It’s a pretty sweet situation to be in. I’ve been mostly satisfied with my lack of national allegiances.
But I am starting to feel that my neither-here-nor-there status is not the responsible choice for me. This land where I’ve lived for 23 years is my home, and I feel like I need to fully claim that fact. I lingered for a long time on the fringes of this community. Living on the edge is nice because I can keep my hands clean of the messiness of American civic life (and it does get messy), but this also keeps my hands out of the activity of helping clean up the mess and build a stronger nation. My hands aren’t stained with the faults of this country, but neither are they calloused from building it up.
If asked, “what is the most challenging Sunday to preach a sermon?” I suspect few pastors would say July 4th weekend. But as leaders providing spiritual guidance in a country that is often associated with strong nationalistic tendencies, offering a word that speaks to the messy relationship between “God and Country” is a task that American pastors cannot take lightly.
This dilemma of competing loyalties is not new. In both Matthew and Mark, Jesus is approached by opponents who sought to trap him by asking whether they were obligated to pay Roman taxes (Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17). An affirmative response would have been a betrayal of faith but a negative answer would be perceived as an act of sedition. Faced with this paradox, Jesus wowed his inquisitors by telling them to give Caesar what was due to Caesar and God what was due to God. Yet, as Franklin Gamwell, notes in Politics as a Christian Vocation, this only raises the question of what belongs to each of the competing authorities. If Christians are called to love God with all our being, then how can anything not belong to God? How can any other authority make a claim of allegiance on our lives?
One of the central teachings of Torah is that all human beings are made in the Image of God. That teaching and what flows from it are at the heart of Jewish prohibitions on the use of torture -- and perhaps at the heart of Christian opposition to torture as well.
Indeed, the Rabbis