Where is my primary citizenship? Since I was born in the USA, have lived in the USA most of my life, currently live in the USA and have never been a citizen of any other nation state, the obvious answer is that my primary citizenship is here in the USA. In fact, the answer is so obvious that speaking of my “primary” citizenship might sound odd. What other kind of citizenship is there? Surely if I were to get a passport, I would apply to the government of the USA and the passport I would be granted would be issued by the government of the USA.
Perhaps we can consider geography. I’ve already observed that I live within the bounds of the USA. But did you know I can be two places at once? At the same time I live in – find my residence in – the USA, I also live in the state of Texas. Ah, you say, but that makes it easy to be two places at once. Maybe even more than two – not only do I live in the USA and Texas, but also in Camp County and in Pittsburg, and on Park Lane. It’s amazing how many places I can be at once. But none of these other places have any authority to issue me a passport or to grant me citizenship, so surely to speak of myself as a citizen of one of these other places is secondary and derivative at best. As a US citizen, I was required to register for Selective Service at age 18. The US government could have decided when I was younger – I’m not sure I’d do them much good now – to institute a draft and send me off to fight in war. Texas hasn’t sought to do anything of the sort since well before I was born. While they take their sports pretty seriously around here, I can’t imagine Pittsburg drafting me to go fight in its wars with places like Gilmer and Daingerfield.
So while I can say I am a citizen of subsidiary political entities, my primary citizenship, my real citizenship, is in the USA. I am a citizen of the United States of America.
But wait – aren’t you a Christian? Aren’t you then as a Christian, a citizen of heaven? Paul has something to say about that in Philippians, doesn’t he? And much more frequently in scripture there is the notion that this world is not my home. I’m only a sojourner, a stranger passing through town. Yes, yes, scripture does say these things. As a follower of Jesus, I am a citizen of heaven. Surely, too, just as God – the ruler of the universe – trumps the President – the ruler of the most powerful nation state on the planet, so my citizenship in heaven must trump my citizenship in the USA. Makes plain sense.
Where was I? Or better, where am I? I’ve already observed that I live on Park Lane, in Pittsburg, in Camp County, in Texas, in the USA. If citizenship has something to do with where I live, then surely these entities ought to have some call on me. After all, however great heaven is, however mighty God is, where do I live now? Surely it is obvious I don’t live in heaven now. Heaven is where we go when we die – a place full of angels, a place where God is enthroned. It is just as obvious that I am not now in heaven as it is that I now live in the USA. So maybe it would be better to say that my ultimate primary citizenship will be in heaven (clear use of future tense) while my current primary citizenship is in the USA.
If the question is to be decided by what is commonly believed and practiced, this must be the right way of seeing things. Though we claim to be Christians, sing praises to Jesus, engage in spiritual disciplines, and meet as a church, we also think of ourselves as American Christians. We sport American flags in our sanctuaries and at our homes. We serve in national institutions, from the military to various levels of government. We pay our taxes to the IRS. We sheer “USA! USA!” during the Olympics. We celebrate national holidays like Independence Day, Memorial Day, and Veteran’s Day as families and even, sometimes, in our churches. Sure, later on, after we die, all this worldly stuff will be set aside. When we get to heaven, when we live in heaven, we’ll just be plain old Christians. As for now, though, we are American Christians.
When we think of ourselves as American Christians, we find ourselves thinking John Locke’s thoughts after him. In his Letter Concerning Toleration, Locke argued that it is the job of the church to see to spiritual things, to our eternal destiny, while it is the job of the Magistrate (we’d call it the State), to see to out material reality. By faith, we have one foot (figuratively speaking) in eternity, in heaven, but our bodies are here on earth, under the rule of Uncle Sam. Uncle Sam provides our point of unity, lest we Methodists, Baptists, Catholics (we’ve come a long way since Locke and can reckon Catholics as equal citizens, having finally relegated the Pope to the spiritual realm where he belongs), Jews, Muslims, or Nothings start bickering with each other in some sort of religious war. We pay our taxes, serve in wars as called, submit to laws and regulations and have a basically calm, peaceful and prosperous life under the benign gaze of Uncle Sam. Other folks in other countries do the same thing – well, at least those who have been adequately tutored by Mr. Locke.
[to be continued]