The president of the Northern Kingdom strutted toward the podium. Tonight he would address the empire, sharing his impression of the state of the union.
Overall, the news was good. True, at the fringes of the empire the imperial army battled insurgents for control of land that was rich with natural resources, but that was to be expected. When one’s influence is global, and one’s mission is to let freedom roll, then it can be expected that uncivilized primitive people protecting their own self-interest will resist the imposition of Enlightenment. The only choice left was to impose the pax americana upon those who refused to acknowledge the true god’s agents for progress.
The president’s only regret was that god’s chosen people at times lack the resolve and fortitude to lead the rest of the world to the freedom of the open market–a freedom guaranteed to raise all boats with the rising tide of consumerism.
True, the weapons of mass destruction used to justify military action had yet to be found–but that’s immaterial, because the real danger to the global economic world order were those nations which horded their natural resources and cheap labor from the engines of neoliberalism.
On the home front, the president thought deeply about what to tell his subjects. True, the gap between the richest and poorest members of his kingdom had reached the greatest disparity since such records were officially kept. But if his tax cuts for the empire’s aristocrats, who comprised 1 percent of the population, were made permanent, then they would own 50 percent of the empire’s wealth.
Although some industries were laying off tens of thousands of laborers, the good news was that there were people on the margins of the empire who were willing to do the same work for a fraction of the pay.
And while the domestic laborers might suffer now, in the long run, the empire would be more secure and financially sound.
Yes, thought the president to himself as he approached the podium, the empire’s state of the union is indeed sound. In spite of a minor military campaign raging far from the comfort and security of his subjects, there was no other world power that could seriously challenge the military and economic might of the empire.
After some polite applause from the representatives of special-interest groups, who turned a blind eye as more draconian security measures were enacted under the guise of national security, the president cleared his voice to signal the start of his speech. He spoke of the goodness of his people who occupied that city upon the hill. He spoke of their profound sense of truth, justice and their way of life. He referenced the almighty, who had his hand upon this empire, calling it to spread the good news of capitalism to all the earth.
The president was about to share his own sense of calling for such a time as this when the back doors of the Hall of Power and Privilege flew open. Standing there was the prophet of the Living God, a man people called Amos. He wore faded jeans and a plaid shirt. His skin was baked brown from years working in the fields. Dirt was still encrusted under his fingernails.
Normally, the president would have had his imperial guard whisk the prophet away, but he hesitated. After all, he was placed in power by those who voted their morals, expounding family values and faithfulness to the true god. Surely, this uneducated migrant who herded animals and picked produce would not be much of a menace.
Since the representatives of special interest passed the Freedom Act, the president had ordered the Agency for Citizen’s Rights to keep wiretaps and surveillance on the prophet. Such an act was warranted because the prophet was from south of the border, and no doubt an illegal alien who entered this country in support of terrorists, although he himself was no threat.
The prophet, from the back of the room and in a loud but clearly accented voice, began to condemn other nations–nations that were perceived as enemies of the empire.
“For three sins, even for four, I turn my back on Damascus, for they have hired assassins to kill the leaders of other nations.” All in the room were pleasantly surprised. Some even clapped.
“For three sins of that nation trading in nuclear technology, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath, for they deny their people freedom.” The applause got louder as the representatives of special-interest groups began to realize that this was truly the mouthpiece of the Lord.
The prophet went on, listing a total of nine nations the empire had struggled against. Each time the applause got louder. Even the president began to thank his god for this great political opportunity. His spin masters would be able to get great mileage from the prophet’s homily.
Everyone stood up now, wildly clapping and cheering, when the prophet began to condemn his own nation for rejecting the law and decrees of God.
When the room quieted down, the prophet Amos whispered his words in a low voice that was almost inaudible.
“For three sins of [the empire], even for four, I will not turn back my wrath. They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground, and deny justice to the oppressed.”
A shocked silenced filled the room. All who were present were dumbfounded, but Amos droned on with a list of dire consequences for a people who proclaimed a God they failed to follow. “This is what the Lord says to [the empire]: ‘Seek me and live.'”
Thinking of the recent judges appointed to the highest court in the land by the representatives of special-interest groups, the prophet went on to say: “You who turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground, you trample on the poor and force him to give you grain. I know how many are your offenses and how great are your sins. You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts. Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy.”
The cheers of the representatives of special-interest groups now turned to boos, heckles and angry insults. Even the liberals among them, whose bleeding hearts occasionally shed crocodile tears, were indignant. For no matter how much they tried to be spokespersons for the oppressed, the power and privilege of these billionaires remained protected by the very social structures that had provided them their place.
Thinking of the religious leaders who fused and confused their mission with that of the predominant political party in power, Amos the prophet continued by stating: “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
The prophet then addressed the titans of the corporate world–those CEOs who averaged tens of millions in salaries on the backs of foreign workers laboring for pennies to produce finished goods.
“You lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves. You strum away on your harps like King David and improvise on musical instruments. You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin [you cause]. Skimping the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales, you buy the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals,” said Amos.
This was the last straw. The official high priest of the Ministry for Focus on Patriotic Families stood up along with the chancellor of the Southern Seminary for the Far Right. In one voice they cried out, “Amos is raising a conspiracy against [our president] in the very heart of [the empire]. The land cannot bear all his words.”
Speaking directly to Amos they yelled: “Get out, you seer! Go back to where you come from. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. Don’t prophesy anymore here, because this is the [president’s] sanctuary and the temple of the [empire].”
Never had these false priests spoken such truth. For indeed Amos was speaking to a people who had exchanged worshiping the Living God for the worship of the god of empire.
Amos answered these high priests, “I was neither a prophet nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herder of animals, and I also took care of fruit trees.”
It appears that the Living God chooses the outcast and the marginalized to hold accountable those who consider themselves wise and powerful. Only the Living God would send a migrant worker to speak truth to power.
Amos then said: “This is what the Sovereign Lord showed me: a basket of ripe [dates]. ‘What do you see, Amos?’ God asked. ‘A basket of ripe [dates],’ I answered. Then the Lord said to me, ‘The date is ripe for my people [within the empire]; I will spare them no longer.'”
With these words, the prophet of doom turned on his heels and walked away. The president concluded his state of the union address by attacking the prophet’s character–he was no doubt a radical from the liberal fringe of the opposing political party and served as a useful idiot for terrorists whose sole goal was to destroy our empire and way of life.
The representatives of special-interest groups passed more legislation to give the president more power to keep tabs on those who would threaten the present power structures.
More judges were appointed that could be relied on to protect the interests of those who were called by the true god to advance neoliberalism.
And as for the church of those who called themselves disciples of the Living God? Well, let me ask you here today: how do YOU think they should respond?
Miguel A. De La Torre is professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado.