Mike Cope's blog

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Very insightful comments yesterday. The truth is this: baptism makes you a bad American. Of course, it also makes you a bad Brazilian, Ugandan, etc. In one sense, it makes you a much better citizen, because you become a person of character and prayer as the Spirit works in your life. But in another sense, you become a "problem" to your country because you are no longer identified primarily as a citizen of that nation. You are an alien and stranger, whose citizenship is in heaven. You have come to see God's mission for the whole world--not just for the country you happen to live in. You realize that nations come and go--just as the one you currently live in may one day go--but the kingdom continues to break in. You understand that the goal isn't to produce a strong country, but to participate in the countercultural work of God among us. I consider myself a patriot. And yet at the end of the Pledge of Allegiance (which I gladly recite), I usually feel like I should turn to people around me and say, "Please take this with a grain of salt. I pledge allegiance to the flag. But not my ultimate allegiance. My ultimate allegiance is to Jesus Christ--the one who loves 'all the little children of the world.'" I've known so many people who can get whipped up into a political fervor by some ranting and raving radio shock jock. But they yawn through the church's assembly. I believe . . . -that there is more power in the prayer of a nursing-home-bound elderly woman who spends her waning hours consumed by thoughts of God than in the decision of important people who gather in city halls and state capitals; -that I have more in common with an urban Kenyan who has never traveled a mile beyond his hut but who confesses the name of Jesus than with a neighbor who lives in middle-class America but who isn't a Christ-follower; -that as an "alien and stranger" in this world, my primary identity is as a baptized believer and not as an American (as thankful as I am to be a citizen of this country); -that the church's job isn't primarily to wave flags in support of war (though, according to strict "just war" theories war may sometimes be reluctantly necessary) but to pray "thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."


  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Candy, at 6/02/2004 05:35:00 AM  

  • Great, great couple of posts, Mike. For some reason, it made me think about the whole notion of prayer as subversion . . . here's a great quote from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel:

    "Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive,unless it seeks to overthrow and ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehood. The liturgical movement must become a revolutionary movement, seeking to overthrow the forces that continue to destroy the promise, the hope, the vision."

    I pray against hatred in all countries -- including mine.

    Here's an interesting website, too:


    By Blogger Matt Elliott, at 6/02/2004 05:45:00 AM  

  • Now I know what the little trash can beside a comment does. Let's see if I can rewrite my comment as well as I wrote it initially. I'm sure it won't be anywhere near as good. but here goes...how often I've thought and felt exactly what you've written, Mike. I, too, am a grateful citizen of this country but I so often feel like a foreigner - an alien - here. Just yesterday I was thinking what is going on here? What are we thinking? Who is in control around here? And that's when I felt it again, stronger than ever, that yearning for home. I know I have a purpose here - I'm not always aware of what it is but I'm always searching for it. And I know until that purpose is fulfilled I will continue to live and exist as a stranger, an alien - not necessarily in this country alone but on this globe, this orb of life. And so I pray without ceasing. Thanks, Mike, for the awareness once again that I am not alone.

    By Blogger Candy, at 6/02/2004 05:47:00 AM  

  • Thanks to you all for putting my feelings into words!! I'm so ever grateful to have been placed in this place (America), but often feel like I just don't "fit." You put my reality into eloquent words. Thank God for this medium that can connect me to people of like mind so easily.
    Amy in South Texas

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6/02/2004 06:05:00 AM  

  • Here is the question I have been struggling with. Can you pledge your allegiance to anything but God if you are a Christian? Because, in my opinion, there is no such thing as "partial allegiance." You either give someone your allegiance or you don't. That has been my struggle with saying the Pledge of Allegiance. How can I give my allegiance to a flag and then at the same time give it to God?
    Mike, please don't take this as debating your thoughts. I'm just thinking out loud with the struggles I have been dealing with. Thanks for your thoughts.

    By Blogger Gilbert, at 6/02/2004 06:57:00 AM  

  • Great words, Mike! I have been struck by your comments along these lines over the last couple of years. I was also struck by hearing Tony Compolo saying some of the same things recently at the Emergent Conference. I think we're being called to think of ourselves in different ways in these times...prayerful and hopeful for God's Kingdom, and yet engaging our world in these discussions. Wonderful insights from you--as always.

