23 03 2017

Growing up, in addition to plugging in our outdoor Christmas lights and Frosty the Snowman each evening during the month of December, one of my other ‘jobs’ was making sure that the American flag was put out on our front lamppost on Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.  When no one was looking, before setting the pole in its holder where it would fly in the breezes blowing off the nearby Niagara River, I would parade it from the garage and down the driveway like I was marching in a parade.  Just as our holiday lights were a display of our Christian faith, flying the American flag was a display of my family’s love for our country.  My immigrant grandfather came to the United States from Italy, as did several of my great-grand parents, and so at an early age my siblings and I learned about the immense opportunities that had been given to so many of our relatives.  Living in America was understood to be a great blessing; and  patriotism, while never flaunted, was a value instilled at an early age.

I have fond memories of family vacations to our nation’s capital: one in 1976, when bi-centennial celebrations were taking place across the nation; and others that also included stops in Gettysburg and Williamsburg.  Again and again I fell in love with Washington, and so it was no surprise to anyone that I decided to attend The American University in Northwest DC when I graduated from high school.  The university colors were, naturally, red, white and blue; and I was often seen proudly wearing a football jersey that simply said “American” across the chest.  I didn’t matter to me whether people thought I was proudly proclaiming the name of the university I attended, or my nationality: I was proud of both!

I always vote.  I love singing “America the Beautiful.”  And the American flag can be frequently seen flying from the deck of my home.  I have officiated at several funerals at Arlington Cemetery and am always moved by the sacrifices that so many women and men have made for this nation I call home. And my wife and regularly walk the Tidal Basin, the National Mall, and around the Capitol; never failing to give thanks for privilege of living where we do.

All of this is to say that my citizenship is not something that I take for granted.  Our nation is far from perfect, but there is no place on the face of the earth that I’d rather call home. And that is reflected in the way I seek to live my life each and every day.  So it’s very hard for me to imagine having citizenship in any other . . . kin’dom.

But I do!

In fact, I don’t hesitate for a moment to say that I have citizenship in an even better kin’dom than America; and it demands an allegiance that is even greater than my allegiance to the country of my birth!

As a follower of Jesus, while a citizen  of the United States, I am also a citizen of the kin’dom of God!  And that citizenship demands my primary allegiance.  It is a citizenship that calls me toward obedience to the laws of God, revealed in the way of Jesus, and nothing can ever take precedence over that obedience.  Every position I take, every decision I make, every vote I cast, must be made out of an obedience to the ways of Christ. I simply do not have the option to put what it best for America ahead of what it best for the kin’dom of God; and no choice can ever be made to put my allegiance to America ahead of my allegiance to the Body of Christ and the great human family of which I am a part.

When Paul writes in Romans that all governing and ruling authorities are OF God, he is not saying that God has set up the nations or kingdom of the world; and in light of the evil nature of so many dictatorships that exist, he is certainly not implying that such systems are God-ordained.  In fact, any thorough and reasonable study of the Hebrew Scriptures make it clear that kings and kingdoms were never God’s desire for God’s people.  Rather, such practices were born in the Hebrew desire to be like all the other nations around them. If anything, the message of Scripture is that we are all part of one, extended human family, and in Christ worldly distinctions and national boundaries are completely irrelevant.

Further, when Jesus said to render into Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s, his point was not that some things in life are owed to the government, and other things are owed to God.  Not at all.  As one commentary puts it, Jesus is warning us against giving to Caesar that which is God’s!

And what IS God’s?  Everything . . . including our allegiance!

One of my greatest fears these days is that we have forgotten this.  We seem to have bought into a notion that the separation between church and state is only relevant when it is convenient to an individual’s brand of partisan politics.  But in reality, while there must always be a very clear and distinct line between religion and politics, there is no way for us to separate our faith from our politics; for religion and faith are two very different things.

My religion, the outward expression of of my faith — worshipping on Sunday, regularly reading the Bible, and praying and meditating on a daily basis — these practices have little, if anything, to do with my politics.  Nor should they!  That is what the establishment clause in our Constitution, as well as Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists, are all about.  Religion is not faith, and it is not the job of the state to set up laws based upon the the religious beliefs of one group of people over and above another.

However my faith — loving others, caring for widows and orphans, and breaking the bonds of injustice — such activities MUST be at the heart of my politics, for they are at the heart of my citizenship in the kin’dom of God.  And when they are not, I cannot escape the judgement of the Biblical prophets who condemn such negligence over and over again.   In fact, putting anything else ahead of such activities, particularly activities that reveal a greater allegiance any of the world’s kingdoms rather than to God’s kin’dom, is nothing less than a denial of my faith!

My passport indicates that I am a citizen of the United States of America.  And, most of the time, I am proud to carry that passport around the world.  I say MOST of the time, because there are many times when I am NOT proud of my nation’s behavior – times when we seem to be more concerned with what is best for us, at the expense of everyone else. Sometimes we seem to behave as if our citizens — American citizens — are the only people who matter.  We want trade deals that benefit us, even if they come at the expense of others.  We want our boarders to be secure, regardless of the fact that doing so may mean that other children of God are left in places of poverty, hopelessness, and great danger. We value life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but only for we who are white and Christian; and far too often we don’t appear to be the least bit interested in bringing these fruits of God’s justice to the rest of the world.

I can’t speak for all Americans, and certainly not for all Asians, Africans, or South Americans.  But for we who claim to be followers of Jesus, our primary citizenship is NOT in the country of our birth, nor the country that we now call home.  Our primary citizenship is in the kin’dom of God.  And nothing can ever take precedence over that citizenship.  Acknowledging our membership in one world-wide human family is not being politically correct, but rather is simply embracing a globalization that is a direct movement of God’s Spirit.

Today, perhaps more than at any other point in my lifetime, this needs to be remembered. “American First” may be the battle cry of our politicians and the mantra of our business leaders; but for citizens of God’s kin’dom, our call is to seek first God’s kin’dom.  And nothing can ever come before that!