In a time of crisis, uncertainty, and policy debate, one would think that Christians in the United States would agree: When in doubt, we should support our leader and remain loyal to our nation.
Our leader, of course, is Jesus Christ. Our nation, of course, is the people called church, spread around the globe. Our pledge of allegiance, of course, is one that can be sung from within "every tribe and language and people and nation" (Revelations 5:9). Of course?
As the Bush administration prepares for war with Iraq, some matters certainly are legitimate topics for debate and Christian discernment. Christians of good will must discern which of the many competing messages about Iraq are coming to them in good faith, and which are manipulative. At its best, the centuries-long debate between pacifist and just-war Christians can help deepen a shared commitment to confront injustice and stand up for the defenseless. In turn, those who believe wars can sometimes be just are obliged to discern whether this war would qualify. Meanwhile, those resolved to respond first as Christians will continually wonder how to live out Christian love of neighbor within overlapping roles such as employee, passport-holder, family member, office holder.
Yet for all this, one thing should need no debate whatsoever. The first Christian creed was the simple confession "Jesus is Lord." Kyrios, lord, king, Caesar—perhaps today we would say president. Biblically, to confess Jesus as Lord means that in every nation except the church, whoever is known as king, Caesar, or president is not really our leader. Leaders of the nations deserve respect and prayer. Ordinary laws and policies ordinarily deserve civil obedience, not disobedience. But if Jesus is Lord, no other leader deserves unquestioned support, muting of doubts, or stifling of conscience. Every Christian must someday expect to obey God, not human beings.