Nationalism and Christianity are mutually exclusive. This might seem a rather bold statement. Some might even say that this is plain false and disregards centuries of (religious) history in what is called the “West.” And particularly in the United States, with its founding mythology of being the “City upon a Hill” in the “Promised Land” of the “New World,” Christian rhetoric has often served deeply nationalist causes and has been used to exercise abusive power over people and the earth alike. In fact, the Christian religion (as other religions) has always been instrumentalized to serve the needs of the powerful and to uphold their hegemonic position. As I outlined in the last part of this series, the message of the Gospel, however, is a message that subverts oppressive regimes of power and brings hope to the destitute, enslaved, and exploited.
Having described Jesus as a Galilean borderland reject, I argued that Christians, first and foremost, belong to the Kingdom of God and are not primarily citizens of some random nation-state. But please don’t get me wrong. I am aware that, for many Christians (both in the US and elsewhere), this belonging to God’s household has served to legitimate an attitude of otherworldly indifference concerning the socio-political issues of contemporary societies; a loveless attitude of supposed moral superiority over what is regarded as a fallen and sinful world. This is not what I mean though. Far from it. And it is also not what I perceive in the life of Jesus.
One of the aspects of Christianity that I always found most appealing was that God, the Almighty according to Christian orthodoxy, has made himself part of this world in Christ Jesus; has made himself part of this world not as its ruler, but as its most humble servant. Jesus did not belong to the powerful establishment of Jerusalem; was maybe not even considered a rightful citizen. If Christ is to serve as the example of how Christians should strive to live, then this must be taken very seriously. To Christ, not belonging to worldly structures didn’t mean not caring about the world. Quite the contrary is the case, as John 3:16 aptly expresses: God so loved the world… Many Christians happily quote this verse in any random context—often without taking in its depth though, as it would seem. I read in this verse an encouragement to act. So, love the world then! Do something for the world. Give everything for the world. That’s what Christ did and means after all. Retreating from this world is not an option. Judging this world is not an option. Caring for this world is the only viable option.
This is what I understand by being a part of the Kingdom of God on earth—a kingdom whose functioning principles differ radically from any power-structure of this world, but which still always remains visible and understandable even within such structures (if its members are willing to act on behalf of that kingdom, that is). There is no place in the Gospel for the Manichean binary of light and dark; and no place for a clear Augustinian dichotomy between civitas dei and civitas terrena. In Christ, separation and division ceases. In Christ, true power manifests itself—indeed, incarnates itself—in becoming a servant of those in need as one of those in need, and not as someone removed from the precariousness of life. In Christ, true power cares, nurtures, and lets grow by actively partaking in the issues of this world. Established political structures, sadly, often don’t really care for this world. Paradoxically, neither do many Christians. Appropriating the power of the Almighty (and/or misunderstanding divine power), (Christian) leaders have oppressed their fellow human beings and the things of the world since time immemorial. But messianic deconstruction undoes such violent systemic power. So be different. We all have the right to care for this world. We should take advantage of it.