I posted last year on this topic, describing what I experience every year as an “hesitant nationalism.”
This year I’ve been reflecting on how to apply words like these to national citizenship in the 21st century:
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us (1 Peter 2:9-12).Practically speaking, if you are a citizen you are not technically an alien or stranger. This is especially true in North America where both countries grant extensive rights and freedoms to make sure all citizens have a chance to experience benefits of citizenship. It’s hard to lose your citizenship.
It was much different in the 1st Century, especially for the early generations of Jesus-followers. Identifying with Christianity came with the risk of losing citizenship, and even your life! Faith and citizenship was an either/or situation. Not so for us. Living in a culture of religious freedom, we identify as citizens of a country and with our particular religion of choice. Faith and citizenship is a both/and situation.
So on one level Peter’s words don’t translate into a culture of religious freedom. Canada and U.S. aren’t oppressive. We aren’t aliens and strangers but free citizens.
But on another level, Peter’s words are more relevant than ever. Our legal citizenship may not jeopardize our faith (and vice-versa), but a tension does exist. Or at least it should. Do we see our religious and national identity as equal parts of who we are? Or do we believe the example of the 1st C. church is timeless, where they exhibited values of community, sacrifice, and love at all costs? An allegiance always to God’s kingdom first?
Even though we’re not forced to choose, it’s still worthwhile to ask: Where’s our primary allegiance?
Here are just a few things in North American culture that reveals this tension: excessive consumerism; extreme individualism; state-sanctioned war and violence; great economic disparity between rich and poor. The list could go on...Our reaction will reveal our allegiance. Maybe Christians are still aliens and strangers? Or at least we should be.
National holidays can sometimes give us the impression that all is well in the world and in our countries. And as free citizens, Christians join the party. I’m one of them! But I’m reminded that celebration can mute the tension of our primary allegiance: commitment first to Jesus or first to the world?
Happy Canada Day and Happy Independance Day!
Let’s just remember, as Christians, we celebrate as aliens and strangers.