Being Christian Before Being American
My ancestor, William Stacy, fought in the Revolutionary War. Legend holds he tore up his British commission papers in the town square & organized a militia. Grateful as I am for this incredible heritage alongside the pride it gives me, I cannot deny that American Christianity grows more patriotic when it should grow more prophetic.
Patriotism is not wrong or pointless, only that “a man cannot serve two masters.” (Matthew 6.24) If our love for America forces Jesus to serve a party, it’s not Jesus we worship and His truth is compromised. Love for Jesus leads us to see America through the lens of Jesus’ kingdom, judging rightly it’s freedoms and it’s failures. Captivity keeps us blind. We are captive if we cannot discern where our loyalty to America ends and our loyalty to Jesus begins. If we doubt this, consider that the lack of tension & clarity over this question in the past caused certain fragments of the American Church past to defend slavery and Jim Crow, perpetuating injustice towards our fellow neighbor through silence. You may say, “are you suggesting we should hate America?”
No, not at all. A political renunciation of citizenship is not my point. Jesus has something more permanent in mind. Jesus himself says “the kingdom of God is at hand, repent!” (Mark 1.15) What American Christianity needs is a season of Spiritual renunciation — a repentance that forsakes worshipping America above the Kingdom of Jesus. Prophets in the Biblical sense are known for their capacity to speak the truth — in the present and the future. Patriot and Prophet can coexist in the American Christian, but prophet must win out. Russell Moore puts it this way: “we are Americans best, when we are not Americans first.”
But here is the tension. Our patriotism is often expressed through our politics. For too long, American Christians have been split by either party over issues of human dignity that are all on Jesus’ Kingdom agenda. The tension for our patriotism is that Jesus prizes the life of a fetus just as He prizes the life of a black man. Jesus does not hold these as competing options, but American politics does. So what do we do?
We must forsake our comfort.
Is the American Church bold enough to preach & obey the gospel? Will we risk being misunderstood in not only our proclamation but also our demonstration of the kingdom of Jesus? If the answer is yes, we will confound both parties, not just because our vote can never be counted on, but more importantly because the operative Kingdom of Jesus is a threat to any who use their power for themselves and not for others. This is the subversive way of Jesus, love for God that is expressed in love for neighbor.
We must realize the work begins in the house of God.
American Christians must prophetically confront the very real idol of patriotism in our own hearts by allowing the Spirit to perform surgery through the Scriptures. We can’t do this on our own. Of course we should not neglect honor, or refuse to offer gratitude for blood spilt by American soldiers to afford us our political freedom. No, but it does mean that we must acknowledge that Jesus is not the champion of a party, doing the hard work of subjecting our political sympathies through the lens of Jesus’ kingdom. (Philippians 1.27)
With our American patriotism & gratitude in their rightful place, we can pledge our allegiance anew to King Jesus. As we do, we’ll reclaim the prophetic voice that announces the reign of Jesus, while actively prophetically participating in His reign in America. Along the way, administrations and parties will court us when our actions align with theirs, but will quickly turn when we prove through our living that our loyalty is not for sale. What America needs — indeed the world — is Kingdom prophets. As St. James held in tension, so should the prophetic American church: “you show your faith apart from your works, but I will show you my faith by my works.”