Saturday, April 2, 2011

Will You Pledge Allegiance With Me?

I attended a lecture recently at Emory University in Atlanta that was put on by the Candler Evangelical Society.  They had invited renown scholar/writer Dr. Stanley Hauerwas to read a paper he had written about the sacrifices of war.

In that lecture he spoke of how parents will often say that they are giving their kids the freedom to decide on church, faith, religion, spirituality, and the like on their own.  "It is their decision.  It is personal.  It is not something that should be forced on someone..." so the reasoning goes.

Hauerwas then remarked that we rarely take that stance when it comes to being an American.  We don't seem to offer our kids the option of patriotism, devotion to nation, and the like.  We assume the narrative of nationalism to be good, healthy, and natural for our children.  We feel no alarm at them reciting the pledge of allegiance in their schools, singing the national anthem at a ball game, or celebrating entrance into military service as inherently noble.  If we are born here, raised here, and reap the rewards of citizenship here, then, so the reasoning goes, we should teach our children to pledge allegiance to here.  This happens everywhere - Mongolia, Sweden, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and, yes, the USA.

Mmm...

Interesting, Mr. Hauerwas... I mean Dr. Hauerwas.

As a citizen of the Kingdom of God whose allegiance is to Jesus Christ, it is surprising how little we question allegiance to a secular nation state.  Regardless of the Judeo-Christian ethic that formed the worldview of the founding mothers and fathers, this is still a nation of the world in service to itself.  It can't be nor should be anything else.  It is just what it is.  That is the way all nations function, some in more just and ethical ways than others.  Why don't Christians in Peru, Australia, South Africa, etc. more quickly hesitate to live for, die for, and kill for allegiance to their nation-state?

Don't misunderstand - whether it is Russia, India, Namibia, the Unites States, Cuba, Chile, etc.  - I think Christians can have pride in their country.  I think they can be grateful for their country.  I think they can even derive a sense of meaning from their nationality and ethnicity (as long as it is not elitist or exclusionary). But I am not so sure the automatically assumed stance of allegiance to Iraq, China, Guatemala, Ireland, Canada, etc. is a good thing.

When I survey the Story of Jesus Christ and the purpose for which He came and the mission on which He has sent His church, allegiance to any government, any land, any ethnic group, etc. does not seem to be a part of it.  The safety, national security, and wealth of Rome didn't seem to garner much attention from Jesus (or Israel for that matter!).  We should support our society in those places where it honors the purposes of Jesus Christ and stand against it when it does not.  If our homeland of Egypt, Belize, or Samoa is blessing the poor, treating people with equality, caring for children, fighting disease, then let us stand hand in hand and support them.  If they honor a widening gap between the rich and the poor, waste billions on warfare, create systems of racial inequality, ignore the needs for healthy educational systems, then let us subvert and rebuild so that justice can roll down.

Our allegiance is to Jesus first and last and only to the Netherlands, Japan, Serbia IF it serves Jesus.  (Not Jesus first, then nation as if nation will automatically at some point require our allegiance.)  This is because our law is love, our neighbors are from all tribes/stripes/languages, and our enemies are no one.  No nation state will exist by those standards.  As soon as Christian Koreans, Tongans, Italians, etc. choose the people of their land over the people of another, they have made a choice that Jesus has not made, and they have stepped out of their allegiance to Jesus and into allegiance to nationality.

We all pledge allegiance to something, to someone, to somewhere, to some cause.  I want my life and my children to pledge allegiance to the Story of Jesus Christ as it infiltrates all lands, embraces all people, subverts all harmful power structures, and distributes kindness to enemies and redemption to the broken.

I pledge allegiance to Story of Jesus Christ, and to the Church through which it continues - one royal priesthood, Spirit-filled and mission-sent, with love and redemption for all.

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