Friday, November 20, 2015

Kingdom Patriot


I have to preface what I'm about to say with a clear declaration of my love for the United States. I'm partial to my homeland above others I have visited. Our country has numerous unique and admirable qualities, and, despite our failings, we’ve had many shining moments. The blood, sweat, and tears of those who have contributed and are currently contributing to the Great Experiment should be rightfully noted and celebrated. This being said, however, I find the fanatical brand of patriotism often expressed by the conservative Christian Right to be incongruent with the unambiguous and all-encompassing call to follow Jesus. He insists that our allegiance to him should supersede all other bonds, including our allegiance to our families and our own lives. As Christ-followers, we should love the people we dwell among (whether it’s in the United States, Afghanistan, North Korea, etc.), we should be a blessing to all around us, we should fulfill our civic duties, and we should respect and obey our political leaders (unless doing so would expressly violate our King’s command). Our true commitment to our King and his kingdom will make us the best of citizens wherever we live. However, the unquestioned hyper-nationalism that has become par for the course among American Christians is something different entirely. It seems to be laced with presumption. “God is for us,” we say.He fights on our side.” “We are the greatest nation in the world, founded by God, and under his special protection.” God help anyone who suggests otherwise. The Constitution, flag, and founders—noble as they may be—are inappropriately defended with religious fervor. This brand of patriotic dogma has long found an unchallenged home in the American Church. It creates an “us” and “them” mentality with the rest of the world that is unbecoming of a follower of Christ. As kingdom citizens, our familial bond with Syrian Christians, for example, should be greater than our bond to nation. Additionally, our obligations as kingdom ambassadors to be hospitable to foreigners of any faith should supersede our political allegiances, or even our natural desires for self-preservation.
Let's look for a moment beyond the rose-colored glasses through which we often see ourselves.
Something like six million Jews were murdered by Nazi Germany (an estimated 11 million people in total). The hearts of German citizens were predominantly calloused to the gruesome fates of their neighbors. As a result, Nazi Germany has maintained its place as the go-to example of a modern society blinded by and given over to evil. And yet the American people have staggeringly murdered more than 50 million of our own innocent, pre-born citizens (largely without pity or remorse, no less). It begs the question, how much innocent blood do we have to have on our hands before we become the “bad guys?” We are a religious people who worship God with our lips, but our hearts are far from him. We deal treacherously with each other in our pursuit of self. Our rampant consumerism has led to the complete commodification and exploitation of girls and women (in the process, our boys and men are also dehumanized). Our appetites for things and pleasure have made slaves of ourselves and others. “We need to tend to our own house,” we say, when met by a needy foreigner at our door. “Not enough to go around,” as we gorge ourselves on unprecedented excess. We bluster and thrash about over a redefinition of marriage while simultaneously mocking the same sacred institution with our own infidelity and ever-rising divorce rate. We stand before God and say “til death,” but we are not a people who keep our word. We are not to be trusted.
God bless America!,” we say. Why should he?

Let’s not forget that the people of ancient Israel still worshiped YHWH right up until the day they were led away into exile.
The problem was they ignored his heart for the poor and the outcast, they worshiped their wealth, they worshiped their pleasure, they worshiped demons and sacrificed their children, they worshiped themselves, and they pursued death and darkness while simultaneously carrying the holy name of God on their lips. “YHWH will save us,” they arrogantly said as the Babylonians surrounded them. A long-suffering and merciful God finally allowed them to be overrun by more wicked nations than they. It turns out a lukewarm nation of predominantly professed believers does greater violence to his holy name than a comparatively more evil society that doesn't pretend to represent him.
God of justice, have mercy on us.
My intent is not to disparage the United States, Christian Right, or even patriotism. My aim is to encourage the people of God to seek his kingdom first and to obey him with undivided loyalty—to understand the hierarchy of our true citizenship and its accompanying privileges and responsibilities. I also want to alert the American Church to the nationalistic syncretism that has taken root in our midst and thrived for as long as we've been a people. It is a dangerous syncretism that makes a virtue out of holding the traditions of men in higher honor than the commands of Christ. God forbid we presumptuously present him as our tribal deity when he has always had global intentions. May our love for our nation and all nations flow from our greater love for our King and his kingdom. May we see ourselves as ambassadors, even refugees, eagerly awaiting our “better country” (Hebrews 11:16). May we always and ever be true kingdom patriots.