Friday, July 22, 2011

Dual Citizenship?

To whom do I owe my allegiance?  In my book on the Lord's Prayer -- Ultimate Allegiance:  The Subversive Nature of the Lord's Prayer -- I wrote that the Lord's Prayer is not just a prayer, it is a pledge of allegiance to God and to living in God's realm.  It is important to remember that in Matthew's version of the prayer, it is placed in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount, which lays out Jesus' kingdom ethic.  As Allan Bevere notes in his book The Politics of Witness, which I reviewed recently, in the course of time, following the embrace of the church by Constantine, this kingdom ethic has largely been put on the shelf as unworkable.  I stand by my claim for the Lord's Prayer, and Allan is largely correct as to how we've understood the Sermon on the Mount in the Constantinian era.  I want to reiterate up front that my ultimate allegiance is to God and to God's realm revealed to us in the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ.  That said, I need to ask us to consider what it means to be a citizen of God's realm and a citizen of a nation-state.

Without desiring to put Jesus at odds with Paul, I think it is also instructive that in the Book of Acts, Paul lays claim to his Roman citizenship on several occasions, even appealing a ruling to Caesar.  In Romans 13 Paul lays out principles for how to behave with regard to the state, suggesting that "there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God"  (Rom. 13:1).   Instead of suggesting that there is a contradiction here, I'd like to ask whether or not we need to wrestle with the question of dual citizenship.  Thus, I am both a citizen of the realm of God and a citizen of the United States (or even more broadly, a citizen of earth). But for a moment I want to stick with my citizenship as an American.  What does this ask of me?  In Allan's book,  he suggests that as Christians we might want to step out of partisan politics and seek to operate from the perspective that the church is our nation, and that the biblical injunctions apply not to the wider community, but to the church.  If' I've misunderstood his intent, I hope he'll correct me.  But that's really not where I want to focus.  Instead, I want to ask the question of my responsibilities for the common good, and whether or not my commitment to the good of all implies involvement in the body politic outside the church.  

I appreciate the words of Parker Palmer, who notes that while we might not all agree as to what the common good entails, "if we believe in our form of government, we must agree on an alternative definition that makes preserving democracy itself the focus of our concern."  He goes on to say:

We must be able to say, in unison:  It is the common good to hold our political differences and the conflicts they create in a way that does not unravel the civic community on which democracy depends.  (Palmer, Healing the Heart of Democracy, p. 32)
In another place Palmer writes that the problem in our country isn't partisanship, but our tendency to demonize the other.  If you don't agree with me, you are the enemy.  This makes it difficult to work together to resolve problems, it also contributes to the nastiness of our political context, which is driving so many away from the political world.  We face the problem of a nation whose political foundations are in danger of crumbling.  It won't be the first time, of course, but the question is -- what shall we do about it?   And then, what should we do about this if we approach the conversation from the perspective of faith?  In other words, how do I live here and participate in the common good when I have dual citizenship?    

11 comments:

Mike L. said...

I strongly dislike the notion of dual citizenship. I see that as a false dichotomy based on outdated metaphysics. I don't think it is about picking which realm to pledge our allegiance, but about picking which values to implement in whatever place we live in. It's about incarnating a set of values (God's values) in our place of residence. So instead of asking, "who's kingdom do I pledge my citizenship, or which kingdom gets my allegiance?", I think we should ask how we make our kingdom (family, neighborhood, city, state, nation, world) work as if God was the king of it. Sometimes that may mean pledging allegiance to a nation state that represents some or all of those values. Other times it may mean standing against a nation state (even our own) when it doesn't reflect those values.

I don't think either Jesus or Paul were against governance per se, but about particular leaders and the particular policies implemented by those leaders.

Bob, could you explain more about your use of the term "realm?" What's a realm? Is there an implied dualism when use it or do have something else in mind?

Brian said...

Mike - Bob may have a different reason, but it is common to use the term "realm" over "kingdom" today. The reasons are that it is less sexist as well as less colonialist.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Mike,

Brian's note is correct. Just another way of saying kingdom that might fit better today. Kingdom and realm are essentially interchangeable words.

On the point at hand, I appreciate your thoughts. I do think there is a question before us as to how we bring our faith into the public square. In Allan's book he equates the positioning of both religious right and religious left. I don't share his interpretation, but it is a good question -- when we bring to bear words of Jesus or the prophets on social justice issues, are we doing anything different from the religious right when it uses scripture to attack gay marriage or abortion access? If so, in what ways?

John said...

Bob,
Several issues to comment on. Paul's notion of divinely 'ordained' governments, dual citizenship, and democracy in principle and in practice. I will address them in separate posts.

Just because Paul said all governments are instituted by or exist with God's blessing and approval does not make it true - because our senses tell us it is simply not true: it is objectively obvious that not every government is a manifestation of God's will for that people or for the people who will be affected by that nation/government before it falls. In fact no government is.

The statement was hopeful thinking on Paul's part, and maybe also perhaps mere pandering to the powers that be, to avoid reprisals against himself personally and against fellow Christians. Governments, all governments (including governments within the Church), are human institutions and are just as prone to the errors of free will and sin as anything else human. No government is divinely ordained, not even in America, especially not in America. That is not meant as an attack, nor an expression of cynicism, but merely an statement from humility - we Americans, as a people and as a human institution, are just as prone to error and sin as anyone else - just as we are capable of attaining the highest aspirations which God has for humanity, we always retain the capacity of the worst sort of ignobility and evil that humans can imagine. And we should never lose sight of our possibilities, positive or negative.

