Reflections on Citizenship

By Elie Haddad

I am a native Lebanese citizen. I was born and raised in Lebanon. I love Lebanon, despite the insecurity, uncertainty, and corruption that characterize the country, and despite having grown up during the civil war. Lebanon has left its mark on me. Even the years of the war have contributed to shaping me into the person that I am today. I love Lebanon with the good and the bad. Consequently, I care a lot about the welfare of Lebanon. But what does this mean for me as a follower of Jesus? Should I care more about the welfare of Lebanon at the expense of other neighboring countries? Should I care about the holders of Lebanese citizenship more than I care about the displaced in Lebanon such as Syrians, Iraqis, Palestinians, and the stateless?

I am also a naturalized Canadian citizen. I immigrated to Canada at the age of thirty, towards the end of the civil war in Lebanon. I love Canada. Canada opened up all kinds of opportunities for me, whether educational, professional, social, or in ministry. Canada became home for me and my wife for more than fifteen years until we moved back to Lebanon, and we still consider Canada as our second home. So, I love Canada, and I care a lot about its welfare. But what does that mean for me as a follower of Jesus? Should I care about the economic welfare of Canadians more than that of Americans and Mexicans when it comes to NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) negotiations, for instance? Does this mean that I should care about the welfare of Canadian citizens more than that of others?

After years of globalization, growing political and economic alliances and unions, and increasing convergence of worldviews and cultures, the West is now experiencing an opposite trend. Protectionism and nationalism are taking over. Patriotism, defined as the love of one’s country, can be a good thing. Nationalism, on the other hand, takes this love to an extreme when it is understood as the love of one’s country at the expense of other nations. Protectionism is even harsher when it is defined as shielding one’s country from others, whether politically, economically, socially, or otherwise.

It is a different story in the Middle East, almost the opposite. I classify it as anti-nationalism, in a negative sense. People in the Middle East tend to be suspicious of authority and lack trust in governments. With a high level of corruption, and with questionable loyalties and allegiances among leaders and government officials, all trust in government agencies and political leadership has disappeared. Years of this sentiment produced a loss of any sense of common good. People have become very individualistic and opportunistic, seeking their own self-interest. This attitude has fueled corruption even more. It has become a vicious cycle.

As a result, the default stance for many is to seek to immigrate to Western countries. This especially applies to young educated professionals who are looking for a prosperous economic future and security and safety for their families. The constant political tension and instability in the region encourage this even further. In addition, the longstanding religious tension gives one more reason for Christian families to emigrate to escape the uncertain future within a Muslim-majority context.

So, as a Lebanese-Canadian, and as a follower of Jesus, how should I think about citizenship? Where should my loyalties lie and what should my obligations be to the country of my birth and the country that has welcomed me? What does the Bible have to say about this?

Interestingly, the word translated “citizenship” appears only once in the Bible, in Philippians 3:20-21:

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. (NIV)

Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, which was a Roman colony. The citizens of Philippi had all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of Roman citizens, and they were expected to live and promote the culture, customs and laws of the Roman Empire. Moreover, Jews and Jewish Christians in Philippi enjoyed some sort of self-rule within the Roman Empire. They were allowed to bring their own culture, customs, and laws from Jewish Palestine. Against this backdrop, Paul was affirming that they, the people of God, were marked by a different kind of citizenship. They are a colony from heaven, expected to live and promote the culture, customs, and laws of heaven. Paul painted a stark juxtaposition for them between earthly and heavenly citizenship.

In the Old Testament, Abraham and others viewed themselves as strangers, sojourners, even in the Promised Land. In the New Testament, this view is affirmed by Peter (1 Peter 1) and the writer of Hebrews (Hebrews 11:8-16). In all, the Bible is directing our eyes heavenward. At the center of that are the teachings of Jesus on the Kingdom, which reveal a strong heavenly orientation.

