Pacifism: Mere Discipleship, Dual Loyalties, and the Pledge of Allegiance

pacifismLee Camp, a professor at Lipscomb University, has written a marvelous book called Mere Discipleship. It has a chapter arguing for pacifism. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that he’s the first professor at Lipscomb to agree with the founder, David Lipscomb, on this subject in over 50 years.

Beginning at page 147, Camp takes on nationalism and patriotism.

Nationalism and patriotism are self-centeredness writ large, community habit that prepare us to do “whatever is necessary,” as our politicians put it these days, to “preserve our cherished way of life.” … Employing all means at its disposal — public education, national holidays, churches, culture, media, and, yes, my child’s Christian preschool — nationalism has rooted its alleged “naturalness” deep into our souls. … We begin to believe it necessary, for our very survival, to pledge allegiance to the empire, rather than constantly holding before ourselves our exclusive allegiance to the kingdom of God.

Oh, wow …

Camp then reaches a pacifistic conclusion.

Now, I agree, but only in part. His point about patriotism and nationalism is quite true.

(Phil 3:18-21)  For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

At a time when citizenship in Rome was highly prized, in a letter written to a colony of retired Roman soldiers who received citizenship as a reward for their service to the Empire, Paul declares our citizenship to be in heaven, that is, where God lives. This is in contrast to having our minds on “earthly things.”

(Eph 2:19-20)  Consequently, you [Gentiles] are no longer foreigners and aliens [to the Kingdom], but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.

Notice how Paul picks up the language of “household” — think “family” or “clan.” Paul is asking us to change our identities from family, clan, and nation to God’s family and God’s Kingdom.

One of my children took a mission trip to Kenya, where he learned that the Kenyan converts had all taken “Christian” names. To them, your name indicates your tribe, and they saw conversion to Jesus as leaving their old tribe (nation, clan, family) and joining a new tribe. Hence, they took a new name. And they are quite right, I think.

But does being a member of God’s family and nation exclude loyalty to an earthly family and nation?

(1 Pet 2:11)  Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.

Peter tells us that we are “aliens” — foreigners. That is, not only are we citizens of heaven, we are not citizens of the United States or whatever other country we may be in. We are aliens even in the country of our birth citizenship.

And we’re “strangers,” that is, sojourners, as the old song says, “I’m just a-passing through. … This world is not my home.”

(This is a Church of Christ group! Good stuff.)

When the writer of Hebrews praises the “roll call of the faithful,” he honors the faithful dead because —

(Heb 11:13)  All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.

Even King David who sat on the throne of Israel saw himself as a stranger on this earth. He wrote,

(Psa 39:12)  “Hear my prayer, O LORD, listen to my cry for help; be not deaf to my weeping. For I dwell with you as an alien, a stranger, as all my fathers were.”

Obviously, being a stranger and alien in this world does not contradict some involvement in government (he was a king!), but neither does it permit dual loyalties. Of course, it’s easier to avoid dual loyalties when you’re a king in God’s Kingdom.

Therefore, it’s entirely fair to ask, with Camp: what is a Christian saying when he says the pledge of allegiance? If we were missionaries in Kenya or India or Iraq, would we open the preschool for the children of our converts with a pledge of allegiance to the flags of those nations? Are there some nations that we should pledge allegiance to and not others? Or is our allegiance to only the Kingdom of God?

It’s not an easy question, is it?

(Mat 6:24a)  “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”

(Rom 12:2)  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.

(Col 3:1-2)  Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

(James 4:4)  You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

(1 John 2:15)  Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

Let me suggest some ways of looking at this that may be helpful.

First, it’s plain from the scriptures that we cannot love the citizens of the United States more than the citizens of Mexico or Afghanistan.

Second, as individuals, we cannot serve everyone. We have to pick. We can be missionaries to Topeka or Baghdad. But as finite beings, we must pick how we choose to serve the people of the world.

This morning, my church heard from a young woman who’d spend time doing mission work in Uganda with the support of my church. But my church also supports ministers who do mission work on the campus of the University of Alabama.

And in church work, we know — in our bones — that it’s all the same, and it’s gotten to be rare (unheard of in my church) for someone to question benevolence or mission work because it serves someone outside the United States. In church, we truly are citizens of the world. And this is exactly right. But it’s not enough.

Some of the same very good, God-fearing, salt-of-the-earth people who generously support missions and benevolence to non-Americans at church will, when they enter the voting booth, vote for America at the expense of other nations. It’s as though it’s somehow okay for a Christian to be selfless in the missions committee meeting and selfish at the political party meeting. But it’s not.

Let me offer some examples.

