Jesus before America

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Illustration by Terrynce McKeown

By Dennis Greeson

“My first allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or a man. My first allegiance is not to democracy or blood. It’s to a King and a Kingdom.”

So sings Derek Webb in a counter-culture anthem that challenges the mistake of exalting America above all else. This fervent nationalism is held by many, but it conflicts with everything Jesus stands for.

The love of Christ for people of all nations and races, his unshakable love for people, is the model for all who follow him. Yet there has been a subtle arrogance woven into our faith that tells us we have the freedom to pick and choose who to love.

Jesus died for Muslims, for communists, and for all who we have been convinced to hate. Countless numbers of my own friends, people I’ve cried for, would be scorned the moment they stepped off the plane into an American airport, let alone into an American church.

Nationalism makes distinctions, sees borders and throws up barriers between people. We who claim to be following after Jesus have a call to be different, revolutionaries who love beyond man’s delineation.
In 1994, my family and I found ourselves on an airplane bound for Asia. Just after my fifth birthday, my parents yielded to a call to give up their lives for foreign missions, and we moved to Bangladesh, a small country on India’s eastern border.

I spent the next 13 years of my life amidst swollen cities and ripening rice patties, in three countries and countless houses. I watched my family step out across cultural and linguistic barriers, serving passionately a people they did not know with a love the world does not understand.

Upon returning to the United States at the beginning of my freshman year of college, I discovered what my Asian experience had stolen from me. I had lost any ties to a country that I might have once had; America did not quite fit me.

What I gained, however, was a sense of homelessness, which I count a blessing.

Through Jesus we become adopted sons and daughters of God, born into his Kingdom. Therefore, at the deepest part of our identity, we are neither American nor Bolivian; we are neither Anglo nor African-American; we are neither Republican nor Democrat; we are, above all else, children of God.

Nationalism is not wrong in itself. Commitment and submission to one’s country is important and even biblical. However, nationalism that eclipses our identity as people born into a Kingdom “not of this world” needs to be reconsidered (John 18:36).

Paul told us not to be “conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). As people who belong to Jesus, we should live and think differently from the rest of the world; we should love differently.

What this means for us now is that although the country we belong to despises some, we’re part of the heavenly Kingdom first that has in the mortar of its very foundations, the love of all people.

Our neighbors are not just those we like to love, but they are also those that this country is dropping bombs on. Christ-like love should not follow a political agenda but should reach out to the very people everyone else hates. That is what he did.

We are meant to be in the midst of cultures, communities and countries, living our lives differently to bring about heavenly changes in a fallen world. Our lives should not look like everyone else’s. We must be living differently and loving intentionally in a way that produces a counter-cultural movement that takes seriously the call to love all people, enemy or neighbor.

Author: The Bells Staff

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