Cheer Up, You Will Be Dead Soon
Claiming My Citizenship
The presidential election of 2020 has exposed more cracks in our national foundation than I anticipated. It has been disconcerting to see how political coalitions and alliances have postured to evangelical Christians to claim them as their own. It is alarming for those who embrace faith, as it suggests our status as Christians is directly linked to the success or failure of a specific political party (or more recently, a demagogue).
It is a foundational fissure that weakens our national identity and faith institutions, possibly beyond repair.
Social media is filled with lamentations for America’s future if a specific candidate or political philosophy doesn’t prevail. To be sure, I have my own biases and have long hitched my wagon to the Democratic Party, but I have also been one of its biggest critics. And I often find myself outside fervent, fearful conversations that posit that what happens politically is somehow going to change my service to Kingdom or country.
My reality is defined by citizenship in a Kingdom that transcends the demands of politics or any bent toward nationalism.
In 1971, I stood before the draft board, explaining my decision to become a conscientious objector (CO). I was married and had refused to take a ministerial deferment. Also, I was a tax resister who stood against any taxes that supported the war in Vietnam. A member of the draft board asked if I was a pacifist, and I said I wasn’t sure but was opposed to war. He wondered, would I resist if the Communists were to take over our country, and my answer confused him.
“I would start an underground newspaper,” I said, “proclaiming my faith and my belief in individual freedom.”
He countered: “They could close your paper down, arrest you, and perhaps kill you. Would you not fight them?”
“No,” I said. “I would fight them by starting another underground newspaper.”
Again, he said, “They will kill you.”
I then looked at him and simply quoted the church father Tertullian: “Cheer up, you will soon be dead.”
Tertullian, who lived in the second century, was a resister to Roman power and power by the sword, an outspoken critic of state-controlled violence. I went on to explain that my hope lay not in what the state can or should secure for me but that I will have eternal life. Nothing can violate my commitment to protecting and securing life through acts of love and compassion. So, if the state chooses to kill me, it is not the end for me; it is only the beginning.
There was silence in the room.
They asked if I was loyal to America, to which I said yes, it is the best form of government on the planet but not my salvation. I will always work to make America better by calling on its founding principles and commitment to becoming a more perfect union.
To kill or be killed – Cheer up, you will soon be dead.
To love one’s country by marginalizing the poor – Cheer up, you will soon be dead.
To resist all forms of racism – Cheer up, you will soon be dead.
To discriminate based on skin color, sexual orientation, or religion – Cheer up, you will soon be dead.
As a follower of Jesus Christ, my primary mission isn’t the security or welfare of any one nation with its political, social, and economic values. I live in the United States of America – it is my home and the country that asks for my loyalty and allegiance. Still, neither loyalty nor allegiance to country transcends my faith commitment to the redemptive message of love and compassion.
The passport I carry in the Kingdom of God allows me to enter a Kingdom of love, justice, and mercy. As the faith community continues to bow down to worldly idols and demagogues, it would be wise to remember that the path of power brings its own message of peril – death, but without hope.
If forced to choose, well – Cheer up, you will soon be dead.
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