by Rayola Kelley
It’s hard to avoid the subject of American citizenship these days. Most Americans will agree that they are proud to be Americans. There is something about the red, white and blue that can stir up patriotism in many of us. Tears will come to my eyes as I watch this symbol of America pass before me. It cannot help but make one think, in light of the many struggles of other people around the world, how glorious it is to be part of a country that stands for liberty.
Patriotism is a love and devotion for the authority and laws of a country. As I consider my own devotion to America, I realize I am devoted to the principles it was founded upon—principles such as religious liberty, refuge for those seeking a better life from persecution and oppression, and opportunities for those who do not want to accept less. As I consider the fact that I am devoted to the principles of America, I have to realize that the greatest strengths of a nation will also become her greatest weaknesses, as well as her greatest points of testing. For example, the invitation on Ellis Island that greeted so many immigrants who came to America seeking a better life served as a beacon light of hope to them. However, how true can we be, as a nation, to that incredible invitation for the world to send those seeking refuge? After all, America is a nation built on the sweat and labor of immigrants. Even the lineage of the American Indians has been traced back to Asia. My family members were immigrants from Europe. Many of them came to America in the early 1900s seeking the opportunities that they heard about across the ocean.
There are different reasons why people immigrated to America. The harsh reality of most nationalities that came here is that they faced prejudice, as others saw them as a threat to this nation’s economy and well-being. For example, the Italians were considered “wops” and the Irish met with intense opposition. We must not forget how the Chinese, who were often treated like slave labor, built most of the railroads. We can wave our flag high in light of the glorious principles it stands for in our minds and hearts, but we need to be honest about our history. Most of the influx of different nationalities that came to this nation had to overcome prejudice and establish their own place and history in America.
Let’s face it, our nation may stand for liberty and the right to pursue the best, but underneath it all has been the constant struggle of overcoming prejudice. The truth is this nation has covered up much that does not serve as a point of pride, but a point of foolish, inhumane decisions and actions.
It is easy to have a romantic notion about our country, but to face present challenges, we must come to terms with what we truly want to stand for as a nation in the midst of this world. We cannot give the impression that we embrace the hungry, poor and oppressed, and yet turn them away because of fear. To give such an impression is nothing more than propaganda. We cannot stand for the principle of liberty without backing it up with the means to ensure liberty to those who are seeking it. We cannot present ourselves as a country of great opportunity if we close down all opportunities to those who are seeking them.
It is true, I love America for the principles it has advocated, but is it nothing more than a façade? In my dealings with people on an international basis, I have seen where people from poor countries see America as their great Savior. They see America as the land of the rich. Of course, our poorest people are considered rich in some of these countries. However, these people do not realize that the strength of this nation does not rest upon the rich, but upon the sweat of the middle class who has worked to keep this nation stable. In the poorest nations of the world, there are few rich people at the top, while the majority is poor. The existence of a strong working middle class is one of the secrets of America’s strength and success. It has been the middle class that keeps most of our economy growing and balanced.
You are probably wondering what my whole point is to this. Over the years, I have always been American first. I felt that as a citizen of America, I owed her my complete devotion and allegiance. There were things I disagreed with, but I could always go back to the plight of the first pilgrims that came to our shores to find a place where they could freely worship. I could think on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights that initially defined our goals as a nation. Even though I have watched much of these freedoms being ebbed away by those who use the guise of freedom to undermine the freedom of this nation as a whole, I have continued to believe in the principles it has so gloriously stood for.
However, my allegiance has changed. Don’t get me wrong I still believe in the principles of the United States of America, but I have realized that my first and foremost allegiance must be to my King. As a Christian, I possess dual citizenship. I am a citizen of the United States of America, but I am also a citizen of the kingdom of God. As we all know, we cannot serve two masters, nor can we be committed citizens of two countries at the same time, especially where there is conflict between principles or practices.
The question is, when there is conflict between the principles of the kingdom of God and the laws and practices of the United States of America, where must my loyalties lie? When the Jewish people were taken from their beloved homeland by the Babylonians, they were hoping their captivity would last for a temporary season. However, God ordained that the land would rest 70 years before they could return. As a result, they were instructed to build houses, plant gardens, eat of the fruit of the land, establish families, seek peace for the city they lived in, and pray that God would give it peace (Jeremiah 29:4-7). Although they were foreigners dwelling in a different country, they were not to forget their heritage. For many, that meant their hearts would forever be in the Promised Land.
The Apostle Paul dealt with possessing a dual citizenship. He was a Pharisee, which identified him to Israel, but he also was a Roman citizen. When he became a believer, he now had a responsibility to the King of kings. As you consider Paul, he used his position as a Pharisee, his knowledge of Hebrew practices and his Roman citizenship to promote the kingdom of God. As you consider his real allegiance, there is no doubt that it was foremost with Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:5-8; Philippians 3:4-14).
I am thankful I was born in America, but my status and loyalty changed when I was born into the kingdom of God. I may presently dwell in America, but my real heart belongs to the King who now must reign from my heart. Because of my citizenship in God’s kingdom, I now represent this unseen King and kingdom as an ambassador in the United States of America (2 Corinthians 5:20).
