Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Thoughts on Citizenship


Well, I just spent the morning with my family at our city convention center with about 4,000 other people watching my husband being sworn is as a US citizen. Now, not all four thousand people were there for my husband, but they should have been because he's just that great. There were about 1,900 other people who took the oath of citizenship along with my man. We cheered, flags were waved, songs were sung, speeches were spoken, and then oaths were sworn with right hands lifted high. And it all just has me thinking. Uh-oh. That's usually a problem.

Now don't get me wrong; I am ecstatic that his citizenship went through. We will now be able to travel as a family under the same passports, enter the same lines without questions and go through the same embassies for visas. That makes me so happy. I guess I am just wondering about where our citizenship belongs in the first place.

As I listened to the many men and women this morning recite the pledge of allegiance, I thought of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who would not bow down to pay homage to an idol made by human hands (Daniel 3). I just wonder if they would have pledged their allegiance to a flag created by human hands, representing an empire created by the human imagination. Now granted, said empire had good goals at one point in time, and on many levels still does, but still remains to be an empire. And where Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down the idol that represented the empire of King Nebuchadnezzar, but chose rather to be thrown into the fiery furnace over compromising their allegiance, I just wonder if sometimes we have missed the mark a bit with all our national pride and claiming God's blessings on this particular empire.

Now before you label me a traitor and put together a lynch mob, hear me out. I'm just thinking out loud here what it means to live out loud the words that we read on a daily basis. Because somehow, I feel in my heart of hearts, that we are far from the picture of the early Church, and still missing the mark of what Jesus laid out for us. Here's what I mean: Throughout Scripture we are told over and over again that our citizenship is not here on earth, not belonging to any one nation but that we are a people unto Himself, called to be set apart and live differently than the rest of the world. For instance:
You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.
Leviticus 20:26

To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the Lord set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today.
Deuteronomy 10:14-15

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Galatians 3:28-29

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
Philippians 3:20

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
1 Peter 2:9
I could fill this post with the Scripture that I found regarding citizenship and being a nation of people, holy priests, set apart for God. What does that mean for us? Does it mean that we retreat to live communal lives centered around fulfilling this picture? I haven't completely ruled that out yet, but from what I see of the early Church, they were still in the mix of the empire in which they were living. They were set apart, among the empire of the world. Even harder.

No where in Scripture do I see that Jesus taught His followers to fight back in retaliation for wrong done. No where did He teach them to assemble an army and stand their ground with weapons and force. Jesus Himself certainly didn't fight back, when He had all reason, all authority, and all power to do so. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, God fought for the people, protecting them, swallowing up armies and chariots. God instructed them that vengeance belongs only to God, which is a good way of saying, “Vengeance is not for you.” It is the forbidden fruit. God scolded the people over and over for taking things into their own hands. Jesus carried that through by teaching a message that was so subversive to the Roman empire, whose policy was to demand allegiance or give death.

Jesus taught His followers during those times of the violent Roman empire to turn the other cheek if they were slapped. He did not teach them to fight back, or defend, or stand up for themselves, or that freedom is not free. He said turn the other cheek. You see, in turning the other cheek, you lift your chin back up, and look the offender in the eye. By turning the cheek, the person says, "I am a human being, made in the image of God, and you cannot destroy that." Do not cower and do not punch back. Make sure the person looks into yours eyes and sees your sacred humanity, and it will become increasingly harder for that person to hurt you ("Jesus for President" p. 92).

That's a hard thing to think about, especially in this day and age that is full of terrorism and such hatred among the nations. Jesus is also the one who told us that we should not resist an evil person. How do you live that out? He told us that if we are dragged to court and our shirt is demanded of us, to give our coat as well. And if we are called upon to walk a mile with a Roman soldier, or Muslim sheik, to walk two instead. Offer yourself for the second mile. Be inconvenienced. Get to know him and demonstrate absolute radical unconditional love. These make no sense in our day and age, and application of the Word seems so completely distant.

I wonder if we, as a body of Christ followers, have aligned ourselves more with our "blessed" nation than we have with the Church of God. The Church of God is a transnational body, united by the blood of Christ. Rather than placing our hope in a transnational church that embodies God’s kingdom, we assume America is God’s hope for the world, even when it doesn’t look like Christ. I just wonder about pledging allegiance to an empire. Jesus told us that we cannot serve two masters, which translates to me that we cannot pledge our undivided allegiance to two kingdoms.

Someone sent me an email a few days ago with a picture of Barack Obama on a stage with a few other politicians. There was an American flag behind them, and all but Obama had their hand over their heart pledging allegiance to said flag. This email was bashing his patriotism, or seemingly lack thereof. I really thought that I had been vocal enough about these slanderous emails and such so that folks would stop sending them to me, but evidently there are some who have not read previous blog posts. Anyhow, it made me wonder. There is a large Christian majority that slammed his lack of patriotism, but maybe we need to check our own patriotism. Is it right for us, as followers of Jesus Christ, to place our hands over our hearts and pledge our undivided allegiance to a flag of human creation, representing an empire of human imagination? I think of the bravery and courage and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego taking their strong, silent stand, holding firm in their allegiance to the one true God. They so honored God with their firm stand that Jesus met them in the fire to stand with them.

I want to be like them when I grow up.

Grace and peace y'all. Journey on.


  1. Wow! I told you that was a dangerous book.

  2. You really gave me a lot to think about in this post. I hadn't thought of it that way before. We cling to the old testament 'eye for an eye' philosophy, forgetting that Jesus was radical for his time in preaching that we should not retaliate. It doesn't matter if others view us as weak, we still shouldn't strike back.

    Definitely a lot to think about, Shauna. Thank you.

  3. Shauna, do you read Shane Claiborne? I have a hunch we're reading some of the same books and thinking the same thoughts. ;)

    I horrify my family by refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance because I don't believe a Christian's allegiance should be to any temporal kingdom or empire but to the Prince of Peace alone.

  4. I'm glad to know that there are others out there who are struggling through the things as well. They are difficult concepts, but written in God's Word, so worthy of our struggle with them. Shans99, I indeed have been reading Shane Claiborn. Very challenging and very subversive!

  5. You've given me something to think about. Thank you.
    And I love your blog!

  6. I wouldn't have called your mother an "others," but I know that your heart is heavy at times. We love you and our granddaughters. Grace and peace to you daughter. All my love,
    Your mother


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