Christian in America or American Christian: A distinction

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I am a Christian.

I am an American.

God saw fit for me to be born into a great country as well as born again into a great covenant–that is, the covenant of grace.

In the midst of this tumultuous election season, replete with a variety show of interviews, articles, and debates, I find myself at a loss. To quote my fellow millennial/Gen Y folks, “I can’t even.”

The question for me comes down to which one of these phrases best describes me. In view of my life, my hope, my spending, my conversations–both in person and on the other side of a screen, which is more accurate? I am an American Christian–or–I am a Christian in America.

Is there really a difference? I think so.

I don’t believe “Christian” should really be modified by any adjective. But that’s another blog.

For me it’s about how I am to be Christian in America. The same would be true for a Christian in Africa, in Iraq, or in  Barbados. I believe a drastic blurring between these two  notions of Country and Faith is prevalent in Evangelical churches across the US.

The “American Christian” understanding, albeit painting with broad strokes, is predominant among self-identified Republicans, perhaps some Libertarians as well.

I don’t consider myself a Republican or Democrat or Libertarian or Whig. So it’s not about red state, blue state for me.

Where I see the grave disconnect is that point when identifying as a “conservative” equates to bashing leaders, not praying for leaders, and making soul-level judgments based on a veto or policy.

Lest my historiography fail me, the President of the United States does not sign on to be the protector of all things “Christian.” Religious liberty, yes. And I can argue that such liberty is being infringed upon. But for those buying into the rhetoric that a certain president will make life better for Christians, I simply don’t see it.  Moreover, what constitutes better? The Church has been thrown to lions and hung on trees since her inception.

I love freedom. And there’s no freer place than America, as far as I know. If Christians in America spent as much time praying for her leaders as bashing, condemning, or judging them, God would be honored in that. Perhaps God would honor those prayers.

As one pastor in Tennessee put it, “We have about as much chance of changing America battling over hot  button issues as we do of curing malaria by swatting all the mosquitoes in the world.” Not a lot of amens after that one.

What if–just try to imagine this, please–what if…

  • Evangelical Christians in America experienced as much angst  over poverty in the US and across the world as over politics?
  • Or if they expressed the same degree of indignation over their neighbors and coworkers not knowing the Lamb who was slain to make them sons and daughters of God?

Come Monday morning, would the same damning vitriol spit towards a person created in the image of God come out of the mouth that, just fifteen hours earlier, sang of God’s amazing grace?

It’s not easy to see oneself foremost as a citizen of heaven. In fact, everything about this world is aimed at blinding us from such a vision. But I know of no other way to live faithfully according to the gospel, since it is the gospel that informs all that we do, whether in word or deed.

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The writer of Hebrews speaks to this tension of citizenship and identity,

These all (saints of old) died in faith without having received the promises, but they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. 14 Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland... 16 But they now desire a better place—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:13-14,16, HCSB)


 

How at Home are You?

Consider this a survey without any free offers awaiting you at the end. I will list out a few passages of Scripture and ask one question. Feel free to answer how you’d like.

20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3.20-21)

 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11.13-16)

14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. (Hebrews 13.14-16)

Question: In light of the emboldened phrases signifying another home, a better home, etc., if you believed that to be true would it change the way you live now?

No need to give your Sunday School answer. Be honest. Do you believe those things? If not, then obviously it won’t impact your life. But if you do believe, is it impacting the way you live?