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Don’t Wrap Your Faith and Patriotism Too Tightly

U.S. citizens have the huge privilege and heavy responsibility of having a voice in shaping our nation’s future.

In November, we will participate in a presidential election and in the choice of other elected officials on national, state and local levels. These decisions are extremely important.

Of course, we should vote. And of course, our Christian convictions should shape the way we vote.

But let’s keep some things in perspective by remembering what the Bible says about citizenship. “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).

That verse reminds us that our Savior doesn’t come from Washington, D.C. It also clarifies that if you are a follower of Christ, your identity as an American is secondary to your identity as a citizen of God’s kingdom. You are a permanent citizen of heaven who temporarily resides in the United States.

Sometimes we get our patriotism and our faith wrapped a little too tightly together. We come to view Americans as God’s chosen people.

So we will read promises given to the people of God in the Old Testament and try to claim those promises for our nation. We envision the United States as playing an indispensable role in God’s plans for the world.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the United States is a great country. I wouldn’t trade it for any other place to live.

But Americans are not God’s chosen people. God has no preference for the U.S. over other nations. God wasn’t watching the Olympics a few weeks back chanting, “U-S-A, U-S-A.”

The U.S. is not God’s chosen people, but there is a biblical parallel that can help us understand our situation as followers of Christ in the U.S. today.

We are similar to the Israelites in exile who found themselves living with a kind of dual identity. They were God’s children, God’s chosen, but they were also residents of Babylon and other cities.

They were Israelite, but temporarily they were Babylonian, too. Our situation is similar: We are forever followers of Christ, and temporarily we are Americans, too.

God’s instruction to those exiles applies to us, too. “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7).

God wanted the exiles to know that while Babylon was not their ultimate home, it was in their best interest for Babylon to thrive.

Likewise, though the U.S. is far from perfect, and though it is not the place of our most important citizenship, we need to seek its peace and prosperity.

While we reside here, we need to pray for this nation because if it prospers, we too will prosper.

For the Christian, a healthy America is not the ultimate thing. But it is a good thing.

U.S. Christians must avoid two temptations:

1. To abandon the American political process as a hopeless mess, justifying our dereliction of duty by reminding ourselves that our fundamental citizenship lies elsewhere anyway.

2. To make an idol of America and its political process, assuming that God needs America and that his hands will be tied unless the right party is in power.

So don’t stop looking for candidates who reflect the character and priorities of Christ as closely as possible and love people like Christ does.

And don’t stop using political means to work toward the goal of “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

At the same time, remember that God is too creative, powerful and good to be thwarted by election results.

Christians sometimes pine for a day in which our government is completely in line with our understanding of the Kingdom of God.

But it is neither in America’s plans nor in God’s plans for the U.S. government to usher in a Christian utopia.

The U.S. will never be perfect, and we shouldn’t expect it to be. But we should strive for it to be better. God would have you vote, work and pray for the good of our nation.

America is not the most important thing in the universe. After all, long after the U.S. falls, the kingdom of God will still be alive and well. Yet, we pursue these things because if America prospers, we too will prosper.

We are responsible as Christian citizens to participate in the political process and to work for the good of our nation. But our primary citizenship is in God’s kingdom, not in the U.S.

Blake McKinney is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, and the author of “Refresh: A Moment with God in the Middle of Your Day.” A version of this article originally appeared on his blog, Intersections, and is used with permission. He and his wife, Gayla, also write a marriage blog, Same Team. You can follow him on Twitter @JBlakeMcKinney.

Editor’s note: McKinney’s previous columns on the 2016 U.S. presidential election are “Getting Some Perspective This Election Season” and “A Dangerous Path for Politically Active Christians.”