by Todd Brady
On the first Sunday of the war I experienced vividly the tension of living life as a citizen of two kingdoms. Before heading out to church, we unfolded our American flag and carefully hung it on the front of the house for all to see. A silent prayer was offered for the men and women who on this day certainly would rather be on their way to church than Baghdad.
Once at church our conversations were surrounded by an awareness of war but were focused pointedly on the God whom we had come to worship. Together we sang praises to God, studied our Bibles, listened to our preacher and prayed to our Father—all the while realizing that on the other side of the world bullets were flying, bombs were blasting and real people were facing the tragic possibility of losing their lives.
As I stood to preach that Sunday morning, I was reminded that many Christian preachers across the country were at the same time standing before their congregations. They also were standing between two flags. More church sanctuaries, I see, have an American and a Christian flag at each side of the platform. Each week in churches across our land Holy Scripture is proclaimed from pulpits that stand physically between two powerful symbols. These two independent symbols represent the dual and separate citizenships which American Christians hold.
Regardless of one’s opinion concerning the position of flags in church, it is obvious that believers are citizens of two kingdoms. Being an evangelical American in today’s world requires thinking carefully about responsibilities related to two issues—the patriotic passion which we hold as citizens of our country and the Christian commitment by which we live as citizens in the Kingdom of God. The Apostle Paul reminds us of the responsibilities of such dual citizenship. We are commanded to submit to the authorities which have been set over us (Rom. 13) as well as look forward to Christ returning from heaven—that place where our eternal citizenship is recorded (Phil. 3:20,21).
It is easy to forget this dual citizenship. Overly focusing on this present world and all that is included in it often blurs Christian perspective and saps Christian hope. Concentrating solely on our heavenly citizenship numbs us to the realities of the present world, often shaping us into pious Polyannas. The balance of dual citizenship is struck when we do as Karl Barth challenged us: to understand our place as Christians in the world by reading the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.
Without a doubt, none of us should turn an oblivious ear to the current conflicts of our world just so we can spend time reading our Bibles in the privacy of personal piety. On the other hand, we must avoid the nationalistic, albeit patriotic, fervor which can lead us to the point of placing love of country above love for God. Being Christian means that our faith informs and affects our thinking about the country in which we live. It also affects how we pray for our country, our military, our leaders and, yes, even our enemies.
The God of the Bible is the God of all nations. He is the God who one day will be surrounded by “every nation, tribe, people, and language” (Rev. 7:9). We are commanded to “be still and know” that He is God, for He will be “exalted among the nations” (Ps. 46:10). He will not be exalted just over the nation of the United States of America, but over all nations. Today, we must understand, as Christians who live in America, that God loves not only those who live in our country. He loves all nations, and the suffering and strife that any human being experiences as a result of war grieves His heart tremendously, regardless of one’s earthly citizenship.
We should certainly support our leaders. We should pray for them an understanding that they have been positioned to rule over us for good and not for evil. As a democratic society we are free to voice our concerns and convictions related to our country’s actions. However, our thinking and our speaking must be tempered by a biblical understanding of humanity, God, and salvation. Such Christian thinking within the contexts of personal living, global conflict, and eternal redemption helps us realize in the end that God’s favorite colors are not red, white, and blue. Rather, like we used to sing, indeed they are red and yellow, black and white.
Todd Brady is minister to the university at Union University in Jackson, TN