Friday, November 18, 2011

Christ the King

It is good to remember with some regularity that when God contemplates the USA it is unlikely that the cockles of the divine heart are warmed any more than when contemplating, say, Latvia, Thailand, or Tunisia. And probably no less.

Christ the King Sunday is a good time for such a reminder

Radical Centrist Manifesto X
Centered in the Body of Christ,
Part 3: Faithfulness, Loyalty & Allegiance

[Some of what follows has appeared elsewhere on this blog, but I want to include it in this series on Radical Centrism]

This Sunday is the Feast of Christ the King. Claiming that Jesus Christ is King is pretty radical. And it is a claim that raises questions about where our true loyalties lie.

I once saw a woman wearing a t-shirt that I found disturbing and very telling. It was a white t-shirt that had JESUSAVES written across the front. I believe he does. But that was not the only message on the shirt. All the letters were blue except for those in the middle - USA - which were red. [A similar shirt is here] It was a telling icon of the confused syncretism of many Christians in America. Who saves? Jesus? The USA? Or, are the two so emotionally entwined in our imaginations that we can't tell the difference? It is an illustration of Stanley Hauerwas' assertion that for many Americans, the nation is their true church. For many Americans, America is the social body to which their ultimate allegiance is pledged regardless of what religious affiliation they formally claim.

Patriotism might not always be idolatry. A distinction must be made, however, between holding dear or celebrating the particular culture and history of a place/people and the sort of nationalistic exceptionalism that too often gets expressed. Even if patriotism is not always idolatrous, Christians should be wary of its appeal and suspicious of those who appeal to it to shepherd them in one direction or another. If Jesus Christ is the King, Christians need to beware of the temptation to confuse that King with other entities, including Uncle Sam, who would claim the kind of loyalty and emotional attachment that belongs to him alone. If Christ is King, do we have any business pledging allegiance to anything or anyone else?

My point is not that America is bad – at least no more than most other powers of this world. Stanley Kubrick once said, "The great nations have always acted like gangsters, and the small nations like prostitutes." One can find examples of America falling in there somewhere. As one can with every nation. On the other hand, anti-Americanism can also become an idol.

There are plenty of reasons for someone living in America to be grateful. And America has also done quite a bit of good in the world. But there are reasons for people in just about every country of the world to be grateful for their land, history and culture. And every nation, tribe, and people, also has things in its history and character of which to repent. There is something distinctive about every country, but none is “exceptional” in the sense of being beyond the normal ambiguities of this world.

Being centered in Jesus Christ and claiming him as King and Lord means pledging our allegiance to “another country”. We are citizens of heaven and of the kingdom of God (Philippians 3:20, Ephesians 2:9). Where our true citizenship lies is a question both the religious right and the religious left in America tend to get wrong. Baptism is our naturalization into a nationality other than that into which we are born (1 Peter 2:9). The creed is our pledge of allegiance. And Eucharist is the characteristic privilege and responsibility of citizenship that shapes us as a people and calls us to live as members of the body of Christ with each other and in the world. As William Cavanaugh writes in Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ:

In the Eucharist one is fellow citizen not of other present “Chileans” [or Americans] but of other members of the body of Christ, past, present and future. The Christian wanders among the earthly nations on the way to her eternal patria, the Kingdom of God. The Eucharist makes clear, however, that this Kingdom does not simply stand outside of history, nor is heaven simply a goal for the individual to achieve at death. Under the sign of the Eucharist the Kingdom becomes present in history through Christ the heavenly High Priest. In the Eucharist the heavens are opened, and the church of all times and places is gathered around the altar. p. 224

The Church is a body of people who are citizens of another country centered in Jesus Christ and his kingdom. That Christians all too often subsume Christianity under other loyalties does not negate the responsibility to seek to get our loyalty (that to which we are faithful) straight. What Christians can do about that is remember that Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords and be free of undue concern with the principalities and powers knowing that Christ has triumphed over them (Colossians 2:15). Christians have another King and should beware of giving their heart and loyalty to any other principality, power, or nation.

1 comment:

Dr. Ernie said...

Hi Matthew,

Thanks for these posts. As a devout Christian, former Chicagoan, amateur theologian, and Radical Centrist philosopher I was delighted to discover your blog. We'd love to have you join us for Radical Centrist discussions of theology, philosophy, and politics!

Dr. Ernie