    By Blogger Brandon Scott, at 6/02/2004 09:24:00 AM  

  • Mike,
    It's creepy how your post today coincides perfectly with a discussion we are having in Monte's class today. We are talking about the "power of the manger" and the "power of the cross" in relation to government. When thinking about protest marches against war, against gay marriage, against abortion, I can't see Jesus holding a picket sign. I see him in the living room of a gay man wanting to marry his partner, and calling him to be transformed by life in Him.
    There is much to debate concerning the role of us "aliens and "strangers" in terms of a democracy (not a Jewish theocracy or Roman Imperialism), but I think we need to keep our Heaven passports more well used than our blue, American ones.

    By Blogger Greg Kendall-Ball, at 6/02/2004 09:34:00 AM  

  • It has become very clear that we are aliens and strangers in this world. We see it as we live with abortion on demand, activist judges trying to force the homosexual agenda down our throats, and the garbage coming out of Hollywood. We see it as we live in a land of runaway materialism. We see it in the racial divide that still exists. Sigh. This world is not our home.

    By Blogger Jeff Slater, at 6/02/2004 10:44:00 AM  

  • Someone (whose name escapes me) wiser than me once said that "the line between good and evil runs through the middle of the human heart". Our desire should be to overcome evil whether we see it in our enemies or in ourselves. We must also remember that we do not return evil for evil, but overcome evil with good.

    By Blogger chrismith, at 6/02/2004 10:51:00 AM  

  • "that I have more in common with an urban Kenyan who has never traveled a mile beyond his hut but who confesses the name of Jesus than with a neighbor who lives in middle-class America but who isn't a Christ-follower."I think that's dead on. God doesn't see political boundaries, he sees "my people" and "not my people." It's our job to give everyone the opportunity to become his people.

    By Blogger Q, at 6/02/2004 11:11:00 AM  

  • Could different followers of the same Savior be led to act in different ways? Could one disciple be prompted to take up arms while another is convicted to conscientiously object? Or is one of them not completely submitting to Spirit?

    It's common for this generation of Christians to ask, "What would Jesus do?" Might a better question be, "What would Jesus have me do?" I realize
    "W.W.J.H.M.D.?" isn't as catchy as the other, but these are the things that keep me up at night...

    By Blogger Grant, at 6/02/2004 11:36:00 AM  

  • Ah, but is this not the same sentiment that causes people to read Jeremiah 29:11 personally?

    Is the Gospel worked out in individual lives, or is there a communitarian hermenutic involved?

    Sorry, being in the middle of a graduate class makes me want to use my $5 words....

    By Blogger Greg Kendall-Ball, at 6/02/2004 12:50:00 PM  

  • Yeah. I see what Greg is saying. But I still struggle with that same question Grant is asking.

    Is it a matter of spiritual maturity? Certain things are right for certain people based on where they are in their spiritual journey, and later they may be ready to accept the more challenging truths.

    Or, does even thinking that way scream of relativism and thus fly in the face of absolute truth?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6/02/2004 02:27:00 PM  

  • Mike, great thoughts here. We all need to read Camp's book.

    One comment off the last posting here - the either/or of absolute truth vs complete relativism is a sham. As the biblical wisdom literature teaches us, there is a time for all things and wisdom knows the difference. That's a far different cry from saying there's "no truth". Whenever someone says, "It's all relative", you should always ask them "Relative to what?"

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6/03/2004 08:22:00 AM  

  • Any fans of Stanley Hauerwas out there? One of the perks of living in Durham is having direct access to men like Hauerwas and Willimon (both of whom are very accessible). Hauerwas was asked to do a write up in a local paper on gays in the military and turned it on its head. Instead of getting into the obvious political debate, he questioned why gays were considered suspect as good soldiers, but Christians weren't. Our ultimate loyalty isn't to our country, our commander-in-chief, or our commanding officer. The leader of our movement preached pacifism. Why isn't there more public outcry against Christians serving in the military. Why are we no longer suspect?

    By Blogger chrismith, at 6/03/2004 09:30:00 AM  

  • Christ couldn't stand the "lukewarm"; perhaps our country's environment is making us make up our minds. Joshua called his people to choose. Might it be a GOOD thing that this country is becoming so divided? Could God be forcing us off our duffs? Would the Kingdom be better off if we no longer saw ourselves as a "Christian Nation?" I'm not sure I'm comfortable with my own answers.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6/03/2004 09:54:00 AM  

  • Ouch! First I learn my church isn't the only one going to Heaven, then you tell me my American citizenship won't leverage a visa into the pearly gates! I was almost sure that we were the ONE nation under God! Next you are going to say that going to a christian college didn't make me more spiritual and being friends with all christians doesn't make me more Christian. Are you trying to start some sort of restoration revolution. I've been warned about preachers like you who make us really walk the talk. What are you thinking! :)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6/03/2004 09:56:00 AM  

  • I'm glad these comments are enabled. It leads to interesting discussion -- both here and elsewhere.