In reality, nations and governments do exist, and they govern according to a variety of value systems. The Bible teaches about submitting to governmental authority. This is an important topic, even though there is not enough space here to discuss the parameters of this submission. Suffice it to say here that I believe that God instituted government for the good of all people. The question is, despite whether the governments of today are being good stewards of their derived authority or not, how do we act as followers of Jesus? Is there a role for the Church in shaping our understanding and practice of good citizenship?

I believe that one of the important roles of the Church is to influence the value system that people and governments live by. We have the task of bringing this heavenward worldview to the consciousness of our societies. The Church should have a distinct voice, a biblical voice, with a Kingdom orientation. We have the role of living and promoting the culture, customs, and laws of our heavenly citizenship. A lot more teaching and preaching should focus on that.

I believe that, instead of viewing people through the lens of citizenship and nationhood, we should view them through the lens of Abrahams’ mission:

“And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3 NIV).

After all, if we belong to Christ then we are Abraham’s seed (Galatians 3:29).

I believe that, instead of evaluating people by their value to “our” society, we should learn from Jesus to nurture communities that can contribute towards the well-being of the most vulnerable and marginalized, regardless of which passport they hold.

I believe that the Church should seriously take on the role of civic education, equipping the people of God to become actively involved in shaping their governance rather than passively accepting what is delivered to them by untrustworthy value systems.

I believe that the Church should initiate these conversations, not be dragged into them. The Church loses when it defines itself by what it is against rather than by what it is for.

(Note: The IMES Blog will be taking its annual summer break during the month of August. However, we invite you to join us when we return again in September with new thought-provoking posts from the IMES team.)

14 thoughts on “Reflections on Citizenship

  1. Elie-

    Thank you for this topic of discussion and for your remarks regarding where our focus should be. As followers of Jesus, everything we do should be done with an eternal mentality. I agree with you that we are certainly marked with a different kind of citizenship, one that can be revealed most through our actions and our love for one another. Now, more than ever, is the time for the Church to be empowered in this area and to teach about our heavenly citizenship, and how that can transform local, national, and worldly politics.

    Caitlin

  2. Thank you for what you’ve expressed in this post. I agree that Christians should be involved in how our societies are governed, but I think a lot of thought needs to go into how we do this. Should we try and become a part of the governing body, like running for public office, or should we form pressure groups, and try to keep the government accountable?
    If we were to narrow the range down to Lebanon specifically. Joining the government means that we come up against sectarian divisions and policies, that ensure the status quo remains as is. However, it gives us the platform to directly influence the decisions that dictate how and why policies and laws are made and enforced. Forming pressure groups would run the risk of becoming another noisy minority (at least in the early stages), but would allow us to appeal to citizens without being perceived through the lens that dictates that all government is crooked.
    I am curious to know what you all think about this.

    Elie.

  3. Elie,
    Thank you for this piece. It is wonderfully written and a quite important topic of thought. How do we live as citizens of heaven on earth? How do we respect our governmental authorities, especially in places where as you said those in authority are not good stewards? The sense of the common good is definitely a fading priority but I do believe that living out our Faith can positively impact these areas of society. Thank you again for this piece.

    MAH

    • Micheal,
      Thanks for your input. I definitely agree that if we are living out our faith (and living it out), we can turn some heads, and get some major conversations going. I believe that when people see us living and reacting in a different way, it can open many doors for us to talk about our faith.
      Peace,
      Elie.

  4. Thanks bro Elie, for this interesting article. I totally agree with what was said. I believe that the great commission talks about starting in your country of origin (or the country you are currently in) but also extending to all parts of the world. So the priority then shifts from “My” country or “Your” country to focus on every and any country the Lord leads you to, so you can be a vessel of His love.
    I also believe that every human being has a need to Belong! If immigrants don’t feel a sense of belonging in the country they immigrated to, it kills their motivation and causes a ripple effect that leads to their possible inefficiency for that country.
    Lebanon in my opinion should learn this. Yes its hard to put years of pain, hurt and resentment away, but giving another human being the chance to feel loved, accepted and appreciated goes along way.

