Imagine with me for a moment that God arrives at JFK international airport – The ‘Leading International Gateway’ to the United States. As he steps off the plane and heads toward passport control, which line will he need to get into for immigration control? U.S Citizen, Resident Alien, Non-resident alien, or Foreign Persons?
It’s an interesting question as we think about God’s care for the world and our beliefs about his alliance with people, communities, and nations. There are many that without hesitation would send him through the U.S Citizen line and without hassle he would be quickly on his way – except let’s say he has a stamp from Yemen or Pakistan in his passport. Then the questions might be more pointed and the manner of the immigration official slightly more suspicious. There are a lot more who would send him through the foreigner line feeling he is in no way American and deserves the same scrutiny that any foreigner, particularly one arriving from the Middle East would get. The resident alien line is our last choice. By definition a resident alien is an individual that is not a citizen or national of the United States and who meets either the green card test or the substantial presence test for the calendar year. So does he?
It’s all hypothetical and maybe cheesy to ask the question but I think it raises a bigger issue. One that has troubled me for some time since I have relocated to the U.S. It is the underlying thought that God loves and aligns himself with Americans more than Egyptians, Pakistanis or others in the world, his care and favor focused primarily on the Western world. Yesterday as I was pondering this it struck me yet again that this posture is a threat to Christianity. It is idolatry to believe that the primary identity of a Christian is in membership to a nation and that those who are not part of that nation will lose out on the grace of God .
We have a friend living with us right now – he is 24 and graduated from college in May. He was raised in China, Kazakhstan, and Sharjah, coming to live in the United States only after he had graduated from highschool. As we were discussing this he said that on his entry into the United States for college 5 years ago, he encountered a view of Christianity that he was unfamiliar with. That of Christianity as a political force that was uniquely American as opposed to a transformative lifestyle indiscriminately available to all people at all times. As a third-culture-kid (one who spends a significant amount of their childhood in a country that is not their passport country) his identity is not related to citizenship or being a member of a nation or people group, so his encounter with a uniquely American brand of Christianity was, and continues to be, troubling to him. My story is similar, my source of belonging and identity is not rooted in this nation, or any other nation. I struggle to articulate this within churches as I have conversations with people who voice and practically live out a different perspective.
I know that this is a larger conversation than a blog post and I would love to have readers explore this more through comments, but I will close with this: Having my identity rooted in something as potentially fragile as a nation doesn’t feel safe and secure or correct to me – by contrast the safety of being rooted in the eternal is remarkable.
“The identification of religion with nation and nation with religion is something Christians should avoid at all costs. It is a direct violation of the growth of a body in which there is “neither Jew nor Greek” (Galatians 3:28).” by Robert Banks and R. Paul Stevens~The Complete Book of Everyday Christianity