    Oh. And it's added about a bjillion more blogs to my reading list, but I don't know yet whether that's a good thing or not. ^_~

    By Blogger Q, at 6/03/2004 01:30:00 PM  

  • Nothing wrong with pledging "allegiance" to the flag. I as a baptized believer take note of the fact that to Jesus I owe ALL my allegiance! At the same time I owe allegiance to "the republic for which it (the flag) stands." Not nearly as much as I do for Christ, yet even the Israelites owed allegiance to their nation - ultimately to God. It's not the flag itself, just as we do not worship the Bible or the church building. We give respect for Whom they stand.

    Our true nation, as we both know, is the Kingdom of God!

    By Blogger Haile Nkrumah Gault, at 6/03/2004 08:05:00 PM  

  • Which draws me into a new line of thought -one that deals with symbols. Should a church feel comfortable flying American flags in some part of their building? Should we have 4th of July services? My insitinct (as well as my general inclination after thoughtful study) is absolutely not. Thoughts?

    By Blogger chrismith, at 6/04/2004 09:54:00 AM  

  • Chris, hope you were joking!! If not you must have over-dosed on something.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6/04/2004 11:11:00 AM  

  • I'm one who doesn't say the pledge. Some take this to mean I'm not patriotic -- and I'm not in the way some want to define it. I'm glad to live in the United States, but I am strictly uncomfortable with the wording of the pledge. I don't pledge my allegiance to either the flag or the republic for which it stands; it's a dual requirement in its wording. I will support the government inasmuch as I will vote according to my conscience and act in accordance with the laws of the state. I will submit to the authority of the government, but I'm not constrained to be allied; should I have to choose unquestioning allegiance, I would leave.

    The vast majority of our pledge is badly worded. We are one nation, but we are only "under God" insofar as everything on earth is "under God." We seem no longer to claim or even to desire to be a nation under God's control. We are not indivisible and so far we've yet to achieve liberty and justice for all. And I don't think we will outside the kingdom -- and I'm not even sure we're promised it there. I don't think I want God's justice to be meted out toward me; I'm praying for grace.

    I don't feel that the emblem of the United States is emblematic of the mission of the kingdom of God. Democracy is probably one of the most detrimental influences in understanding what it is to submit to a king. I don't dislike democracy. I'm glad to have the right to vote and the opportunity to change even only my small corner of the world. But on focusing on my right and my freedoms, I sometimes forget that I'm still a slave -- true, to a better master, but still a slave.

    Not the most coherent answer, but that's all I've got.

    By Blogger Q, at 6/04/2004 11:13:00 AM  

  • Mike - I took Camp's Theological Ethics course a year & 1/2 ago and kicked and screamed through it - but finished with the "most transformed" award I'm sure.

    John Howard Yoder was Camp's mentor at Notre Dame - I'm not sure anyone has shaped his views on this more than Yoder - I'd be very interested to hear your views on Stanley Hauerwas' stuff and John Howard Yoder's "Politics of Jesus".

    These two have changed my thinking alot - I'd also be interested in hearing what else you've read that has shaped your views on this. You seem to support the Just War Tradition somewhat - where Camp, Yoder, and Hauerwas don't.

    By Blogger Jeff Jenkins, at 6/04/2004 11:59:00 AM  

  • Wow -- Mike Cope got everybody all whipped up into a frenzy and then checked out on us. It's like he virtually lit the poop and ran! Mike, we need you!! Come back!! Guide us! Teach us! Lead us! From the mountains to the prairies! To the oceans white with foam!!


    By Blogger Matt Elliott, at 6/04/2004 01:42:00 PM  

  • I am not sure that any contribution I make to this conversation will make a difference, but it seems that all of us are in agreement that any allegiance we do have is first and foremost to Jesus Christ. We would all agree that there can be no substitute, and if that makes us bad citizens while one earth, then praise God, for then we would be joining the ranks of those who openly professed their allegiance to Christ in the first century, or in any decade rather than bowing down to, or pledging thier allegiance to anything else.

