A leading evangelical and political activist organization promoting family values has an interesting quote from President Theodore Roosevelt posted on their website. In 1907, the President was speaking to the issue of immigration and what it means to be an American. He noted, "There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn't an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag...We have room but for one language here, and that is the English language...and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people."
Now, I understand the context and spirit in which this quote is offered. The current issue of immigration is a serious one indeed and most agree that our borders must be secured and that we must somehow deal with illegal immigrants in a way that takes seriously the rule of law while being gracious and compassionate at the same time. Roosevelt and the referenced organization refer to the concept that persons wanting citizenship here must be committed to an undivided loyalty when it comes to the nation. Allegiance cannot be given to Mexico and the United States at the same time if one is to be an American citizen.
And yet, this statement strikes a chord in my heart that is unnerving and should be to all Christians. While this statement may be affirmed by some in a particular context, and no doubt the referenced organization would say the same, even in a particular context, the statement cannot be wholeheartedly affirmed by Christians. It may be that even those who posted the statement would agree. But, there is a blurring of the lines between what it means to be a good American and what it means to be a good Christian in Evangelical America that should not be fostered, even contextually. It is that blurring of the lines that causes some to overlook or even equate one context with another.
Consider the blanket nature of the first statement. "There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn't an American at all." Well, I am something else and I am something else first. I am a Christian and my ultimate allegiance is to Christ. While the referenced organization would no doubt agree, the problem here is at least three-fold.
First, Christians must not make blanket statements regarding allegiance that do not connect that allegiance first and foremost to Christ. Allegiance to America is always a contingent allegiance for the Christian. It is never absolute (Acts 4:19-20).
Second, as noted, too many Christians are confused already. The equation of God and country has become idolatrous in the hearts of many. Nationalism is synonymous with Christianity in the minds of a majority of evangelicals. Consider the typical worship service in an evangelical church on Independence Day. Referencing God's grace toward America is one thing, but a patriotic service honoring America to the exclusion of the worship of Christ is something else. By way of further example, a conservative church in our area walked an American flag down the aisle at the end of their Passion Play and draped it over the cross of Christ. Brethren, this type of thing is high treason against the King of Heaven.
Third, the reality is that even if we keep the statement in context, it is still not true for the Christian. When it comes to the issue of immigration, our sole loyalty is not to the American geo-political state, the American flag, or even the American people. Our sole loyalty is to Christ. That loyalty will affect how we view and deal with immigration. To the extent that we give our allegiance to America or the American people without doing so under our allegiance to Christ and the authority of His word regarding the myriad of issues involved in the immigration issue, we stand against the Living God and engage in idolatry. What may be good and beneficial to the American people may not square with Scripture. A sole loyalty to the American state or people may indeed be at odds with what God commands us to do. The Christian worldview is often out of step with the American worldview though many fail to realize such or even equate the two as noted.
Let it be quickly said that we appreciate this organization in so many ways and affirm their efforts in the culture war. We have not mentioned their name as our purpose is not to criticize them but to take this statement and make a point. We stand with them for the sake of the gospel. But, let us not let our rhetoric take us places we do not want to go. When Roosevelt says "we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people," every Christian ought to rise up with a consternation of heart, conviction of conscience, and surety of voice and say, "no, our sole loyalty is to Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords." Only that loyalty will cause us to truly live as good citizens, both in the City of God and in the City of Man, for that loyalty is the only loyalty that causes anyone to truly love or be loyal to anyone at all.
It is the particular references to "but something else also" and "sole loyalty" that give us the greatest trouble. For the sake of clarity, while we may perhaps, let us not contextualize those terms. We are something else: we are citizens of Heaven. We do have another loyalty: Christ. Let us reserve the term "sole loyalty" to Him. Let us speak of our national loyalty or a loyalty to no other nation but not to our sole loyalty without reference to Christ.
Remember, our brothers in the first century church died because they would not pledge an undivided allegiance to Caesar. They would not say "Caesar is Lord" because he was not. Jesus is Lord: then, today, and forever. Let us give allegiance to our country and pledge allegiance to the flag, but, not an undivided allegiance. Let us give our ultimate allegiance to Christ. He is Lord over all.
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About Paul Dean
Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.
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