Before rallying around the flag chokes off critical thinking, let’s review what constitutes authentic Christian citizenship, according to the teachings of Jesus.
1. Practice discernment. When Jesus commissioned his followers to go into the world of wolves, he said, “Be wise as serpents” (Mt 10:16). Wisdom means prudent thinking, careful consideration about the validity of what our and other leaders say, what they mean and what they really do.
2. Preserve a high wall between Christ and culture. Jesus said, “Give … to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mt 22:21). Had Jesus accepted the head and title of the emperor on the Roman coin, he would have given his complete loyalty to the state. Jesus refused to worship the state. Indeed, war has a seductive power—power in which culture becomes our Christ, our source of worship. When that happens, we engage in idolatry.
3. Pray for enemies. Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for whose who persecute you” (Mt 5:44). Contrary to popular religion, Jesus never said pray only for our troops and ask for a shield of protection only around America. One of the greatest dangers of this hour is spiritual nationalism, in which we merge our nation with the will of God. Of course, we should pray for those in authority and for American troops, but authentic Christianity understands that we must pray for the welfare of all, including Saddam Hussein, his family, Iraqi soldiers and Islamic fundamentalists.
4. Profess the limits of our vision. Jesus said, “You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times” (Mt 16:3). In fact, we can predict some immediate, obvious events. But we most often fail to understand the deeper flow of global events with their unpredictable consequences. It is far better to admit that we see dimly than to trust in those who forecast the future with haughty certainty. Real Christian citizenship is rooted in humility about our limits of knowledge.
5. Protect against the dangers of blindness. Jesus warned about “blind guides” (Mt 23:16). He also said, “If one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit” (Mt 15:14). Parents often repeat Jesus’ practical wisdom when they want their children to keep good company and tell their children not to follow blindly the crowd. Yet we often fail to follow our own advice when it comes to national matters. We get swept up in going with the majority opinion. Christians should keep both eyes open and resist the temptation to go with the crowd.
6. Prepare for criticism. Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Mt 5:11). Jesus knew that being self-defined and speaking truth could result in intense opposition and even persecution. When American Christians voice their moral principles today, they may experience name-calling, isolation, false accusations and even economic boycotts. But from the whipping posts of Virginia to the fire-hoses of Alabama, Christians have suffered the consequences for their convictions.
7. Pursue peacemaking. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Mt 5:9). War-making makes the mission of the peacemaker more complicated. But war-making does not negate Jesus’ high call to peacemaking. It does necessitate that Christians find ways to pursue peace, even if it means being drum-majors against a crusade mentality and for human rights.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.