Category Archives: Citizenship

Who are “my people”?

I wanted to share one more thought on nationalism and faith, then I’ll leave the topic for now. I’ve written a lot about citizenship, because I believe when we understand where our true citizenship lies, we will have a different outlook on the world and the people around us.

People often bring up the apostle Paul and his citizenship. “Look!,” they say, “Paul freely claimed to be a Roman citizen.”

That’s true. As I mentioned, I see that as a bureaucratic reality. Paul used Roman citizenship in situations where that legal status was to his benefit. Yet did he identify as a Roman?

When Paul writes, “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race,” (Romans 9:3) is he talking about the Romans? Other citizens of the empire that he was a citizen of. Nope. Let’s finish the sentence: “the people of Israel.” (Romans 9:4)

Excuse me, Paul. You weren’t born within the territory that belonged to Israel. You are a citizen of Rome. You are writing to people in Rome. Let them know clearly who your people are.

“I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them.” (Romans 11:13–14)

Paul makes a sharp contrast between “you Gentiles” and “my own people.” He was a Roman citizen, but the Romans were not his people. The Jews were.

That said, Paul embraced Gentile Christians as sharing in the same citizenship that he held: “For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven.” (Philippians 3:18–20) Many of the Philippians were Roman citizens, but Paul doesn’t remind them about sharing that. The important citizenship Paul shared with these believers was their heavenly citizenship.

Paul never spoke of “my fellow Romans,” at least not in what is recorded in the New Testament. Roman citizenship was a technicality. His Jewish heritage defined his race and his people. A shared faith defined who his co-citizens were.

How about you?

Veterans and the church

Team Hill Airmen carry flag bundles during a flag-placing detail, Utah Veterans Memorial Cemetery, Bluffdale, Utah, Nov. 10, 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

Team Hill Airmen carry flag bundles during a flag-placing detail, Utah Veterans Memorial Cemetery, Bluffdale, Utah, Nov. 10, 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

Been watching Christians debate about the practice of honoring veterans. My thoughts have evolved over the years. Here are a few things as I currently see them:

SOME NEGATIVES

  • I have to start with the fact that I view myself as a citizen of heaven, almost exclusively. I hold U.S. citizenship, would like to add Argentine citizenship to that, and view both of those as a formality. My true citizenship is in heaven.
  • I believe that the church is a new community made up of people from every nation, tribe, and tongue. To celebrate any one of those exclusively undermines that fact. (The 80 or so people I worshiped with on Sunday came from the United States, from Japan, from Germany, from Argentina, from Mexico, from Peru, from Ecuador, from South Korea, and possibly other countries. What unites us is our standing within the kingdom of God.)
  • I don’t trust the nations of this world. I see the celebration of country and the military as part of an ongoing recruitment process, not just to participate in the military, but to support the self-interests of the nation in general.
  • I don’t trust politicians. While many speak of the how the military protects freedoms, I think politicians have used the military for many other tasks, including taking away the freedoms of others.
  • I feel that many people in society deserve as much praise as veterans do. Veterans get these honors because it fits national interests, not because they are more deserving than school teachers, doctors, first responders, etc.
  • It is possible to express patriotism without lapsing into idolatry; it’s also common for nationalism to become worship of country. In my mind, it’s better to keep such celebrations separate from Christian worship because of that. Outsiders won’t always recognize the difference between the two.

 

SOME POSITIVES

  • I respect the intentions of those who have chosen to work in the military. Many do so out of a sense of service and sacrifice. They truly want to help others. We should honor that.
  • The church should be supportive of our communities and respectful toward the institutions in those communities.
  • Many veterans need the support of the church as they deal with issues stemming from their military careers. (For example: “In 2014, Veterans accounted for 18% of all deaths from suicide among U.S. adults, while Veterans constituted 8.5% of the US population.” Veteran’s Administration) By showing them that we respect who they are and see value in their service, we open doors to ministering to these hurting people.

I’d prefer that our churches avoid celebrating patriotic days during our worship assemblies. But I’d also like to see us have times to honor service: service by military members and veterans, service by first responders, service by medical workers, service by educators, and other types of service.

Where do you stand on all of this?

My fellow countrymen

One of the major things that Jesus did was to redefine how humanity sees itself. When he came, people were largely seen on the basis of their nationality, their place of origin or that of their ancestors. This was doubly true for the Jews for their national identity coincided with their religious identity.

Jesus came and redefined all that:

“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:16–17)

“Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Colossians 3:11)

No one has a shortcut to God. There aren’t certain standards for becoming a Christian for Africans or for Buddhists or for French Canadians. We all come to God the same way:

“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26–28)

When Christians still see differences and talk of differences, we’re showing that we have far to go in becoming like Christ. When it comes to evangelism, we see all people the same. When it comes to fellowship, we recognize that a Christian in Iran or China is more our brother than is the non-Christian who lives next door to us.

My fellow countrymen are all those who are citizens of the Kingdom of God, no matter their race, color, or language.

Citizenship, ethnocentrism, and politics

Wooden ballot boxGot involved in another discussion about citizenship, this time centering around the Pledge of Allegiance. (I’ve written a number of articles about my views on saying the Pledge) That led me to think more about how citizenship and nationalism affect our politics.

At some level, citizenship is a given. Our modern world pretty much obliges us to be a citizen of some country. The spiritual truth is that we are citizens of heaven and foreigners in every nation of this world. Our difficult task is to reconcile the pragmatic realities with the spiritual ones.

Nationalism is feeling loyal and proud of your country. Ethnocentrism is the belief that your people are inherently better than all others. This may be tied to a race or a tribe or a nation. This belief leads us to judge all other countries in terms of our own. It often goes hand and hand with nationalism, though not necessarily so.

How do these things affect our politics? When making political decisions, people typically want what is best for their nation, even if this comes at the expense of other nations. If we as Christians recognize that our nation is the Kingdom of God, we will make one kind of decisions. If we view the United States as our nation, we will make different ones. That’s one reason that I think it’s vital we understand where we are from and where we are going (using the language of John 13:3).

As Christians, we seek the good of all people, not just those of the country we hold citizenship in. We pledge ourselves to actively work for the good of all nations, not just the United States. We place the good of all men above our personal good and above the good of the country we live in.

We should be fervently nationalistic about the Kingdom of God. We should give whole-hearted allegiance to that great nation. We should make it clear that our patriotism is for our true patria, not the place of our birth nor the land where we now live.

And our political decisions should reflect those realities.

Blessed to worship

crossI was fortunate this past Sunday to still be in Orlando at the Equip Conference and to be able to worship with the Spanish-speaking brethren there. Even though it was July 3, worship stayed focused on God and not on country.

I’ve argued that our Latino brothers have much to teach us about what it is to live as aliens in this world. Many non-Latinos understand it as well, but I think living in a culture that remains vibrant because of immigrants helps these brothers grasp what it is to be part of a colony of foreigners.

May we remember that we are foreigners. May we remember that we are ambassadors. Even around patriotic holidays.