Fourth of July is my wife’s favorite national holiday. She loves the fireworks, the parades, and the abundance of American flags. She became a naturalized citizen back in 2009, having immigrated from South Africa after we were married. She is proud of her American citizenship and grateful for it. However, she was born in Africa and loves her homeland of Namibia. She is also a citizen of South Africa where her parents immigrated when she was a teenager, and where her entire family lives today. Thus, she decided to retain that citizenship when she was granted her American citizenship. I was born and raised in the US, so I don’t have the experience of dual citizenship, but I do know from my wife’s experience that while she loves America, her heart still bends towards a country 9000 miles away, the place of her birth.
This is the time of year that we think a lot about being an American citizen and what that means, particularly this year, as our nation wrestles with our history of discrimination against citizens of color and those with heritages other than European. At the height of the protests against the Viet Nam War in the early 1970’s, the phrase “America, love it or leave it” became a rallying cry against the protesters. That sentiment still resonates among many today. We don’t appreciate people criticizing our country. Like perhaps with a parent or a spouse, we know they are not perfect, but we don’t appreciate others pointing that out! We love them and are devoted to them, so we will quickly defend them when we perceive a threat present. Thus, with the massive protests across our country during the past month, there has been plenty of pushback. And, as I wrote earlier this week, these protests have become a source of division among many Christians. Many are supportive and believe the time has come for America to reckon with its racist past, while others believe those behind the protests disrespect America and don’t appreciate what they have.
Citizenship of a country is important, but for those of us who follow Jesus, it is not the most important. Like my wife, it is good to appreciate our US citizenship, but our hearts should bend toward the country of our re-birth—heaven. And as Paul states, we believers are fellow citizens of that realm, and from there will Jesus our Lord return.
Unfortunately, since the end of World War II and the increasing rise of secularism in this country, much of the American church has embraced patriotism as a means to defend against the forces seeking to remove God from American public life. Patriotism, then, is viewed as recognizing the Judeo-Christian roots of our country’s founding and supporting laws and lawmakers which reflect this view, such as prayer in schools. American flags are present in church buildings, and patriotic themes are part of worship services around such holidays as 4th of July and Veterans’ Day.
I say unfortunately because as our nation has become increasingly polarized politically, it appears the citizenship on which we place the highest value is on the one of our natural birth rather than on the one of our re-birth. Whether conservative or progressive, it seems many of us expend more energy on defining the parameters of what makes a good American citizen rather than focusing on what it looks like to be fellow citizens of the Kingdom of God. Paul writes: “Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.” (II Timothy 2:3-4) The context of this is Paul telling Timothy about several who have deserted him and one who has remained faithful. He is encouraging Timothy to do the same and not to get distracted by less important matters, but rather focus on what is the most important:
“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.” (II Timothy 2:8-10)
The question we need to ask ourselves is this: Am I an American Christian or am I a Christian who happens to be a citizen of this nation? A Christian who lives in America, or in any other country, counts as his/her primary citizenship belonging to the Kingdom of God to which allegiance is absolute. This doesn’t mean we can’t love our homeland, but it can’t be our first love. That, of course, belongs to Jesus, the Lord of all. As such, rather than getting distracted by worldly matters, our focus should be on being a good heavenly citizen and serving our King faithfully.
This weekend, my wife and I will be thankful for our American citizenship, but our hearts will be bent toward our true homeland, to which we give our full allegiance.
© Jim Musser 2020 All Scripture references are from the New International Version, 2011.