebellions in the 360 years of Spanish rule ending in a successful revolution ironically only to fall into the hands of a new imperial power, the United States of America. The US fought a long war of colonial subjugation of the Filipino people which caused the loss of some one million lives, about 15 percent of the population of 16 million at that time. The Filipino people’s struggle against the American Empire continues up to the present.

In fairness to the American people, it should be noted that there was no lack of opposition to this surging American tendency towards empire for early on there were anti-imperialists that championed the cause of the Filipino people. William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic presidential nominee in 1900, articulated the anti-imperialists stance when he declared that “imperialism had its inspiration in the desire of the syndicates to extend their commerce by conquest.”[3]

It is interesting to note that on the day immediately following the mock “Battle of Manila Bay,” Bishop James Mills Thoburn of the Methodist Episcopal Church wrote about Adm. George Dewey’s “Jericho-like victory” as “the fulfillment of the hopes and prayers of years” and, therefore, urged Protestant Churches in the United States “to enter in the name of the Lord and give the people of the Philippines a pure gospel.” Four weeks later, in the same manner, Dr. George Pentecost reported to the U.S. Presbyterian General Assembly saying: “God has given into our hands…the Philippine Islands… [and] by the very guns of our battleships, summoned us to go up and posses the land.”[4]

Sensing that the Filipino people could not be subjugated by force of arms, the imperialists, each in their own way, brought to bear the subtle persuasive power of both culture and religion upon the Filipino people. The people of the islands at that time did not yet have a closely articulated religion – save for Islam in some areas in Mindanao and in smaller pocket areas in Luzon, and were thus easily brought into the Roman Catholic faith, and with Catholicism so much of Spanish culture filtered into the psyche and consciousness of the new converts to the faith. And since Crown and faith were closely knit entities in the dispensation practiced by the colonizers, faith and politics reinforced each other which helped in bringing the Filipinos under Spanish control. At the end of the 19th century when the work of the illustrados such as Rizal, Mabini, the Del Pilars and others, exposed the hypocrisy of the Spanish friars and provoked a critical attitude towards the Roman Catholic Church, a new generation of politically and religiously enlightened Filipinos were ready for the coming of the Protestant Gospel brought by the Americans.

The Americans, immediately after crushing the Philippine war of independence, sought to create institutions that mirrored their own – a liberal democratic politics and government, universal education with a strong dose of American values, a civil society based on the principles of freedom, democracy and the free market, and imposed English as both the language of government, business and the educational system. The Filipino people became “brown Americans.”

U.S. President William McKinley declared in December 1898 that the purposes of the United States in the Philippines was to “civilize and Christianize” the Filipinos for whom Christ also died,” with force if necessary.[5] This was President McKinley’s policy of “Benevolent Assimilation,” part of the “Manifest Destiny.” This made the US to appear as the savior and protector of the Philippines. And so the Philippines has indeed become a show case that the United States of America has attained its “manifest destiny,” and in wider world has established the New American Empire, the New Rome.

The American Empire: the New Rome in the Book of Revelation?

Out of studies on the Roman Empire in the New Testament especially the Book of Revelation, I follow a thesis that the United States of America has become today’s New Roman Empire. I am not the first to use the term “The New Roman Empire.” Ofelia Ortega, Dean of the Seminary in Matanzas, Cuba also referring to the Book of Revelation uses the term.[6] An article from The Guardian, September 2002 uses the title “Hail Bush: The New Roman Empire.” Also an article of Michael Lind asks rhetorically “Is America the New Roman Empire? ([7]

Gordon Zerbe (“When Global Traders Ruled the World: The Choice Between Babylon and New Jerusalem as Rival Economies,” a Bible Study) and Richard A. Horsley (Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder) made interesting comparisons of the New Testament Roman Empire and today’s New Empire. Zerbe wrote mainly on the Book of Revelation. Horsley, using mainly the Gospels, wrote about Jesus and the Empire.[8]

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