Christians, we have dual citizenship. We are citizens of the Kingdom of heaven, and we are citizens of an earthly kingdom. Where I am writing from, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, most Christians are citizens of the Kingdom of Jesus, and we are citizens of the United States of America. We say, “I am American,” and we are. But we are also Christian. How do these two citizenships work together or differ?
In a country with a strong Christian heritage like ours, it can sometime be very hard to know how to see that these two citizenships are different. In many countries, however, it is very easy to see the difference. Think, for example, of the earliest Christians. Many of them lived as citizens of Rome, and yet Rome did not accept their Christian faith and persecuted them. Some early Christians didn’t have Roman citizenship. They were literal strangers and aliens in the Roman Empire.
It might be like Christians in a persecuted country today. Take China where the church is often underground, secret, hidden. People in China know that their citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven leads them to hold a far different set of values and beliefs than their Chinese citizenship. Their two citizenships are drastically at odds with one another, and to follow their citizenship in the Kingdom of God, they sometimes have to disobey the terms of their citizenship of China. Many earthly nations actually say that it is illegal to be a citizen of the Kingdom of God. We saw an example of this in the story of Daniel and his friends a month ago in our Characters series, when in order to follow God’s ways, they had to defy the way of the earthly king.
For us in a free nation like America, it can be much more difficult to distinguish our two citizenships. Historically there have been many ways which our two citizenships have been aligned. Being a good Christian and a good American, for some people, seemed to be identical. But are they?
First, citizenship in heaven does not equate to an earthly nation or political party. That’s where it gets confusing. Some Christians will tell you that in order to be a faithful Christian, you must be in a certain political party. That is false. It is impossible to identify whether or not you are a citizen of the kingdom of God simply based on which political party you are registered with.
Therefore is to be expected that your church likely has members from both major American political parties, and maybe some of you support third parties too. That diversity is okay. Our true citizenship is in heaven and transcends political parties. Therefore we should never allow political differences to get in the way of our family bond in Christ.
Second, our citizenship in heaven means that our affinity and brotherhood with Christians is our top priority. We can say that we are supportive of Christians around the world, like our sister churches in Liberia or Mexico, and that we pray for the persecuted church. But because of our common citizenship in heaven, we have more connection with those Christians around the world, wherever they are found, then we do with our next door neighbor who, though an American citizen, is not a Christian. That next door neighbor might be a really good person, flying the American flag, and they might look, talk and even think like us in many ways. And that international Christian might be halfway around the world, speak a different language, and think very differently than we do. Because of our citizenship in heaven, though, it is the international Christian with whom we share the bonds of Christ.
That does not mean we don’t love and interact and get to know all of our neighbors. It means that we must recognize that our citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven is a deeper connecting bond – no matter the political party, no matter the country we live in, no matter the language we speak, no matter the color of our skin. We will all be serving the same God, learning to walk with Jesus the same way, desiring to understand and be more and more filled with the same Holy Spirit.
Think about what that means for your views on foreign policy. Citizens of the Kingdom, in other words, think, talk and act in line with Jesus, above all else, above their political party, above their earthly citizenship.
So there is an election in our earthly country coming up soon. Have you heard? And yes, we are citizens of Heaven, and yes, we should vote, and depending on your views of how biblical teaching relates to politics, it is more likely that you will vote for one political party or the other. Our citizenship in heaven should influence how we vote here on earth. How, then, should our citizenship in heaven inform our vote?
First of all, we need to be people who can have healthy discussion about the issues. So often what happens within a group of Christians is that political discussion begins and the walls go up, making it impossible to have a healthy discussion. When that happens, it is almost certainly a signal that those people have allowed their citizenship in an earthly nation to supersede their citizenship in heaven. When our citizenship in heaven is our priority, though, we are able to worship with and love people from all other nations and political parties, even if we strongly disagree with the way they view politics. Thus we can be willing to hear and learn from people, especially including those who say they are citizens of the Kingdom, and yet believe differently than we do. We do not want to fall victim to echo chambers. What is an echo chamber, and how does it matter to Christians and politics? I wrote about that in a series starting here.
Second, we should examine whether we have allowed one political or social issue to dominate our thinking to the detriment of all others. Let me illustrate. A person, in keeping with their view of citizenship in the Kingdom of God might believe that abortion is wrong, and thus they should vote for the pro-life candidate. Or a person might believe that that their citizenship in the Kingdom leads them to vote for the candidate who wants to help people in poverty. Many times Christians have directly opposing political views, but those on either side believe they are aligned with the Kingdom of God. My encouragement to you as you consider candidates and their politics and how they do or do not align with the Kingdom of God, is the avoid letting a single issue dominate your opinion. Try to step back and see the broader view. Admittedly, this is complex, but it can be done, if we start from a position of humility and seek to learn from Jesus.
And that goes for me too. You might not agree with my political views. That’s okay. We Christians have a higher authority, as Jesus is our King! That’s where we find common ground, far above any national leader or politics. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God.