There is a line in my head that might cause quite a stir on the internets, and I'd be happy to have a respectful debate around it if you'd be so willing to indulge.
It started a few days ago when I found this image, which backed up something I've been thinking for quite some time:
Vonnegut makes an intriguing argument around the context issues, peacemakers being highlighted at the Pentagon and whatnot. But I've always wondered more broadly, why the Beatitudes aren't the staple for Christians around the world in the same way that the 10 commandments are? The pondering began.
Then a few days after I came across that, a certain football player found himself in all kinds of hot water for not standing up for the national anthem. Here again, I found this interesting, as it seemed that most of the anger directed towards this quarterback was coming from those who would identify as Christians. What is it about someone "disrespecting" (I'm not sure that's what he did, but that's how opponents will frame it anyway) the national emblem that threatens our faith? It seems like there's a connection for some folks between nationalism and faith. The pondering continued.
Now the "obvious" answer comes right away, that we in the United States are a Christian Nation. Believe me, this point could be a debate all it's own. I spent nearly an entire term in seminary in a class dedicated to answering this question, and after ten weeks of reading and discussion with some really smart people, the best answer we could come up with is "it's complicated." Much as many people would like to argue a more simple explanation, the question of are we a Christian nation is not as simple as "obviously!" or "obviously not!" It's complex, detailed, and difficult. So like I said, maybe some day we could have a debate around that question. But let's for a moment decide not to do that, and instead for the sake of argument assume that yes, we in the United States are a Christian Nation.
All of this pondering leads me to the line of thinking I'd love to hear some thoughts on:
A Christian Nation is not equal to the Kingdom of God.
Did you catch that? It's a subtle argument, but one that I think requires a great deal of thought and reflection. A Christian Nation has no problem going to war, because the national interests are at heart. A Christian Nation has no problem with greed, because a lot of times it fuels the economy in healthy ways, and that's good for the nation. A Christian Nation can get all kinds of offended about someone sitting out a national anthem, or people saying "happy holidays" instead of Merry Christmas, or whatever else the news kicks up for us. A Christian Nation is exactly that, first and foremost a nation, that prioritizes Christian values, however it is the nation so defines them.
The Kingdom of God has a really hard time with war, because we were instructed to never kill, and in fact to love our enemies. The Kingdom of God has a hard time with greed, because we've been instructed where to store up our treasures. The Kingdom of God has no problem with someone sitting out a pledge or an anthem, because we're not supposed to be making oaths anyway. The Kingdom of God cares less about what we say around our holidays, and more about how we honor the Christ who they celebrate through our actions.
Now obviously as long as we're alive, we will have some sort of dual citizenship. This is not a post saying I want anything less than the best for the nation, because well, I live there. The question isn't whether or not we support the nation, I absolutely do. The question is, what do I ultimately prioritize? On the surface this seems like a no brainer, you prioritize the Kingdom because that's what they taught us in Sunday School. But what does that even mean?
I'm still working that out, but here are a few things that I think are good places to start off the top:
- Read the words of Jesus. I'm still shocked how many of us don't prioritize this. All scripture is inspired and useful, to be sure. But Jesus had some troubling, confusing, difficult things to say to us, and I wonder how frequently we're just brushing them aside.
- Don't get so worked up over the nation. I know, I know, it's an election season, so this one is a pipe dream. But I have to say I've been extremely depressed at how much anger everyone is pouring into this issue or that. First of all, the Kingdom we've been promised comes with fruit like joy, not anger, patience, not conflict, and hope rather than despair. But perhaps more importantly, the good sheep of the Kingdom don't respond to injustice of any kind with words and anger. They respond with action (Matthew 25). So maybe we leave behind the 24/7 news cycle/social media feed of the Christian Nation and embrace the radical missional work of the Kingdom?
- Pray for the nation. I kind of feel like when this is said, what's secretly being said is "pray that the nation turns out the way we want it to." I want a much deeper prayer for our land than that. I've been trying (with limited success) to pray rather than weigh in on the political discussions on Facebook. I pray that we will be able to reconcile as a nation after the election (a goal I see slipping farther and farther away). I pray that we not be dooped by biased headlines on both sides of any issue. I pray that we come up with a way to address the growing, obvious, and undeniable racial issues plaguing our nation. Most of all, I pray that the hearts of everyone would be more like the Beatitudes than they seem to be, and that starts with me.
Maybe all of this is way off base. But at the end of this long, half-baked blog post, I wonder what you think? It would be best if we kept our debate to the comments here on the blog, rather than Facebook, just so we can all see what's being said. And obviously if you cannot converse in a civil, Christ-like manner, you need not comment. But what do you think? Is a Christian Nation the same thing as the Kingdom of God?