I planned to post this yesterday, but both work and family intervened, leaving me with insufficient time to complete the task. Work involved family as I helped my brother with a computer problem at his office. Family was in the form of listening to my stepson play baseball via the internet, as the Pensacola Pelicans lost to the Grand Prairie Air Hogs. While it isn’t fun to listen to your team lose, I wouldn’t miss it! Now that it’s Saturday, however, I’m going to finish the post.
As an advocate of separation of church and state, I’m often mistaken for an advocate of separation of faith, ethics, and politics in one’s own life. This misunderstanding is encouraged by the effort I put into learning to express goals in a secular or interfaith context. But this separation does not exist in my own mind.
As a Christian, everything centers around the incarnation, and my acceptance of that belief. I put my faith in Jesus as the anointed one of God, and if God invaded human space in the form of one Jewish man in 1st century Palestine, then that has to be the central fact of my life.
Now before someone determines from this that I mean that anyone who doesn’t have the same faith I do is less ethical, less trustworthy, or even is evil let me say clearly that I mean no such thing. I mean that my view of life centers around that one point of trust. I acknowledge that I live in a secular world when I express my political goals in secular language. I acknowledge that this is my own commitment and choice by saying that it is best that faith and spiritual commitment not become a matter for the use of force. Thus starting from my roots as a committed Christian I conclude that for the sake of both church and state the church and state should stay apart. But that’s for other posts . . .
As a committed Christian, I live in a world shaped by metaphors, and in the literary sense myth. One of these metaphors is that of the alien and stranger in the land. This shaping story goes all the way back to Abraham. Israel was formed first as strangers and aliens, and only afterward as residents of the land. (This is one aspect that should be part of any struggle we have with the genocide recorded in Joshua.)
In the book of Hebrews (11:13) this metaphor is presented to Christians, who have taken it up and embraced it as their own. When we pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done” we are talking about another country, a kingdom not of this world, that will transcend our concepts of “nation” and “kingdom” so much that we probably cannot imagine it.
So while I am a citizen of the United States in an earthly and a secular sense, my primary citizenship, as a Christian, is in the kingdom of God. If my prayers frighten you–and they should not if you don’t make the same faith commitment I do–then you should be afraid. I sincerely pray for a new kingdom. If you realize, however, that I serve the one who said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight” (John 18:36), you would also realize that I will never use the tools of force to advance God’s kingdom. In fact, I believe it is antithetical to that kingdom for me to force you or even manipulate you into proclaiming your acceptance.
I’m a resident alien, serving and praying for another kingdom, an outside sovereignty.
One of the great concerns I have with American Christianity is that we have forgotten this fact. Our nation, in fact every nation on earth is contingent and temporary, always assuming we really believe the core elements of our theology. We serve a greater sovereign. When his commands come into conflict with the commands of our secular rulers, we have the example of the apostles in obeying God rather than men, though we also have ample advice to make sure it is God we’re obeying rather than our own desires (Romans 13). In fact, their temporary nature is part of the reason one should obey them in all ways possible.
Second, and derived from the fact that I’m an alien, I’m also the agent of a foreign power. I am a representative of my sovereign Jesus Christ in the world. I serve him. I report to him. I give him my allegiance. He says to keep on living here until he comes, and I do that.
I think we should frequently pray and meditate on the Lord’s prayer. When we pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” do we, as Christians, actually mean it? Is our primary concern that God’s will be done on earth? I ask, because it seems that in politics we have tended to equate our own nation’s desires with God’s will, and have often failed to live as resident aliens who are agents of another power. But I think that the Lord’s prayer clearly says that.
The interesting thing is that my foreign Sovereign doesn’t tell me to subvert my earthly country, but rather to be a voice there for what is good and right. Sometimes that will place me in a position to challenge actions. That’s why I take a firm stand against torture, why I believe that the unnecessary and counterproductive killing in Iraq ought to stop. It’s why I think my country should live up to its proclaimed ideals and follow its own constitution. Integrity demands it if nothing else. Integrity is a feature of my Sovereign’s kingdom.
And that leads me finally to patriot. I am a patriot. Many interpret the first two points as a mandate to work to overthrow and subvert the government. And I do, in fact, believe that there are circumstances in which such a things would be appropriate. If you have a government that is oppressive, that refuses, for example, to allow you to live for your other Sovereign, then there may be a time when one must resist that sovereign.
But when one has the ability to argue and act for one’s beliefs in the public square, when elections are generally open to anyone, when ideas can be exchanged freely, one has a legal way to advocate for the right.
I love America as my home. I served it as a member of the United States Air Force. I continue to serve it loyally. I also criticize some of its actions. I am appalled that Americans, even many Christian Americans can sanction the use of torture or even long term confinement without a proper trial. I feel that it would be disloyal to my country if I failed to protest those actions.
There’s a certain contradiction in 4th of July celebrations. There are people who call themselves American patriots who object to any protest of their own country’s actions, who call those who oppose war, torture, or other oppression disloyal, and yet they are celebrating the time when America’s founders acted violently against their legal sovereign, George III, ostensibly over a matter of taxes.
Now the point went deeper than that. It went right down to the foundation, to the notion that one person could not be devalued over another, or one group of people (Englishmen on this side of the Atlantic) cannot be treated as inherently less than another (Englishmen on that side). Even with that foundation, this nation still continued to treat some people–slaves, for example–not merely as less than, but actually as nothing, not people at all. It took more patriots protesting laws and policies that were wrong to change that fact.
I can’t help but believe that many of today’s American patriots, had they lived at the time of the American revolution would have been Loyalists and might have moved to Canada (not a bad place to live!).
For me, the best loyalty that I will give my earthly nation is that I remain totally loyal to my Sovereign whose kingdom is not of this world. And I think that loyalty is the best kind of loyalty of all. May God help me live up to that goal.