As I meditated upon the fact that I am a citizen of the kingdom of God, I realized that I am now an immigrant in America. The Bible calls us sojourners, pilgrims in this present world, but how many of us regard ourselves in such a light (1 Peter 2:11)? As believers, we do not belong here. Our hearts and devotion rightfully belong elsewhere. We may be benefiting from living in this place, but it is temporary. We should be looking forward to a city that was established by God Himself (Hebrews 11:10). We pray for the peace of the nation as we journey through this world, but it is not to heap the things of the world on ourselves so we can live in comfort. Rather, we must pray for the peace of this nation so we can carry out God’s bidding in the great harvest field of humanity without persecution, oppression and hindrances.
As believers, we must never forget where our real allegiance should be. Our allegiance is to a kingdom that entails a godly inheritance, an eternal blessing and glorious hope. As a result, we must consider all issues confronting our lives, and this nation, in light of the principles that govern the kingdom of God.
How does God look at the stranger, foreigner or immigrant among His people? The answer is simple enough; He provided refuge cities for them. How did He regard the poor among His people? Once again, He solved that problem by blessing His people. Out of those blessings came the means to show compassion towards the poor. How does He look at the widow and fatherless? They were to be highly regarded, and not oppressed by indifference.
As I considered these simple practices, I began to see that God gave an earthly inheritance to Israel to establish a kingdom, based on heavenly principles and practices. The earth was to serve as a means to carry out the heart and will of God among His people. But the real practices of God’s kingdom have to do with how we honor Him through our attitudes towards others and our treatment of them. These principles and practices are from a higher cut and a greater calling because they are stamped with eternity.
Jeannette once told me that she perceived God as an American flag-waving Republican. We may laugh at her concept, but how many of us see God as being American? God broke Jeannette’s concept of Him when He assured her that He was not American, that He did not carry the American flag, and that He was not politically associated with any one group. Needless to say, Jeannette’s perception of her God and her earthly citizenship changed.
As I struggle over what I see happening to this nation, my heart becomes heavy. Today people are blaming the state of our country on immigration issues, security concerns, terrorism, disasters, and finances. However, I am going to tell you what the big problem with this nation is. This nation is allowing God to be kicked out of every aspect of our beliefs, practices and lifestyles. We can stand on principles of liberty and justice, and stand behind laws, and point fingers as we wave our flag, but the real issue will always come back to center, where is God in all of it?
When the children of Israel came back to the land after 70 years of captivity, they failed to establish the presence of God in their midst. Since God was not present or considered, He caused a drought. As time went on, all of their attempts to secure a stable life in the Promised Land ended in vanity. The Lord put it in this perspective: “Consider your ways. Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe yourselves, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes (Haggai 1:5b-6).
To consider your ways means to come back to center or come back to God, who is, must and will ultimately be the center of all matters. America, beginning with the Church, must come back to God in attitude, conduct and practice. Until we do, we can build as many fences as we want, but it will not ensure security. We can give all the tax cuts we can to inspire people to spend their money, but it will not ensure that in the end the economy will not collapse on all of us. We can hide behind laws to explain away moral and Scriptural accountability, but in the end, we will be held accountable for omitting that which is righteous. We can wave our flag with fervor, but if God is not for this nation, it will fall under judgment and into utter disgrace.
Instead of jumping on different bandwagons that are passing by us, I think it is time to become a Daniel(Daniel 9). He recognized it was about time for the children of Israel to return to the Promised Land. Although he was a leader, he did not go to the courts of the Medo-Persian Empire to secure their return. He did not dig out a flag or banner and rally the people around it, so they could march back to the land. Rather, he went to God in sackcloth. He honored God by reminding Him of His faithfulness and greatness to keep His covenant. Then, he repented on behalf of the people of Israel.
This nation does not need to establish more laws or build fences; this nation needs to repent at every level. As a Christian, I do not pray for this nation to continue on as usual, so that I do not have to taste the harsh judgment that it is facing for its selfish, immoral and godless practices. Rather, I pray for the necessary time to do God’s bidding before the night comes when no man will be able to work in the harvest field of humanity (John 9:4).
The loyalty I once felt for this nation has been replaced with an urgency to adjust my priorities to God. The patriotism that I once felt for America has been replaced with realism about its moral decline and degradation. The point is my hope is not in America standing, but in realizing the kingdom of God in my own life, as well as others. This is my true mission as a servant of my King, an ambassador for the kingdom of God, and as a citizen of that which is eternal and glorious.
How about you? Where is your loyalty? Perhaps during this time of remembering the sacrifice of others, it is a good time to consider where your real allegiance rests. Remember, the kingdom of God was brought forth by the sacrifice of Jesus. Therefore, does your loyalty and devotion rest on that which is temporary or is it on what is eternal? Do you have dual citizenship, meaning you are not only a citizen of this present world, but you are a citizen of heaven? If there is a conflict about your citizenship and loyalty, the problem rests in the fact that God is not the center of your life. Consider your ways by repenting and making sure God is at the center of every aspect of your life. This is the way to ensure that His life and kingdom is realized within you.