    But there in lies the paradox of sorts. Americans, love this land that gives them the freedom to be patriotic or to openly criticize poloicies, and laws that they disagre with. Jesus told his audience when asked about paying taxes, to give to Caeser what is Caeser's and God what is God's. So, vote, applaud the selflessness of those military men, and women who paid the ultimate price to defend the flag that inspires them still, be good citizens, obey the laws of the land, and be a follower of Jesus Christ, pray for our leaders, lend a helping hand to our neighbor. Paul was openly a Roman citizen, and yet wrote passionately about his citizenship in heaven, may we be able to recoginze and respect our dual citizenship. Just thinking out loud.

    By Blogger Jason Retherford, at 6/04/2004 02:18:00 PM  

  • I want to officially go on record as disagreeing with Mike's original assertion that being a follower of Christ makes one a "bad" citizen of any country.

    The only exception I can think of would be a country which demands its citizens not be Christlike or somehow deny allegiance to Christ. There obviously are places like that in our world, even today, but the U.S. is not one of them. We have the freedom to be Christlike here, and God forbid we fail in that endeavor.

    I would hope we would all receive the blessings of living in the U.S. like we receive our other blessings: not to hoard for ourselves but to use in the blessing of others.

    For example, I have been blessed to be part of a wonderful, Christian family. I don't worship them (nor are all of my family members God-fearing, kingdom people), but I certainly love and cherish them dearly. I appreciate what they've meant to me and how they've participated in my coming to Christ. I don't see why one couldn't honor his/her country in that way.

    While I'm being contrarian, I would contend, Quiara, that while our country hasn't accomplished in full the various planks in the Pledge of Allegiance, there is such a thing as stating something in the present that hasn't completely happened but which we hope will. I'm thinking of the Lord's prayer here. I know for a fact that I regularly fail to live up to those standards. I'm still going to pray it, though, because I want His kingdom to come.

    I'm going back off the record now.

    By Blogger Grant, at 6/04/2004 08:33:00 PM  

  • Matt E. is accusing me of lighting the fuse and then running for cover. Nope--just running for Houston. Wednesday night I got evacuated from the Richland Hills auditorium (after the evening assembly had just ended) because of high winds. Thursday night we were evacuated from the Holiday Inn in Houston because of smoke on the 11th floor. Some guy had dropped a cigarette into a planter.

    Does baptism make you a bad American (or German or Brazilian or Rwandan)? Well, that's a bit tongue-in-cheek. But yes--of course it does in one sense.

    In baptism you say:

    "I am no longer primarily identified as a citizen of this country. It may say that on my birth certificate. But I am now marked as a citizen of heaven who lives as an alien and stranger here."

    "I am no longer taking as my defining stories the ones I hear in American history class. My defining stories are not those of Paul Revere and George Washington but those of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Ester, Paul--and, of course, primarily of Jesus."

    "I am no longer committed to our national good at the expense of other people."

    "My primarily community is comprised of those of all nations who call on Jesus."

    "I believe that nations come and go but that the kingdom of Christ will continue to break forth."

    As I said in the post, being a Christ-follower does make you an even better citizen in other senses. But likely not in the ways that the powers of this world will recognize.

    By Blogger Mike, at 6/05/2004 04:57:00 AM  

  • Grant --

    I'm not campaigning for all people to stop saying the pledge. This isn't just something I grew up believing: my dad is a navy vet; both he and my mother have always taught me to respect our government, our flag and to be grateful to live in the US. (Heck, I was even a Girl Scout for 15 years; I think I've known the proper etiquette for flag ceremonies since I was 5 or 6.) I have a deep respect for our country, it's people and their history, our soldiers past and present. But personally, I'm not comfortable saying the pledge. It asks me to pledge my allegiance to something that I don't believe exists.

    Doesn't mean I'm not happy to live here or that I don't appreciate the freedoms or even that, if called to do so, I wouldn't fight to protect them. It also doesn't mean I harbor a desire to overthrow it, don't pay my taxes or don't vote. It means I can't affirm about 80% of the pledge. I still "render unto Caesar" and "submit to governing authority." I'm even a fan of the Constitution. ^_~

    You contend that saying the pledge isn't significantly different from the Lord's prayer because both are unfulfilled in the present. I understand your point. However, I have more faith that the Lord's prayer will be fulfilled -- ultimately, at least, if not imminently -- while most of what I've seen in the States is our continuing journey away from our own idea of who we are.

