July 4, 2008
Today, Americans have the opportunity to take a step back from the election cycle, from the nation’s policy debates, and from the great issues that press upon them and be reminded that they are Americans. In solemn civic ceremonies and friendly backyard barbecues, Americans everywhere will be found celebrating the 227th anniversary of the founding of their country.
That such moments of national celebration occur is not inappropriate, even amid the great challenges of war, poverty, environmental degradation, and other public injustices. On the contrary, such moments can remind us of our tasks as citizens and of our shared political responsibility to right these wrongs. In short, a national ceremony like the 4th of July can provide perspective and new energy for seeking the political good of our neighbors.
For Christians, the 4th of July also provides an opportunity to step back from the election cycle, from the nation’s policy debates, and from the great issues that press upon them and be reminded that they are Christians. The idea that Christians hold dual citizenship was developed most famously by St. Augustine in the fifth century, but the idea can be found throughout the Scriptures. (Spend some time this July 4th reading Paul’s letter to the Colossians!)
The basic idea is not difficult: although Christians are ultimately children of God and citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, they also find themselves to be citizens of states in which they bear important moral responsibilities.
What difference does dual citizenship make? For starters, it gives us a point of reference and a source of authority that lies beyond the US Constitution and American society. In confessing that their risen Lord is the one to whom “every knee will bow,” Christians properly position and radically relativize their recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance and their songs of national praise. State claims to sovereignty, to authority, to power all appear in a new and dramatically different light when viewed from the perspective of the Gospel.
Note what dual citizenship does not mean. It does not give Christians a pass from confronting the issues of the day because their “real home” is someplace other than on this earth. Nor does it mean they may avoid the hard work of developing distinctly Christian perspectives on those issues and working out a larger Christian vision for the place of politics and the state within the Kingdom of God. Dual citizenship does not mean that Christians are led out of American politics, out of their national citizenship, to some “higher” calling. Jesus is Lord over all precisely because his love for this world led him further into it. To take the very form of a servant and to be obedient to death, even death on a cross, is not the stuff of another world!
The consequences of a Christian, dual-citizenship perspective are dramatic and liberating. The proclamation that Jesus is Lord frees us from the desperate, misguided hope that this or that agenda or program or leader among us will be ushering in the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom is already secured in Jesus Christ and God’s renewed creation has already begun to appear.
For the same reason, our dual citizenship frees us from the despair that destroys hope when, time and again, those agendas, programs, and leaders among us prove to be merely human after all. Christian hope is not attached to the success of our endeavors. It is God who builds God’s Kingdom and enlists its citizens to be stewards of creation and agents of redemption. Christians who believe in a Lord who is making a world where justice puts all injustices to flight and sets all things straight will not fail in their work for that world here and now.
— Paul Brink, Associate Professor of Political Studies