Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Pax Empire

Written by: on September 13, 2018

A few years ago, the church I currently serve took a trip to Scotland. We traveled to Iona and the Highlands, and also took in the sights in Edinburgh and Saint Andrews. While touring the lovely city of Glasgow, we stumbled upon the stunning Doulton Fountain. This fountain, located on Glasgow Green, features four distinct water carriers labeled Australasia, Canada, India and South Africa, all supporting a larger statue of Queen Victoria. Recently restored, the imagery is stark, sad and very moving. I inquired of our local tour guide what exactly the fountain symbolized and with classic Glaswegian wit, he exclaimed, “Colonization.”

The colonization that he describes, of course, was that of the British Empire, one of the strongest and most resounding empire’s in the history of humankind. But “empire” is not a new term for people of faith. The entire book of Exodus discusses the Hebraic flee from the Egyptian Empire and Pharaoh. Much of the rest of the Hebrew Bible was written by a people who were oppressed by the Babylonian Empire. The majority of the Greek Bible was written by people strongly influenced by the Roman Empire. And the entire modern history of Hong Kong, has developed between the unique backdrops of both the British Empire and the Chinese Empire.

“The Crown Colony of Hong Kong was a product of the First Anglo-Chinese War (1839-1842), popularly known as the Opium War,” [1]  as Britain traded for vast quantities of two main Chinese imports, opium and tea. The British need for safe access and influence was paramount from the earliest days of Hong Kong and throughout her history. Even after the transfer of power in 1997 from Britain to China the influences of empire have been a part of her story.

But as a constant, empires have risen and fallen throughout human history. The phrase Pax Romana initially indicated the peaceful relations between all of the separate nations and local states of the Roman Empire. Subsequent efforts at “peaceful empire” have been attempted and thus named with the phrase Latin phrase pax (which translates “peace”) placed in front of the empire it describes. Pax Britannica was the empirical zeitgeist under which Hong Kong was created. I am currently residing in a country that is, potentially subconsciously, under the influence of Pax Americana. And while all three of these empires have brought the world closer together through trade, common language, and improved communication, so too have we seen unrest among laborers, power struggles, and subsequent empirical crumbling. Often the peaceful concept of pax is experienced by very few of the citizenry.

While organized labor strikes were uncommon in the days of Pax Romana (they were more likely described as “slave revolts” back then) the similarities between the labor demands of Hong Kong workers and United States workers in the 20’s and 30’s are significant. [2]  So too were the struggles of segregation and class status at the commencement of both empires.  [3]  The fact that Hong Kong’s history is as peaceful as it is, demonstrates the intelligence and willpower of the people who have resided there.

As stated earlier the Pax Americana concept is the current status quo in the United States, even as we continue years of war after the attacks on September 11. Our American empire influence across the globe is mainly intended to promote peace back in the geographic country of the US, while also claiming to spread democracy across the globe. However recent miscues like the way our country has handled the Hurricane Response in Puerto Rico, or the way we are now engaged with another empire, the one based in Moscow, has me hoping that we can better learn from those empires that have gone before. How can we better care for our labor class? How can we better respect indigenous peoples? How can we remain civil when we disagree? There is much to learn from the rise and fall of empire. May we use the story of Hong Kong as a case study, and learn from those that went before, to improve the lives of those that are yet to come.


[1] Steve Tsang, A Modern History of Hong Kong (London: I.B. Tauris, 2007), 4.

[2] Tsang, Hong Kong, 87.

[3] Tsang, Hong Kong, 65.

About the Author

Rev Jacob Bolton

7 responses to “Pax Empire”

  1. Hi Jacob. Thanks for your post. If you read mine you’ll see that I wrote about colonization in a different light. I get it. It’s not a popular thing today because we see that there have been abuses of power by colonizers in the past (e.g. Rwanda. However, I believe these are more the exceptions to the rule.

