As we Americans celebrate our Independence Day, we who are Christian can also contemplate what is the proper kind of ‘love’ we are to have for our country? Our Lord Jesus said: “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 16:13). If one is purely a literalist one might say Jesus was narrowly talking about the opposition between love of God and love of money. However, many through the history of Christianity understood His words to have broader implication because it is not only money that can be our master and force us into subservience to it. Political ideologies and nationalism also demand our loyalty and can be that second master we desire to serve. Christ made it clear that one cannot serve two masters –either God is our master or something else we value is. Our role as believers is to put God first, to seek first God’s Kingdom, and to realize all other values pale in comparison in value. “God and country” is another divided loyalty and we cannot serve both masters. This is very hard for us to consider especially if we have been blessed by living in our country and we have a love for it. Christ is clear that His Kingdom is not of this world, and so we always must be aware of divided loyalties when it comes to citizenship for Christians.
St Maria of Paris, executed by the Nazis in the 1940s, said this:
“There can be no doubt but that love for anything that exists is divided into these two types. One may lustfully love one’s motherland, working to make sure that it develops gloriously and victoriously, overcoming and destroying all its enemies. Or one can love it in a Christian manner, working to see that the face of Christ’s truth is revealed more and more clearly within it. One can lustfully love knowledge and art, seeking to express oneself, to flaunt oneself in them. Or one can love them while remaining conscious of one’s service through them, of one’s responsibility for the exercise of God’s gifts in these spheres.” (MOTHER MARIA SKOBTSOVA, p 178)
We are to love our country in a Christian manner which she describes as “working to see that the face of Christ’s truth is revealed more and more clearly within it.” We are to be the salt of our country, and a light to it. This requires us to be able to step back a bit from the country and realize that all nations fall short of God’s expectations just as all humans do (Romans 3:23). For us to fulfill Christ’s command that we be a light to the world and the salt of the earth, we have to understand how we are distinguished from the world and the earth and the nation we live in. This does not mean that we can never enjoy our country, or that we have to see only its faults, failures and problems. It means that loving in a Christian manner is different from the love that say nationalists have for the country or that ideologues have for their ideologies. We have to think about God being the Lord and revealing Himself to us and how we maintain an active awareness of His presence in whatever we are doing so that others can still see Christ in us. A question Christians in the U.S. should ask themselves: Can we ever embrace the ideological thinking of America First if we are committed to following Christ’s command to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33)? Independence Day for Christians in the U.S. also means maintaining an independence from common American beliefs and values. We are to be a light to the world, including America and we can’t be that if we simply hold the common political values of those around us. Being a Christian is a challenge—we are not to conform to the world, but live as the free citizens of the Kingdom.
So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)
This will help us understand how the early Christians could say about themselves that Christians
…live in their own countries, but only as aliens; they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is foreign. . . . They live on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws; indeed in their private lives they transcend the laws. They love everyone, and by everyone they are persecuted. (Letter to Diognetus)
Christianity with its values formed by the Kingdom of Heaven challenges us in our life on earth, for we are not to have our hearts, minds and loyalties shaped only by the world around us. We have a citizenship in a Kingdom which is not of this world and that too is to be part of our life on earth, even in a country we might enjoy or love. We are to love the country in a Christian way, not one shaped by political ideologies.
Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)