John said...

We are dual - multiple citizens. We belong to a variety of communities accepting for ourselves as members of each community a variety of duties and acknowledging that each of the communities to which we belong institutionally manifests a variety of values - some of which are inconsistent and some of which we do not entirely embrace, some of which we cannot embrace at all. Nevertheless, as voluntary members of these communities we pledge our allegiance to these communities and agree to work for the survival of and improvement of these communities. And because we care, we seek to influence the community so that it manifests our personal values as fully and as consistently as possible. I agree with Mike L., that as Christian citizens of a various communities we are not called to pick and choose to which community we will pledge ourselves (a false dichotomy) but are called to work for the realization of Kingdom values in each of those communities.

And when the shared values of one of our communities of allegiance or the pattern of conduct of that community becomes so inconsistent with our personal values we remove ourself from membership in that community and/or separate ourselves as much as possible from the evil being committed by and within that community.

The values which we voluntarily subscribe to as Christians are eternal and overarching all of our communitarian commitments. America is a democracy, meaning that we as individuals have the ability to influence the community, and its conduct to manifest our own voluntarily chosen values. We are thus blessed with a degree of freedom to actualize our calling as members of the universal priesthood of believers. We owe it to our God to work diligently to communicate Kingdom values to and throughout our country.

If we stand by silently while evil overtakes our country we are complicit in that evil.

John said...

Democracy in Principle and Practice

I agree that the problem with politics in America is the demonization of opponents.

I begin with the proposition that no one person and no group of persons knows with certainty what is the best course of action in any sphere, let alone in the sphere of politics. To assume otherwise is the height of arrogance if not absurdity. I also assume that the more minds engaged in finding a solution the more likely it is that a better outcome will come about. Just as importantly, the more likely there will be a sharing of the outcome - a broader based 'buying-in' will occur.

I also assume that when one consituency is shut out of the process then its voice, its concerns and its participation will not be addressed.

We are at our best as a community when the broadest number ofperspectives are represented in formulating policy and choosing courses of action. Just because I am certain that my ideas are bettter than everyone elses I have heard (we all think that or, as reasonable people we would agree with the better idea and adopt it as our own - no reasonable person would continue to hold to a position which they know is inferior when a better position is offered), doesn't mean my ideas should carry the day. My ideas may be better given my perspective, but the community and each of its members operates from a different perspective - about which I can only guess. So what is needed for the most successful of outcomes is for different perspectives to be articulated as well as possible. In this way my ideas do not carry the day - no matter how good I think they are, and no matter how well I can articulate them, but instead the community's best deas carry the day, and the community benefits and shares in the outcome. Even bad ideas contribute, if only by counterpoint, to the conversation.

Thus our political differences are the nutrients for a strong and vibrant body politic.

So the idea that anyone who disagrees with me should be demonized is not only illogical, it is anti-democratic, and I think against the will of God. And this is where our Christian faith can perhaps do us the best good. We each have a piece of truth within us, and it is for the community to find that truth and see that it gets heard. This is true politically as well as in matters of faith.

Brian said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctrine_of_the_two_kingdoms

This conversation opens up an opportunity for a little historical fun. Martin Luther, a famous Lutheran pastor, taught about "Two Kingdoms".

Let me be clear. This is not my point of view, but for those of us who find history to be fun, it is worth knowing about. (Sorry I'm not good at adding links.)

Brian said...

Darn it! I failed to placed the link in a workable manner. If interested, just google "martin luther two kingdoms".

Rev. Steven F. Kindle said...

Regarding the "two kingdoms" concept. The Synoptics are very clear in setting the stage for Jesus’ well-known statement, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (NRSV) Without this clarity, the passage is woefully misunderstood and we end up with the idea that Jesus supported Rome.

The clues are that the Pharisees plotted to entrap Jesus, and that Jesus recognized their malice. So what to do with the tribute question? If Jesus answers in a way that legitimizes Rome (and the “two kingdoms” notion), he will lose his Jewish audience. If he undercuts Caesar, he is faced with Roman retaliation. Thus, the trap. How Jesus extrapolates himself from this dilemma is masterful. His answer, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” satisfies both parties. The Romans naively believe Jesus upheld the Roman right to govern Palestine, and the Jews new otherwise. Why? Because the Jews knew that “the things that are the emperor’s” amounted to nothing. They knew that God had said, “The world and all that is in it is mine.” No wonder the Pharisee left muttering to themselves.

John said...

How then does Jesus address the issue of dual citizenship in contemporary America? To say that "the government is of no value because all things belong to God' is not a helpful answer. Probably no more helpful to us than to the Jews, for the fact is the government (Rome) is still there, still very real, still capable of great evil and great good, and we as Jesus' people are in need of guidance on how we respond to and interact with the govrnment.

By the way, Jesus answer does not work as a practical matter in contemporary America as the money has both the image of Caesar and the invocation of God on it.

Rev. Steven F. Kindle said...

John, I think the point is that Jesus' people are to live in our nation states in such a way as to convert them into places fully recognized as belonging to God. When I repeat the Pledge of Allegiance, I do so with this caveat, "I pledge allegiance to the United States of America (insofar as it is an instrument of bringing the kingdom of God to bear on the world..."). I don't believe in dual citizenship; that is, I don't have two loyalties. My loyalty to America is to the same extent as we imagine was Paul's to Rome. We pay taxes (Romans 13) to support our communities, but not temple taxes, Matt. 22) to support idolatry.