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?