One of the biggest problems facing sub-Saharan Africa (south of the Sahara) is the inability of the countries to export food and cotton for a profit because of crop subsidies the Europeans and Americans provide their farmers.

You see, for poorer countries, the easiest way to earn a profit and gain foreign currency is through agriculture, but the US and European farm lobbies manage to squeeze the taxpayers for subsidies that create artificially low prices for Western-grown food — which keep the poorest of the poor from being able to export food more cheaply than the West can despite its much higher production costs.

This is a problem for both political parties, because both have powerful senators from farm states who protect the pocketbooks of their constituents. And it never occurs to them that this violates the Bible.

You see, I think American Christians are free to compete on a level playing field with anyone. But using our wealth to freeze the poor out of international markets is sin.

And it violates the Democratic Party’s principles opposing government welfare for the rich; and it violates Republican Party’s principles favoring free trade. There are numerous farmers who grow unsubsidized crops and do just fine competing with the rest of the world. But Washington lacks the will to cut subsidies that indirectly subsidize re-election campaigns. And no one complains much because, well, our allegiance is to ourselves, rather than to all of God’s children.

Just so, the serious problem of illegal immigration in the United States is debated by Christians in terms of legality and expense and which party the immigrants will support. Never have I heard Christians debate the question in terms of what is best for the Mexicans — not even as a factor to be considered. Indeed, mention the Golden Rule or “love your neighbor” in such a conversation, and you’ll sometimes be viewed with bemusement or scorn by your fellow Christians.

I don’t pretend to know the answers to the illegal immigration problem, but this much I’ve figured out: Christians are not allowed to argue in terms of selfishness. And I wonder what would happen if we seriously talked about how we might deal with the problem by helping Mexico rather than how we can help ourselves with no regard for the consequences to the Mexicans.


15 Responses

  1. Wow! I’m glad to hear someone wrestling with some of these issues. I prefer to talk a good game and not actually let it affect my daily life. {said with a blush}

    These are the kinds of issues we have to come to deal with if we are going to live as ambassadors of the kingdom of God. Thanks for opening this can of worms!

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

    P.S.–BTW, N.T. Wright wrote a great article on Philippians 3, showing that the whole chapter could be seen as subversive by the Roman government. It used to be here:, but it has been removed, apparently because it was published in a book. You can read some via Google books

  2. […] Is it somehow okay for a Christian to be selfless in the missions committee meeting and selfish at the political party meeting? Jump to Comments From Jay Guin at One in Jesus […]

  3. Jay,
    You are saying what I have felt for years. Most of us in the church are Yankees (i.e., in the sense that people from outside the USA use the term) first and Christians second.

    Our patriotism trumps our Christianity if there is a conflict.

  4. Have read Camp’s book & Yoder’s “Politics of Jesus” as background about our dual citizenship. My initial yet still emerging conclusion is:

    Deceptively distracting, political activism diverts Christians from spiritual growth that should characterize obedience to God.

    Political involvement [e.g. registering to vote, becoming informed about issues, & voting], is not activism; it’s civic responsibility. Activism persuades others to vote the way you advocate they should.

    Any assertion that US domestic or foreign policy is “sin” seems to lack the level of Biblical support I would need to confront others about their need for repentance and corrective action. That said, nationalism & patriotism favor the US at the expense of others. Such policies include actions that, if undertaken on an individual basis, would be unambiguously sinful to a practicing Christian.

    Our journey of spiritual maturity ought to focus on increasing our own levels of responsiveness to God’s word. Each of us should look into the mirror of the Bible and actively respond, rather than passively use the Bible as a window to look at others, either individually or collectively. It’s a mirror, not a window.

    Looking at others instead of ourselves may be a root cause of self-deception or denial about our own very real need for individual spiritual growth.

    My thoughts in this area are still being developed.

  5. We all have to live in some country.
    Even as christians all of us are also called by the country of our birth or sometimes by the nationality we are because of our bloodline.

    I don’t see any of the soldiers, jailers, etc. that became christians resign from the military or government jobs or give up their citizenship when they became christians.

    I think of Paul and when pressed let his Roman birth citizenship be known to make a very important point for himself. He didn’t regard himself as only a christian.

    We too can honorably serve in both camps. We heed the call for patriotism knowing it only last a short while at a time, but the call of being a christian is all day everyday.

    I see no difference in LOYALTY to our government than that to a job, fellow workers, friends, not to discount physical family that may of may not be christians.
    Many would under the right circumstances give their life for those and see no conflict in doing so while being a christian.

    Patriotism is the same as loyalty. So, Why just get hung up on one point of loyalty, country?