    Here are a couple of personal examples that might help with what I’m trying to say. I was born and raised in the Philippines. Spain occupied the Philippines for about four centuries followed by the U.S. for a few decades. The two colonizers brought technology, education, government and Christianity. When the the Philippines finally got their independence from the U.S., the constitution they adopted in forming their new government was almost word for word the same as the U.S. Constitution. Isn’t that remarkable? If colonization was so terrible why did the Filipinos adopt the very document that defined a country that purportedly caused injustice and slavery? Also, today, why are there long lines everyday outside the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines of people applying for visas to travel to the U.S., not to just visit, but to stay for good?

    I have a friend from India who is about to finish his Ph.D. here. He’s lived in many other places around the world but he’s hoping to get permanent resident status so that he can make the U.S. his home. He told me that Indians are grateful that they got colonized at one time by the British because the British gave them the same things the early colonizers of the Philippines gave the Filipinos. We compared notes and we both were grateful.

    Please understand, I’m not here to debate. I hope you sense my heart. I’m aware of the atrocities committed by all involved. But that’s more a product of sinful human beings than it is about a colonizing agenda — if there is such a thing. I just want to say respectfully, having a different perspective of Western Civilization, that in the messiness of human activities, the Gospel has reached and continues to reach “the ends of the earth.”

  2. Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    Completely sense your heart Harry, and am grateful for your post. Look forward to sharing more in person!

  3. Andrea Lathrop says:

    I appreciate your questions at the end of your post, Jacob. I hold similar ones and find myself thinking of them often – especially the ones about civility in our discourse these days. It seems that the anonymity that the internet provides and our social media platforms have worked to deteriorate civility and respect. Because the majority of communication is non-verbal, writing and posting is a challenge. We miss a great deal when we only use printed words to communicate.
    And yet there are great gains and advances because of the internet and social media. We should not throw the baby out with the bath water. But how do we raise the level of respect with each other through internet communication? How do we seek to understand before being understood in 40 characters or less?

  4. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Jacob, having read your post and Harry’s comments I was reminded that once again we must have a both/and approach. I believe your questions are important and that America must be honest about the atrocities we have committed along the way. Yes, our basic tenants are good and we have brought much good to the world AND we have done awful things in breaking treaties and creating systems that oppress people. Both have happened in this empire. Harry’s perspective is good for us to hear so we do not discount the good in the Western world. My hope is that we embrace both, right the wrongs and continue doing good, experiencing progress in values and integrity as well as science, medicine, etc.

  5. Mary Mims says:

    Jacob, I agree that we should use the story of Hong Kong as a case study, and learn from those that went before, to improve the lives of those that are yet to come. I think part of the problem is many do not feel colonialism was bad. Although things may be better now, (depending on what perspective you are looking from), it doesn’t mean that huge mistakes were not made. Confessing the sins of the past helps us to get past them and truly have peace. I recently did my ancestry and was surprised to see how many nations are in my background. I think if we realize how much we are alike, we would learn to treat each other better. We have a long way to go, and hopefully, a global perspective will help us to be more civil towards one another.

  6. Karen Rouggly says:

    I really appreciated your post, Jacob. I thought it was well-developed and quite engaging. I also found the comments to be very insightful. While asynchronous conversation isn’t my preferred way to get to know people, I have actually really appreciated the dialogue that’s come about on this post.

    Thanks for your perspective Jacob (and others!)

  7. Sean Dean says:

    Jacob, thanks for your post. I struggle with the Pax Americana concept largely because it’s actual pax enim Americana (peace for America) as well. My struggle extends itself in a different way having grown up in a military home where it’s difficult to question the motives of the US military. I’d like to think that we’ve learned from past empires, but the treatment of ethnic minorities in Iraq is probably an indication that we haven’t learned much.

    I understand Harry’s points, but I wonder how much of that stuff is a symptom of Stockholm Syndrome and less about actual agreement with the Colonizer. I also wonder if you asked the ethnic minorities of those places what they thought of the empires that colonized them if they would hold such high opinions. The Philippines, in spite of having written a constitution very similar the the U.S. has had multiple ruthless and corrupt leaders, including their current one, that have not lived up to the ideals of that document. You could argue that they’re living into the colonizing mindset of their former colonizers more than the document which they wrote – much like what John describes in his post.

    I look forward to continuing this conversation, because I think it’s interesting and important.

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