To Whom it May Concern,
I’m tired, troubled, and worried. I look around and see so many of my brothers and sisters worried about politics, patriotism, and national pride. It worries me to see them obsess over it so much, and I believe it should worry you as well.
I want to begin with a confession. My father served in the Air Force and was honorably discharged when I was five years old. I don’t remember much, but I do remember how short his hair was, how skinny he was, and that we moved every couple of years (from Texas to Florida to North Carolina). I remember being relieved when we moved home to Kentucky and stayed somewhere long enough to get settled. As a child, I didn’t think much about it, but today, I’m grateful my father served.
I’ve since learned that both my grandfathers served during the Korean War. My mom’s father in Germany protecting us from the dreaded communists and my dad’s father in Okinawa refueling planes. Neither of them faced any combat or real danger, yet I’m proud they both served. A great sense of pride fills my heart when I think of their service. I’m honored they did their part, but thankful I never had too. I also pray every day that my children will escape the need to serve. Don’t confuse what I’m saying. I’ll be proud and supportive if that’s what they choose, I just hope it never has to happen.
Jesus said in Matthew 5:9 “blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God,” and then in 5:39, “whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also,” so there is a Biblical precedent for Christians to avoid worldly strife and vengence (remember Romans 12:19).
There also isn’t any encouragement in the Bible for God’s people to be warmongers or deeply involved in the political world. In fact, the Bible treats war and the political machinations of mankind rather ambivalently. It exists alongside God’s people and is used to procure and promote God’s Will, but it’s never the epicenter of God’s concern. For every queen and king we meet, a hundred servants are introduced that serve Him just as faithfully and influentially.
However, we would be foolish if we didn’t allude to Esther 8:11, where Mordecai wrote instructions to the Jews living in Babylon as the day of the attack orchestrated by Haman drew near. This letter contained directions from the king (and was a clear authorization) to defend their lives, livelihoods, and families. It says:
By these letters, the king permitted the Jews who were in every city to gather together and protect their lives – to destroy, kill, and annihilate all the forces of any people or province that would assault them, both little children and women and to plunder their possessions.
They were allowed and encouraged to protect themselves. They weren’t the only ones who felt that need. In Psalm 140, David wrote:
Deliver me, O Lord, from evil men; preserve me from violent men, who plan evil things in their hearts; they continually gather together for war. They sharpen their tongues like a serpent; the poison of asps is under their lips. Keep me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked; preserve me from violent men, who have purposed to make my steps stumble. The proud have hidden a snare for me, and cords; they have spread a net by the wayside; they have set traps for me. I said to the Lord: “You are my God; Hear the voice of my supplications, O Lord. O God the Lord, the strength of my salvation, you have covered my head in the day of battle. Do not grant, O Lord, the desires of the wicked; do not further his wicked scheme, lest they be exalted.
David wanted protection and peace but knew there would be a day of battle. He had seen it before and knew it would come again. He also knew who to trust in before and during those dark days.
I don’t want you to think for one moment that Scripture teaches us to be pushovers. David wasn’t and neither was our Savior. Giving up is not what Jesus was implying in Matthew and isn’t the actions of Esther or her people. That’s not even comparable to the level of protection shepherds are to give their sheep (see John 10:11-13 and 1 Samuel 17:34-37), fathers to their children or friends to their loved ones because we have a responsibility to be ready for battle, there just isn’t an encouragement or command to go looking for it.
Before we go any farther, I want you to know that I’m proud to be an American, a resident of the Commonwealth of Kentucky and I thank God every single day for the freedom and peace I enjoy because I live in Tompkinsville. I’m not bitter, disenfranchised, or eager to leave. I don’t want to be anywhere else. That doesn’t mean I bleed red, white, and blue and it doesn’t mean I define my life by my citizenship in this world. I freely admit that a day may come when I need to become a resident of another country. I’ll do it because I’m not a person who defines myself by my American-ness. I’d rather be defined by my Christianity.
To begin with the obvious, I’d encourage you to remember Philippians 3:20 which says:
Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
That passage is an ungetoverable statement about priority. It’s about definition and personal choices. It’s about what truly matters to you and should matter to us. It’s taken me a while to come to this conclusion, but I believe it’s a necessary reality – if this world is not my home, then this country is not my home either.
Please understand, I mean no disrespect. It’s the place I want to live, the place I have and will continue to respect, and the place that I will honor and defend (even if it takes my life), but it’s not my home. I’d give it up for a better one (an eternal one) without blinking an eye.
Once again, let me be abundantly clear. I am in no way, shape, or form encouraging a rebellion, revolution, or even anarchy. I will abide by the principles of Romans 13:1 which tell me to “be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” I will even “honor the emperor” and “submit myself to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good” (see 1 Peter 2:13-14), but I will not pledge allegiance to the flag before I pledge allegiance to God. He will always come first (see Acts 5:29).
I will gladly be an American and pay the price for that choice, but I will not let that choice define me. The only choice that inherently defines me is my choice to be a Christian. That choice shapes my career, my marriage, my values, and my future. Lately, it seems far too many Christians see themself as American Christians first and foremost. That additional description troubles me and while I don’t believe they actually say it out loud – every time I hear that phrase – I believe the person actually thinks the moniker makes them holier.
We must remember that American Christians will occupy heaven alongside Roman Christians, Gentile Christians, Philippino Christians, and (dare I say it), Iranian Christians and while I am blessed to be a citizen of the United States, a country founded as “One Nation Under God,” but I can never forget:
God has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us (Acts 17:26-27).
Anytime my feelings about this topic create some internal conflict, I try to remember the words of an old hymn:
This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue. The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door, and I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.
A Conflicted Citizen
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.