Note: This column was written on January 19, 2021.
Tomorrow is Inauguration Day. It’s a particularly good time to think about our citizenship, I think. And I think it’s a particularly good time for me to stay off of Facebook and other social media for at least a day or two. Even as I think social media companies’ increasing censorship of free speech is unwise, I think my increasing censorship of my own speech is a responsibility of my citizenship. Whatever rants from whatever blusterers (and I can be a blusterer) do show up on Facebook are posts I do well to scroll past on Facebook’s best day. And I doubt Inauguration Day will be its best day.
As a citizen of the United States, I desire to be neither “an unloving critic or an uncritical lover,” and I refuse to believe those are the only options open to me or to you. This is not the only nation justly worthy of her citizens’ love, but I am not a citizen of other nations; I am a citizen of this one. I see no more virtue in being willfully blind to her flaws than I do to being willfully blind to her virtues. This nation has both, but I cannot imagine how anyone could be so blind as to say that the world would have been better off had this nation not been born. The debt of gratitude that I owe this land of my birth is so deep as to be far beyond any sacrifice I could ever make.
That said, my baptism proclaims that my primary citizenship is in the kingdom of God, and my citizenship in any earthly kingdom is vastly beneath it. It must always be that first allegiance to the kingdom of God that colors and informs my citizenship in any nation of this world. My King has told His people that allegiance to Him must outweigh even family relationships, relationships with father, mother, husband, wife, and children. If I must choose, I must choose for Him. But loving Him most will usually mean loving them more wisely and better than I do now, not less. My King has told me in Scripture to pray for my earthly king, for leaders and authorities, and to obey them whenever possible. I suspect that loving Him most will usually mean that I must love them more wisely and better than I do now, not less.
When the Apostle Paul tells us, commands us, in 1 Timothy 2 to pray for “kings and those in authority” and the Apostle Peter tells us, commands us, in 1 Peter 2 to “submit” ourselves to “the king” and “honor” him, we do well to listen and obey. We do well to remember the poignant and pointed truth that the Emperor then was crazy and bloodthirsty Nero, the very man who would put both apostles to death. And I doubt that either apostle as he wrote would have been surprised by that or changed his words.
So the commands to “pray for,” “submit to,” and “honor” are not contingent upon our having voted for the “king” or feeling warmly kind, soft-hearted, and generous toward him. The Apostle Paul says specifically in 1 Timothy 2 that we are to pray for our governmental leaders “in order that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (2:2) and he says “this pleases God our Savior.”
I’ll go out on a limb here and say that, if I’m as serious about my heavenly citizenship as I should be, and if I’m serious about “pleasing God our Savior,” and if I’m listening to what two martyred apostles (and the Holy Spirit, I think) command us, Facebook rants on Inauguration Day are probably out of bounds for me. And if the Apostles Peter and Paul can urge citizens of God’s kingdom to pray even for Nero, I’m probably not going to get a pass if I refuse to pray for whoever is inaugurated on whatever Inauguration Day here whether it makes me happy or not.
Dual citizenship is hard. My citizenship in this earthly land should require me at least to try to act like an adult. But my citizenship in God’s kingdom requires me to try to act like His Son. I need His grace to try to do any of that.
Copyright 2021 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.