Lee Camp, a professor at Lipscomb University, has written a marvelous book called Mere Discipleship. It has a chapter arguing for pacifism. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that he’s the first professor at Lipscomb to agree with the founder, David Lipscomb, on this subject in over 50 years.
Beginning at page 147, Camp takes on nationalism and patriotism.
Nationalism and patriotism are self-centeredness writ large, community habit that prepare us to do “whatever is necessary,” as our politicians put it these days, to “preserve our cherished way of life.” … Employing all means at its disposal — public education, national holidays, churches, culture, media, and, yes, my child’s Christian preschool — nationalism has rooted its alleged “naturalness” deep into our souls. … We begin to believe it necessary, for our very survival, to pledge allegiance to the empire, rather than constantly holding before ourselves our exclusive allegiance to the kingdom of God.
Oh, wow …
Camp then reaches a pacifistic conclusion.
Now, I agree, but only in part. His point about patriotism and nationalism is quite true.
(Phil 3:18-21) For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
At a time when citizenship in Rome was highly prized, in a letter written to a colony of retired Roman soldiers who received citizenship as a reward for their service to the Empire, Paul declares our citizenship to be in heaven, that is, where God lives. This is in contrast to having our minds on “earthly things.”
(Eph 2:19-20) Consequently, you [Gentiles] are no longer foreigners and aliens [to the Kingdom], but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
Notice how Paul picks up the language of “household” — think “family” or “clan.” Paul is asking us to change our identities from family, clan, and nation to God’s family and God’s Kingdom.
One of my children took a mission trip to Kenya, where he learned that the Kenyan converts had all taken “Christian” names. To them, your name indicates your tribe, and they saw conversion to Jesus as leaving their old tribe (nation, clan, family) and joining a new tribe. Hence, they took a new name. And they are quite right, I think.
But does being a member of God’s family and nation exclude loyalty to an earthly family and nation?
(1 Pet 2:11) Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.
Peter tells us that we are “aliens” — foreigners. That is, not only are we citizens of heaven, we are not citizens of the United States or whatever other country we may be in. We are aliens even in the country of our birth citizenship.
And we’re “strangers,” that is, sojourners, as the old song says, “I’m just a-passing through. … This world is not my home.”
(This is a Church of Christ group! Good stuff.)
When the writer of Hebrews praises the “roll call of the faithful,” he honors the faithful dead because —
(Heb 11:13) All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.
Even King David who sat on the throne of Israel saw himself as a stranger on this earth. He wrote,
(Psa 39:12) “Hear my prayer, O LORD, listen to my cry for help; be not deaf to my weeping. For I dwell with you as an alien, a stranger, as all my fathers were.”
Obviously, being a stranger and alien in this world does not contradict some involvement in government (he was a king!), but neither does it permit dual loyalties. Of course, it’s easier to avoid dual loyalties when you’re a king in God’s Kingdom.
Therefore, it’s entirely fair to ask, with Camp: what is a Christian saying when he says the pledge of allegiance? If we were missionaries in Kenya or India or Iraq, would we open the preschool for the children of our converts with a pledge of allegiance to the flags of those nations? Are there some nations that we should pledge allegiance to and not others? Or is our allegiance to only the Kingdom of God?
It’s not an easy question, is it?
(Mat 6:24a) “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”
(Rom 12:2) Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.
(Col 3:1-2) Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
(James 4:4) You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
(1 John 2:15) Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
Let me suggest some ways of looking at this that may be helpful.
First, it’s plain from the scriptures that we cannot love the citizens of the United States more than the citizens of Mexico or Afghanistan.
Second, as individuals, we cannot serve everyone. We have to pick. We can be missionaries to Topeka or Baghdad. But as finite beings, we must pick how we choose to serve the people of the world.
This morning, my church heard from a young woman who’d spend time doing mission work in Uganda with the support of my church. But my church also supports ministers who do mission work on the campus of the University of Alabama.
And in church work, we know — in our bones — that it’s all the same, and it’s gotten to be rare (unheard of in my church) for someone to question benevolence or mission work because it serves someone outside the United States. In church, we truly are citizens of the world. And this is exactly right. But it’s not enough.
Some of the same very good, God-fearing, salt-of-the-earth people who generously support missions and benevolence to non-Americans at church will, when they enter the voting booth, vote for America at the expense of other nations. It’s as though it’s somehow okay for a Christian to be selfless in the missions committee meeting and selfish at the political party meeting. But it’s not.
Let me offer some examples.
One of the biggest problems facing sub-Saharan Africa (south of the Sahara) is the inability of the countries to export food and cotton for a profit because of crop subsidies the Europeans and Americans provide their farmers.
You see, for poorer countries, the easiest way to earn a profit and gain foreign currency is through agriculture, but the US and European farm lobbies manage to squeeze the taxpayers for subsidies that create artificially low prices for Western-grown food — which keep the poorest of the poor from being able to export food more cheaply than the West can despite its much higher production costs.
This is a problem for both political parties, because both have powerful senators from farm states who protect the pocketbooks of their constituents. And it never occurs to them that this violates the Bible.
You see, I think American Christians are free to compete on a level playing field with anyone. But using our wealth to freeze the poor out of international markets is sin.
And it violates the Democratic Party’s principles opposing government welfare for the rich; and it violates Republican Party’s principles favoring free trade. There are numerous farmers who grow unsubsidized crops and do just fine competing with the rest of the world. But Washington lacks the will to cut subsidies that indirectly subsidize re-election campaigns. And no one complains much because, well, our allegiance is to ourselves, rather than to all of God’s children.
Just so, the serious problem of illegal immigration in the United States is debated by Christians in terms of legality and expense and which party the immigrants will support. Never have I heard Christians debate the question in terms of what is best for the Mexicans — not even as a factor to be considered. Indeed, mention the Golden Rule or “love your neighbor” in such a conversation, and you’ll sometimes be viewed with bemusement or scorn by your fellow Christians.
I don’t pretend to know the answers to the illegal immigration problem, but this much I’ve figured out: Christians are not allowed to argue in terms of selfishness. And I wonder what would happen if we seriously talked about how we might deal with the problem by helping Mexico rather than how we can help ourselves with no regard for the consequences to the Mexicans.