In pre-modern times, empires would give citizenship rights to vassal countries that paid the empire its dues. This practice continues today, albeit in different forms. Yesterday, the Romanian President visited Washington D.C. to sign a missile defense treaty. The U.S. military will build an anti-missile system in Romania and will station 500 U.S. troops in Romania. In exchange for this agreement and for Romania’s participation in the war in Afghanistan, Romania is asking for a visa waiver for its citizens to travel to the U.S. For military alignment, Romania wants some of the benefits of citizenship in the empire.
To counter and critique this militaristic basis for citizenship, those with citizenship in heaven commit to loving those on the other side of the missile ‘defense’ so that we may share together in the citizenship of heaven. Although we may lose the benefits of the empire by not participating in its claims to protect through violence, we know that the empire ultimately cannot deliver on those claims.
Those with heavenly citizenship resist battling with flesh and blood and name, unmask and engage the powers and principalities that dehumanize, oppress and kill those created after the image of God.
There is something in me that commits to place. I feel it when I visit my native state or the city where I was born. It’s as if the land of our fathers and mothers taps on our inner compass needle, calling us home to our Fatherland.
The Fatherland is a place not only for citizens but for friends. One of my favorite philosophers of ethics, Alasdair MacIntyre, criticized E.M. Forser for saying that if it came to a choice between dying for his country and dying for his friend, he hoped that he would have the courage to deny his country. MacIntyre said that if anyone can formulate such a contrast, they have no country, and they are a citizen of nowhere.
Of course, there are problems with patriotism, not least of which is the violence that underlies the competing claims to land, resources and ideology. Patriots usually define themselves by who is in and who is out. Those on the inside, our compatriots, are called on to protect the homeland and to guard against those who are on the outside. If I am committed to my fatherland and you are committed to your fatherland, we may eventually become entrenched in our tribe and enter into conflict.
Because of the violence associated with patriotism and because of the demands by our society to be a ‘patriot’ that I find incompatible with Christian convictions, I prefer to describe my commitment to place as matriotism. Rather than a commitment to the fatherland (patriotism), it is a commitment to the motherland (matriotism). By emphasizing ‘feminine’ traits of birth, nurture and cooperation and de-emphasizing ‘masculine’ features of violence, competition and machoism, I can celebrate a commitment to place that includes rather than excludes others and a place for hospitality rather than competition.
What if citizenship in heaven translated to immigrants being made to feel at home and as fellow citizens because we too are strangers and aliens made to feel welcome and offered citizenship in a kingdom in which we are completely unworthy to visit, let alone call home?
What if citizenship in heaven meant that immigrants were viewed by the church as a gift rather than a threat?