It is time to revisit what it means to be a Christian citizen.
Over the last 40 years, U.S. Christians have been engulfed with Christian nationalism, which has overrun many evangelical churches, especially during the last five years.
Mark 12:14b-17 and Romans 13:1-6 can help frame (not exhaust) our understanding of Christian citizenship. Two significant truths come from these two passages about our relationship with government.
First, Christians will always have to distinguish between what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God.
Our loyalty must always be to God first. The state has never had a claim on the soul or the spiritual destiny of any person. In fact, we live in this world as people under both God’s authority and our government’s.
However, when those loyalties clash or collide, we choose the kingdom of God. That is something we must be clear about.
History and religion have often confused what belongs to each domain and what our responsibilities as Christians are to those domains.
Submission to the authorities was a realization that everyone lived under Rome’s crushing weight, yet Jesus taught Caesar had a claim and God had a claim.
I cannot imagine first-century believers chaffing under the yoke of Rome could ever imagine a government like we enjoy. Yet, with all its harshness, Paul taught submission to the governing authorities.
What is troubling in American Christianity is the embrace of a Christian nationalism that believes Americans who are not Christians are somehow obligated to live with the same standards as Christians.
Efforts to implement this vision over the last 40 years has been a disastrous one for U.S. Christians because we have been led away to a false god to worship. It has become the American Christian idol of choice.
What is that idol? A view of this nation that is historically and biblically wrong.
Biblically, there is only one covenant people stretching back to Abraham and that is Israel. There is no other “people of God.” Not the Holy Roman Empire or any other secular state.
So, what is the Christian’s responsibility to “Caesar”?
My faith heritage has encouraged Christians to participate in our democracy. So, believers have found places of service in every facet of government, community, county, state and nation.
Additionally, Baptists have typically not been pacifists, so we have a rich tradition of serving in the military, the Coast Guard, the National Guard and as first responders at all levels.
Christian people understand the concept of service and protecting others. It is our responsibility as Christians to help build our communities and make the laws of the land fair to all and just for all.
We number lawyers, judges, politicians, social workers, security officers and probation officers within our congregations. It is a way of working out our obligation to “Caesar.”
We also pay our taxes knowing that what we pay goes into the infrastructure of this nation, the social safety net and the defense of our citizens. However, the greater loyalty for Christians is to Christ and his kingdom.
Christian nationalism fuses the church with the civil patriotism of the United States, taking it one dangerous step further through a sense of exceptionalism, which asserts that God treats the U.S. differently because of a covenant with us.
Failure to follow this understanding of the biblical law supposedly brings judgment upon the nation because we have a covenant with God.
That is what started the culture war, which has raged since the Moral Majority stepped onto the national scene in 1979. Their goal was to enforce their understanding of biblical morality on a whole nation.
So, this is where we are 40 years down the road in the culture war and five years after the current president has taken this nation to the brink of collapse. Many of President Trump’s staunchest supporters have been evangelicals who have had their moral senses dulled and compromised by the ideology and idolatry of Christian nationalism.
The way forward is not packing the courts with our “kind of folks.” Rather, it involves packing the church house with tenderhearted people yearning to know more about God and live faithfully in the way of Jesus.
As Randall Balmer observed in a 2007 article for Yale University’s Reflections, “My study of American religious history convinces me that religion always functions best at the margins of society, not in the councils of power, for when religion hankers after power, it loses its prophetic voice.”
What the church in the U.S. needs most right now is not about a hyper-focus on the moral issues of the nation, but rather a brokenness leading to repentance as we look at our own lives and those within the church.
When we call out to God in prayer, confession and repentance, God hears, forgives and heals first the church and then that healing brings a renewed energy to work for the common good of all people.
Wash your hands, wear your mask for others, mind the gap and be kind, but firm, in these days where many are deluded.