Tag Archives: loyalty

Patriotism Revisited

I’m probably the worst person to ask about patriotism. With a Jamaican-American husband, a teenaged daughter who recently delivered a rhetorical speech on the evils of nationalism, a bagpipe-blowing son who is deeply disappointed over being too young to vote in Scotland’s upcoming independence referendum, and a youngest who still defines her national boundaries by the walls of whatever building we currently call home, I am pretty mixed up. For years I have felt a growing schizophrenia in myself over the question of loyalty to a particular country.

On one hand, I come from a military family and grew up in a military community, populated by men and women who have devoted their lives to serving their country with sacrifice and excellence. Love for them inspires me to love my country.

My neighbor is the person next to me. My obligation is to the nation with which I am connected, whether by birth or by residence or by media awareness.

On the other hand, I have spent most of my adult life abroad, living among and serving people of other nations. I have come to identify with their concerns and causes so fully that I often forget that I belong to somewhere else. Love for them compels me to love their countries.

But when there is a conflict of interest, whose side do I take? What does patriotism look like for a Christian?

Now bands from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”
2 Kings 5:2-3

I am not alone in this dilemma. The Scriptures abound with examples of dual allegiances and competing loyalties. Often those who found themselves in these tricky positions were there apart from their own choice. For the Jewish slave girl who served Naaman the Syrian, the fact that her master had invaded her nation, killed many of her people, and carried her off as a captive did not stop her from legitimately caring about his needs. In fact, her compassionate attempt to help him find a cure for his leprosy almost resulted in another war between his nation and hers!

Joseph said to the people, “Now that I have bought you and your land today for Pharaoh, here is seed for you so you can plant the ground.
“You have saved our lives,” they said. “May we find favor in the eyes of our lord; we will be in bondage to Pharaoh.”
Genesis 47:23, 25

Joseph, another slave expatriated against his will, served his Egyptian masters so well that he effectively consolidated their political and economic position as a superpower. It would have been one thing to faithfully but passively do what Pharaoh asked of him. But Joseph carried out his duty with such excellence that soon he had all of Egypt and its neighboring nations, including his own, literally eating out of Pharaoh’s hand.

Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.
Daniel 6:3-4

Perhaps the clearest example comes in Daniel, noble patriot to his own country but dedicated servant to another. Carried off as a prisoner of war to Babylon, he never left behind his loyalty to his God or his people, but nor did that hinder his faithfulness in serving his conquering kings. Administering justice. Managing the economy. Interpreting dreams. Giving wise political advice. Daniel’s faithfulness to God compelled him to work hard for the cause of the country in which he had been planted, despite its status as his own country’s mortal enemy. And in time he, like Joseph and like Esther, was able to use his insider status to help his own people at a critical moment in their history, in a pivotal “such a time as this.”

Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.
Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men…
Matthew 22:21, 39-40; Ephesians 6:5, 7

As I look at the life examples of these godly people, I see how they were each marked by the love that Jesus calls us all to exhibit towards our neighbors. I imagine Jesus’ instruction to pay taxes to Caesar rattled the patriotic pride of His fellow Jews. Assist the foreign oppressor in his rule of their nation? And yet that is precisely what He was telling them to do, twined with the perspective that everything done in love for others is ultimately done in service to God.

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. … But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. … “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
Luke 10:29-30, 33, 36

And this leads me right back to my question about patriotism. To whom do I belong? To whom am I obligated to love and serve, sacrifice and submit? I suppose the answer lies in Jesus response to the expert Jewish lawyer’s question, “Who is my neighbor?” Interestingly, Jesus laid His finger right on the man’s patriotic bias by telling a story with a Samaritan hero. An unwelcome immigrant held up as a model of civic duty? But Jesus‘ point remains the same.

My neighbor is the person next to me. My obligation is to the individual whose needs I am aware of, the community whose dynamics I play a part in, the nation with which I am connected, whether by birth or by residence or by media awareness.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Ephesians 2:19; 4:16

This Fourth of July I will celebrate the land where I was born, the country that so many of my loved ones have sacrificially served. But my love for the people of America does not eclipse my love for the people of the nations in the rest of the world. I am American, with all the pride and shame that comes with the history of my nation. But first and foremost, I am a member of the body of Christ, part of the holy nation that spans every political border and ethnic divide. To that I wholeheartedly pledge my allegiance.

