I’m a citizen. I’m a Christian. These things are weighty obligations. And being a Christian citizen is complicated at election time.
Whatever I say about the outcome, I stand a decent chance of offending about half the population. And my blog is not a political forum, but a place to mine Christian history and theology for wisdom.
So I don’t tend to chime in directly on current issues — though if you put your mind to current issues, what you find here about history and theology will apply. I just tend to leave it to you.
But I had to explain the outcome to my kids this morning. When I think it through, for myself or for them, I always have Christian history and theology in mind. So today, I’ll share some thoughts here too.
And if you disagree with my political views, that’s fine — you won’t find me talking about them very often or very directly.
On the other hand, many of my readers are from outside the USA, and the world is wondering what is up over here right now. So as I try make sense of what my country is doing I’ll share the elements of the stew.
My mind goes searching for parallels.
- Many a country has been led by voices of religious or ethnic fear and hatred.
- Many a country has chosen leaders who claimed they alone could solve big problems if only they were given a freer hand with more authority.
So I fear for my country, even with its constitutional protections of religion, assembly, and the press.
Being a Christian citizen — when leaders aren’t role models
My dilemma this morning was how to tell my children that there is a difference between being an official leader and being a role model.
- I never, ever want them to say that the people of a whole country should be rejected as rapists and criminals.
- I never, ever, want them to say that people of a whole religion should be even temporarily barred from the country.
- I never, ever, want my children to think it is acceptable to touch another person sexually without that person’s consent — and I would not let them be in the same room with someone who does think so.
Such things are not direct verbal denial of faith in Christ.
They are, however, obvious breaches of the great command to love our neighbor as our selves.
So I told my kids that being a Christian is challenging. We need to start with three basic points.
1. Pray for the Leaders
God calls us, always, to pray for our governmental leaders.
Here’s how Paul put it to Timothy:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. (1 Tim. 2:1-2, NRSV)
It happens in every Vespers and Matins service of the Orthodox churches:
Leader: For our country, the president, and all those in public service, let us pray to the Lord.
People: Lord, have mercy.
That’s brief, but it brings the issue of praying for leaders to mind every time you attend worship. And it fulfills the biblical obligation more consistently than I’ve ever seen in my own Presbyterian congregations.
Being a Christian is genuinely challenging in the kind of love it calls us to.
It starts with praying for leaders we may or may not agree with. We need God to guide them wisely for the sake of all. And we need them to receive God’s transforming grace for their own sake.
But the call to Christian love moves well beyond that. We are to pray for, even bless, even love those who we find to be our enemies.
2. Remember that your citizenship is in heaven
That’s where the second thing to keep in mind is particularly useful. Especially if ever the government tries to lead us to do what Jesus forbids, we need to realize that we are all dual citizens.
- I am an American citizen.
- I am a citizen of the Kingdom of God.
- These are not the same thing.
Paul made the point directly when he wrote to the church in Philippi:
But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3:20 NRSV)
If the two citizenships ever conflict, my allegiance to the Kingdom of God trumps all.
Jesus spent his days proclaiming that the Kingdom of Heaven had come near, carefully explaining and showing what life in that kingdom was about.
Jesus is my King, and a worthy role model for every step of life.
3. Follow Jesus
It does take discernment. I can’t muddle the concepts. If I assume that American citizenship is basically the same as being a Christian, then I’ve failed to notice the reality:
I am a dual citizen, and I follow Jesus, my king.
The first sermon I ever heard by Mark Labberton was back in the 1980s. He is now the president of Fuller Seminary, but he preached this one before he was even ordained.
It stuck with me. He called it “Follow me, and follow me.”
He pointed out that when Jesus first called Peter the order was simple:
Follow me (Mark 1:17, NRSV)
Leave your previous priorities, even your vocation if need be, and follow.
And he pointed out that after Jesus rose from the dead, when he met Peter on the beach, shortly after Peter had denied Jesus three times, the call was the same:
Follow me. (John 21:19, 22 NRSV)
That is what Christians need to do in America and in any earthly country. We need to follow Jesus in the way that loves neighbors, no matter what the culture around us tells us to do.
If we don’t keep that distinction, and keep going the Jesus way, the historical precedents are ominous.