Is it possible to be a Christian and not be an American? The question on the surface seems absurd. There are Christians in every corner of the world. And where there are not Christians there are Christian missionaries diligently preaching the gospel. It would seem self-evident that a person can be a Christian and a citizen of whatever country they happen to live in. After all, immigration does not normally accompany baptism.
So if it’s possible to a Christian and not be an American, is it possible to be a Christian and be un-American? Or more to the point: Is it possible to be Christian and be American in ways other than those defined by political parties?
Let me illustrate what I mean. The Christian magazine Journey regularly features reviews of current films from a Christian perspective. The idea is to provide resources for Christian parents to help them make good choices about what their children watch.
In the most recent issue critics reviewed “The Bourne Supremacy,” the blockbuster sequel to “The Bourne Identity.” The story is about an ex-CIA operative, Jason Bourne, who has lost his memory and is in the process of trying to find out who he is. As he becomes more and more aware of his past, he decides he does not want to return to his previous life. Consequently, he spends a good bit of both movies trying to keep his former employers from killing him.
This is where the reviewers begin their critique of the film. They warn parents that the violence is brutal. There are severed heads and limbs and lots of blood. Material of this sort is clearly not appropriate for young viewers—Christian or otherwise.
Criticizing a film for violent content makes perfect sense from a Christian point of view. Christians ought to have serious concerns about violence as entertainment. After all, non-violence was a central feature of Jesus’ ministry.
So far so good. But there’s more.
In the film, Bourne is being hunted by a secret agency of the United States government. In some of the dialogue America is directly and indirectly criticized for certain policies and practices. In particular, links between the American government and multi-national corporations are characterized as less than virtuous. The Christian reviewers pick up on these themes and express concern that the film has anti-American and anti-corporation attitudes.
Now, there are lots of things we can say about a film being anti-American. We can say is an overblown caricature. We can criticize the film as being in bad taste, poorly written, poorly acted or poorly filmed. But does anti-Americanism really rise to the level of a Christian concern? Is it a particularly Christian virtue to be pro-America and pro-corporations?
Apparently, in some versions of the Christian faith, being American is an essential part. Not that being an American is a bad thing—it’s not. It’s just not necessary for a person to be an American in order to be a Christian, and vice versa.
Being a Christian is about following Jesus. It is about trying to live a life based on his teachings and his examples. This life can be lived in any culture, under any form of government or any economic arrangement.
Besides, both recent and past history demonstrates that bad things happen when faith gets tied too closely to political ideologies. Maybe that’s why Jesus wanted us to keep Caesar out of it.
James L. Evans is pastor of First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.