  6. Jay,
    Ever since I ave been back from Iraq, I have desired to be a missionary to that country. But as it sits right now that is not a reality short of a miracle (I fully acknowledge God is capable of making this happen). But if you look at the mission fields we have open right now none of them match the peril Christians would be in on the fields of Iraq.

    Most matryrs are killed after their message is heard. In Iraq many have been killed just because they claim to be or are suspected of being a Christian. And this without a chance to get the message out. Soldiers captured during Dessert Storm were strip searched. Once their captors saw their circumcision it was automatically assumed they were Jewish and treatment became very harsh to them.

    The message can not be effective if it first does not leave the mouth. But what is to be done when the message is cut short at the neck?

    In love,
    Steve Valentine

  7. John,

    I agree with much of what you say, but disagree in this particular. We Americans habitually assume our government to be righteous and just. And it often is. But not always. I just think we need to get better at being Christians first and Americans second.

    We need to realize that our political parties often pursue agendas that are very contrary to God’s will. We need to realize that our politicians often run campaigns designed to feed on some of our worst emotions — fear, hatred, resentment, greed — and when we buy what they’re selling, we often buy sin. We need to realize that selfishness is sinful even when both political parties support it.

    That doesn’t mean we can’t serve in the military or the police. And it doesn’t mean we can’t otherwise work for the government. But it does mean we can’t blithely assume our employer will always act righteously. Of course, this is equally true if we work for Wal-Mart — it’s just that we are generally far less willing to see sinfulness in our government than at Wal-Mart. And whether we work for Wal-Mart or the United States, we must refuse to follow instructions that require us to participate in sin. And this may affect that job we willing to take.

  8. Steve,

    I wish I had an answer. You likely understand this better than I do, but there are several ethnicities there. While we may not be able to get much done among the Shia, we may be very effective teaching the gospel among the Kurds. Maybe. Just thinking out loud about something I know next to nothing about.

  9. Jay,
    I worked with 3 interpreters everyday while I was over there. Over time we discussed our beliefs more and more (that story was related in another post). One was Shia, one was Sunni, the other claimed neither sect (he would be what you would call a moderate). The moderate was closer to a theological understanding such as ours than any of them. The Sunni was more of one that claimed religion to cover his vices. But it was the Shia that really went deep with me into study. Because of his strict adherence to Islam I think our discussions were more to convert me and test my beliefs than anything. But by the end of my tour, he showed signs of really questioning his beliefs in Islam and believing the truth I was sharing with him (also an Arabic NIV).

    I did not have any dealings with the Kurds so I would have no input concerning them. Iraq is a field white for harvest, but my earlier remarks were toward the safety of missionaries even getting started over there. Due to the presence of radicals and a still ingrained fear of them among the citizens (maybe this has improved since I was there) I do not see churches willing, or missionaries for that matter, to send any one into such a hot bed.

    Steve Valentine

    This just popped into my head and I’m just going to throw it out there. Could war in that country be the door opener for the Gospel to reach Iraq?

  10. Steve,

    I think the scriptures are clear that God sometimes uses war to accomplish his purposes. While I’d never favor a war in order to spread the gospel, we should seize every opportunity that arises.

    Yes, we should be talking about how to convert Iraq.

  11. Promising to obey a piece of cloth, no matter how nobly we intend it, is idolatry:

  12. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel unto all the world, and when necessary, use words.”

    We’re counseled by the Messiah to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Sacrificial benevolence done without direct preaching is as much a brave way (and a more potentially effective way) of fulfilling the Great Commission than getting oneself martyred for trying to force a country to hear a Gospel message they can’t hear over the jingoism of both their government and ours. In the Muslim world, America is seen as a Christian nation — until we prove by our actions that Christianity is not American, we will not be heard, and it seems foolish and a bit arrogant to demand that only verbal preaching is acceptable.

    Also… China and other Eastern nations are sending waves of missionaries into the Middle East. Let us pray for them, as well.

  13. Jay,

    Wise council, and I would humbly point out that what we must consider in Government we must also be wary of the same fear, hatred, resentment, greed, in the Church.

    Either way, on this earth both are interpreted and run by people and many times they have an ax to grind that we are not aware of.

    In the long run, we cannot always know what the big plan is so we need to have loyalty, faith, confidence, and depend on our being led by a much higher power and that the outcome ultimately will be as He wants.

  14. Don’t forget wednesday is veterans Day.

    See ya’ll at the nations biggest parade for veterans Day in Birmingham, Alabama. Take the whole family its entertaining with all the college and high school bands plus military marching. Recognizes all the older Vets, and the fallen. Remember Gold Star mothers?

  15. I used to march in that Veteran’s Day Parade when I was in JROTC at Ramsay Alt. HS in B’ham.

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