Power Plays

Uriah showed up in his pastor’s office dusty, worn, and still reeling from the intensity of battle. For weeks on end he had been in the trenches, grappling with a powerful enemy by day and constantly on high alert for an attack by night. He had stared death in the face more times than he could count, and he had watched as many a comrade in arms had fallen prey to it. But he soldiered on despite it all, believing body, mind, and spirit in the worthiness of the cause he was serving.

Being suddenly called off the front lines of battle by his leader came as quite a surprise. The job wasn’t done, his friends were still in the thick of the fight, and he was desperately needed. Nevertheless, he dropped everything and came, trusting that their leader must have some more urgent assignment for him.

So David sent this word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent him to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going.
2 Samuel 11:6-7

High, cedar-beamed ceilings. Pristine corridors. Ornate furnishings. A smooth, polished handshake. Have a seat? Something to drink? Uriah wasn’t really up for the small talk. His mind was still on the battle, his instincts still honed in on the urgent matters at hand. Since when had his pastor been so concerned about the details of how he and the men were getting on? Why didn’t he just get to the point of why he had taken him away from the battle? But that would have to wait.

Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” So Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants and did not go down to his house.
2 Samuel 11:8-9

Before Uriah knew it, the interview was over. He was being dismissed with a casual order to take a break and “enjoy” his wife. The pastor’s secretary came after him with a fruit basket and a gift card. None of this made sense. It was so completely incongruent with the life and mentality that Uriah had been immersed in, that his pastor had preached to him time and time again. His every action was directed by a passionate commitment to serve the kingdom of God, no matter the cost. His pastor of all people knew that sleeping with his wife would make him ritually impure, disqualifying him from the spiritual battle in which they were currently engaged. Why would his pastor tell him to just forget all that and indulge in a delightful but forbidden diversion? It must be a test.

When David was told, “Uriah did not go home,” he asked him, “Haven’t you just come from a distance? Why didn’t you go home?”
Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my master Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open fields. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and lie with my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!”
2 Samuel 11:10-11

The next day Uriah was called back in to the pastor’s office. Why didn’t he go home to his wife? Wasn’t he long overdue for the pleasures of a “normal” life? Finally, he had the opportunity to speak his mind, to talk with his leader about the issues that perpetually churned in his mind and burned on his heart. Of course they shared the same values. Of course his leader would understand where he was coming from and would support him in his actions. But again Uriah left his pastor’s presence confused. Something just wasn’t right, but who was he to question his spiritual authority?

The “process” was becoming ridiculously long, and Uriah still couldn’t figure out what it was all about. Why was he here? Why were his time and energy being used up in endless, seemingly pointless meetings?

Then David said to him, “Stay here one more day, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. At David’s invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master’s servants; he did not go home.
2 Samuel 11:12-13

The next evening he was invited to a nice dinner with his leader. This, too, felt like a violation of his commitment, a betrayal of his co-workers, but how could he refuse? Sumptuous food. Free-flowing wine. Uriah politely tried to turn it down, but his leader insisted. By the end of the evening he left the party reeling under the influence, but still he did not go home. He refused to compromise his purity. He refused to be corrupted.

In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. In it he wrote, “Put Uriah in the front line where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.”
2 Samuel 11:14-15

Little did Uriah know it, but that was the last straw. His incorruptible integrity threatened his leader’s corrupted agenda. His straightforward loyalty unmasked his leader’s hidden betrayal. And that just couldn’t be tolerated. The pastor’s subtle power plays had failed, so he dealt his final card.

So while Joab had the city under siege, he put Uriah at a place where he knew the strongest defenders were. When the men of the city came out and fought against Joab, some of the men in David’s army fell; moreover, Uriah the Hittite died.
2 Samuel 11:16-17

The pastor had to find a way to eliminate the threat while keeping his own “integrity” intact. He would never consider cold-blooded murder, but he knew someone who would do his dirty work for him. A short but to-the-point note to the church administrator: Uriah needed to be gotten rid of. A conveniently arranged accident: Uriah became a casualty of war.

David told the messenger, “Say this to Joab: ‘Don’t let this upset you; the sword devours one as well as another. Press the attack against the city and destroy it.’ Say this to encourage Joab.”
2 Samuel 11:25

“What a shame, but unfortunately, these things will happen. It’s just as well; this will work out for the greater good.”

But the thing David had done
displeased the LORD.

2 Samuel 11:27