Got 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.
I 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.
It’s June, and the two presidential candidates from the major U.S. political parties have been chosen. Donald Trump. Hilary Clinton.
I want you to prayerfully consider a response to these choices based on the following passage of Scripture:
“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” “Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”” (2 Corinthians 6:14–18)
Some people speak of “hold your nose and vote.” I say don’t do it. Don’t give your support to either of these candidates.
- But if I don’t ___ will win, and we can’t have that.
There is no “vote against” option in the presidential election. You are casting your vote for someone. When the final votes are tallied, your vote will count as an endorsement for the person you voted for, not a condemnation of the person you voted against. Your vote will provide an argument for their policies, a base for their mandate, an encouragement to continue doing what they are doing.
I personally vote in no national elections. The reasons are too complex for a sub-point in this post, but I explain some in the post “Voting.”
Many of you haven’t made that choice and are fearful that if you don’t vote in the presidential election, the voices of “the good” won’t be heard, only those of the ungodly. If that fear weighs on you, vote in the congressional election and all others. Influence those races through voting, and influence the presidential race by not voting.
- But ___ is so much better than ___.
No they’re not. Neither is basing their campaign on Christian values. Neither is exhibiting Christian values in their life. Neither is promoting policies that will strengthen the Kingdom… except in that the Kingdom is strengthened when it stands out in stark contrast with the surrounding culture.
- If Christians don’t vote, we won’t have a voice in the process.
You think not? What if every Christian in this country abstained from this election? You don’t think the major parties would begin to see what they could change to reconnect with the Christian vote?
- It’s our Christian duty to vote.
No it’s not. We are called on to be good aliens in this foreign land where we live. We are to obey the laws. We are to pay taxes. If voting were obligatory, you might could make a case from a sense of Christian duty. But even where it’s obligatory, most countries allow a “blank vote” to be cast.
I’m not one of those who says you can’t be a Christian and vote for Donald or vote for Hilary. You can make a lot of bad choices in life and still be a Christian. I’d just like you to prayerfully consider an action that goes against the American way but seems very much in line with the Kingdom way.
I have to admit, this is one time I’m a bit concerned about the outcome of an election.
And it’s not because of who might win or who might lose.
I’m concerned about the lasting impact this election could have on the church; specifically, on individual Christians.
- I’m afraid the fear will last. Many Christians are acting on fear when they think about voting. Fear that the wrong candidate will win. Fear of economic problems. Fear of foreigners. Fear of cultural change.
- I’m afraid Christians will believe that power and influence are the way to change our world, rather than following the lead of the Lamb.
- I’m afraid Christians will put their hope in the winner. Too many feel that politicians can fix what’s wrong with this country. Too many think that participating in politics or not participating in politics will determine the moral course of this nation.
- I’m afraid Christians will believe the talk of American exceptionalism, identifying more with a country of this world than with the Kingdom of heaven.
- I’m afraid Christians will identify more with those in power than the marginalized. I’m afraid we’ll forget that we are immigrants and foreigners, not full-fledged citizens.
- I’m afraid the violence and hatred, fighting and division will bleed over into the church.
Christians need to be sure that the Kingdom shapes their politics and not vice versa. No matter who gets elected in November. I don’t care who wins. I just don’t want Christians to lose their identity.
When I was young, I was an avid voter. I was raised with the notion that being a good citizen was part of being a Christian. (don’t know that I was told that, but that was the message I heard)
At school, we were instructed in the political process and our role in that process. Through my high school government teacher, I even got to participate in the county political convention for one of the parties when I was a senior in high school.
During the years I was in Argentina, I didn’t vote. It wasn’t impossible, but it certainly wasn’t simple, especially because I lived a long way away from the U.S. embassy. (9-10 hours by bus, which is how I would have travelled)
When I returned to the United States, I began to be confronted with different views on Christians and politics. I came to realize that there wasn’t unanimity on the question throughout Christendom or even within churches of Christ. The more I studied the less comfortable I became with participating in the political process.
In recent years, I’ve come to feel that Christians shouldn’t align themselves with any one nation here on this earth. We are strangers and aliens, ambassadors from another kingdom. Just as I lived as an alien in Argentina, I believe that I should live as an alien in Texas.
At the same time, I believe that we have a responsibility to be informed about the issues of the day and willing to speak out on them; not to support any one candidate or party, but to support certain principles and ideals. I also believe that we should be working actively for the good of the city where we find ourselves; because of that I have begun to vote in non-national political contests and on referendums that affect my local community.
That’s been my journey, in brief. I don’t know that I’ve reached a final position on these questions. But that’s where I am today.