    I definitely don't want to irk anybody, especially on something like this. If I'm in a situation in which the pledge is said, I stand, remain respectful, but I don't say it. It's not exactly because I'm opposed to saying a pledge, it's because I can't affirm this one. For me to stand and say something I don't believe is for me to lie. So I abstain. I don't think any less or any more of people who don't or do. I guess it's a conscience thing; perhaps this makes me the weaker brother. If so, I hope I mature to a point where it's no longer a transgression of my conscience to say it. Dunno.

    (This sounds incredibly like the discussion I had a few days ago when someone asked me why I don't capitalize "satan." Eventually, I just blamed John Fortner.) ^_~

    By Blogger Q, at 6/05/2004 09:35:00 AM  

  • Hey, Q,

    I don't think you're weaker, and I certainly don't think you're a brother. I am grateful, however, that we live in a place where these and other ideas can be discussed in an open forum.

    I would not easily be moved off the position that all of us take our personal and spiritual liberty for granted. And on the day Ronald Reagan died, I do wonder how things might be different if a Reagan-esque figure had assumed the presidency of the Soviet Union in 1980 and a weaker individual had been leading the United States during that time.

    Quite honestly, I'm not sure how a government can go from birth to maturity while adequately honoring God (perhaps because I have a hard enough time figuring out how I should). Can one justify the American Revolution? The Civil War? WW I or II? All, to some degree, paved the way for our existing freedoms, yet all required people killing people, which certainly doesn't seem to fit Christ's model of service and submission.

    And while the current war is difficult to reconcile with kingdom living, so does not stopping one power mercilessly torture and kill human beings when you have the ability to do so. Which is more antithetical to the life of Christ: killing someone in war or not defending the defenseless when given the opportunity?

    I think I'm going to stop now and say the Lord's prayer...

    By Blogger Grant, at 6/05/2004 10:37:00 PM  

  • i wasn't kidding when i asked my american flags question, but i came off unclear in my desire to be diplomatic. i think it's truly wrong to do it, but it is a subject up for debate in some churches every time an american holiday rolls around.

    By Blogger chrismith, at 6/06/2004 05:32:00 AM  

  • Grant --

    You got me: I'm not a brother. ^_~

    As to the question of war, I agree that this one is hard to reconcile. I also agree that not stopping evil is arguably worse. I just don't have a good answer when stopping evil requires evil. It also doesn't help to know that there are places in the world where things are much "worse," if such a thing can be quantified. I know there is cruelty and oppression in Iraq. But I also know that I would rather live in Iraq, Israel or Palestine vs. a lot of places in Africa when it comes to troubled places. At least in certain areas of the middle east, if I were to die, it would likely be reasonably quick. And beyond one human oppressing another, there are plenty of places where no one has time to work out dictatorial oppression because everyone is too busy starving to death and wondering whether they'll have to sell another child into slavery just to feed what remains of the family for the next few weeks. And we don't even need to go outside our own borders to find similar situations. Children starve here, too. Some people fear for their lives daily. Some wonder not only where their next meals will come from, but also where and whether they'll sleep tonight. It's almost a mote/speck argument to me; we have our own oppressions.

    There's so much we can do here, if we're truly concerned about what's best for the world. True religion isn't really always stopping the bad guys, it's caring for the helpless: the orphan, the widow and the alien who dwells among you.

    I'm glad that Greg and others like him are going out to minister in different largely unreached areas. But I hope equally that those of us here will see the need, too. I don't know that God has called us as a nation to be 'big brother' to the world. He never called Israel to do so. He didn't call the early Christians to do so. It just seems that God doesn't often work through the powerful and the important and the 'world powers.' He seems to prefer the Moseses, the Gideons, and even unimportant Jewish girls like Mary.

    I think at this point, though, particularly since so many of our men and women are over there, there's just not a good answer. We've tried to "build" Iraq before. Our past help is part of the reason we're back now. Are we really, in the long run, doing any good there?

    I'm with you in the Lord's prayer. But sometimes it's hard to discern his will.

    By Blogger Q, at 6/06/2004 10:15:00 AM  

  • A quick word from Malcom Muggeridge that I think applies. In response to the question "Mr. Muggeridge, what do you have to say to the established Church in the West, which at this point has at least one foot still in Christendom?" he replied simply "I think it depends entirely where the other foot is."

    By Blogger chrismith, at 6/07/2004 03:21:00 PM  

  • If Malcolm Muggeridge is NOT the name of a character in the Harry Potter series, it certainly should be.

    By Blogger Grant, at 6/08/2004 09:25:00 AM  

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