    Joe

    • Good point Joe. The comment about Immigrants having a sense of belonging hits home to me as a US citizen. So many people from so many places, are we missing the opportunity to share His love and kindness to the Nations that are in our neighbourhoods?
      Michael

  5. I appreciate the thoughts and reflections on this topic. No doubt it is a relevant topic and has been since the formation of nations and civil governments. It creates a source of tension for the follower of Christ, as we wrestle with our civic and kingdom responsibilities. As a principle, I think it is critical that we clearly understand the role of body of Christ, the role of government authorities, and the responsibilities of the individual believer. In my opinion, this would eliminate some of the tension. One example that comes to mind, is war. I heard from other person that Christians should be opposed to all kinds of war, because Christ told us to turn the other cheek. However, I think the person is confusing the individual’s responsibility to love and forgive his enemy with a government’s civic responsibility to protect its citizenship and deter evil. We too often place expectations on the government to do the work of the church and vice versa, which I believe actually confuses the mission of the church at times. I believe as the body of Christ points people to the Head (Christ), hearts will be transformed enabling us to love others irrespective of border, gender, nationality, race, and age.

    • Bradley,

      I appreciate you distinguishing between the role of the body of Christ, the government, and the individual believer. Your example about war makes it clear how many may become confused about how these different entities work together. Because we are in a broken world, I am not sure if we will ever live a life without war, unfortunately. But you are right in saying that as the body of Christ points people towards the Head (Christ), hearts will be transformed. And hearts being transformed is the first step towards a global peace, in my opinion.

      Caitlin

  6. Elie,
    Thank you for sharing with us this thought provoking topic! It can, indeed, be a frustrating dilemma to think through citizenship and governments!
    Shedding the light on the Church’s role “of civic education, equipping the people of God to become actively involved in shaping their governance rather than passively accepting what is delivered to them by untrustworthy value system” is encouraging. Nonetheless, my question would be focused on the following: “what are the factors preventing the Church from taking such a ‘spear-headed’ role?”

    • Good question. I don’t think that there are serious barriers for the Church to play this role. It may be simply that this has not been a priority for the Church or not part of its perceived role in the world.

      Our staff devotions this week at ABTS have been focused around the area of citizenship. It’s amazing how much raising the questions and raising awareness contributes to change of attitude and understanding, and a desire for real change in behavior. I am confident that this topic will become a point of conversation in all the churches in which our staff are members.

      What do you think? Do you have practical ideas for the churches to be inspired by?

      Elie

      • Thanks, Elie, for this response.

        In the past 5 to 8 years, the Church in Lebanon was somehow reactive to the surrounding situation rather than being proactive. Churches, Pastoral Trainers and Pastoral Leaders have been immersed in the ‘now’, neglecting the importance of ‘tomorrow’.

        I believe that only recently that we have started to see proactiveness towards a better understanding of God’s Kingdom and deeper comprehension to loving our neighbours.

        I am happy to know that ABTS is focusing their devotions on the area of citizenship, and even happier to know that this type of awareness would contribute change in the local church.

        Personally, I believe in intentionality and strategy with the Holy Spirit guidance. A gathering of local pastors to raise this particular topic, followed by an intentional strategic plan to include the members of the Church in focusing on making our society healthier.

        Elie, I do agree with you about the importance of this topic, and I agree to the need of its presence among the people. So, once more, thank you for a good write up.

      • Bro Elie,

        Replying to Ali’s and your comment, do you think the church’s role in the society and the government can cause “تحزّب”? I love the idea of people from the church being part of government and being a light for people in their communities, but I’m also hesitant about it because I’m afraid of people taking sides, or enjoying Power a little too much.

        What do you guys think?

      • Hello Joe,
        I believe that followers of Christ can be active in politics and government. However, they should not engage politics the way the rest of the world does. They need to demonstrate Kingdom values in their engagement. They should not take sides and be agents of division. Rather, they can use their political platform to affirm what’s being done right, no matter which side does right, and speak against what’s wrong, no matter which side is doing wrong. Politics as a platform to promote and affirm the common good.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s