Vincent V. Marshburn

Vincent V. Marshburn

Many countries, including the United States, are the subject of numerous requests for naturalization.

There are various reasons people seek citizenship in a country outside their current locale. Certain rights and privileges afforded to citizens can be very

appealing, and some people desire a sense of security or liberty in escaping persecution or oppression. Of course, as with many things in life, citizenship is not usually intended to be a one-way arrangement.

The Encyclopedia Britannica explains that citizenship is the "relationship between an individual and a state to which the individual owes allegiance and in turn is entitled to its protection.

Citizenship implies the status of freedom with accompanying responsibilities."

Personally, I am extremely grateful for my own citizenship in a country that

permits a variety of interpretations and manifestations of worship — or even none at all — as well as the expression and exchange of different, even opposing, ideas and opinions to varying degrees.

This is encapsulated rather succinctly in the First Amendment to our Constitution, and in principle, often epitomizes the motivation of the many who long for citizenship here.

Followers of Jesus also understand that we have been bestowed another kind of citizenship which defines our fundamental allegiance and loyalty, transcending (and sometimes thwarting) obligations to earthly regimes. The domain of Jesus's lordship over believers — the kingdom of God or kingdom of heaven — is identified in the gospel records (Mark 1:15, Luke 17:21, John 3:5, John 18:46), and is echoed and reinforced throughout the various apostolic letters to early Church congregations (Ephesians 2:19, Philippians 3:20). Part of our understanding of the kingdom of heaven is that its citizens claim Christ as their sovereign and, with guidance and insight from the Holy Spirit, work toward inviting others into this kingdom.

Is it reasonable to suppose that Christians might maintain a kind of dual- or multi-citizenship while residing in this current sphere of existence? Undoubtedly, challenges or complications would occur from such potentially conflicting allegiances.

While the Bible mentions that "no man can serve two masters," (Matthew 6:24), is such a corollary applicable when considering opportunities to promote the transformative work of the gospel within our communities? Is it beyond acceptability to imagine that, while serving their true master Jesus, believers can still fulfill certain civic duties that may benefit the society in which they dwell and toil?

The television series "Star Trek: The Next Generation" addresses some of the complexities of mixed allegiances in interesting ways. One of the command crew of the 24th-century starship Enterprise is a Klingon (a non-human species whose culture highly values the notion of honor through combat) named Worf. Adopted and raised by human parents from a very young age, he is fully dedicated to serving Starfleet and the crew of the Enterprise to his

fullest capacity, while also remaining fiercely loyal to his Klingon roots and traditions. There are occasions throughout the show when these loyalties are put to the test.

In one episode, he is urged by other Klingons to betray his crew and help seize control of the Enterprise. Worf's refusal significantly lowers their opinion of him, and he is accused of betraying his heritage instead.

In another episode, Worf is compelled to exercise his right as a Klingon to confront the murderer of his mate in personal combat.

Although Captain Picard is strongly opposed to such a seemingly brutal and barbaric custom, Worf's rage and grief override any possibility of reasoning, and the quarrel results predictably in the death of the killer at Worf's hand. Picard is understandably disappointed in Worf's conduct.

PICARD: Mister Worf, your service aboard the Enterprise has been exemplary. Until now.

WORF: Sir, I have acted within the boundaries of Klingon law and tradition.

PICARD: The High Council would seem to agree. They consider the matter closed. I don't. Mister Worf, the Enterprise crew currently includes representatives from thirteen planets. They each have their individual beliefs and values and I respect them all. But they have all chosen to serve Starfleet. If anyone cannot perform his or her duty because of the demands of their society, they should resign. Do you wish to resign?

WORF: No, sir.

It is not difficult to comprehend how an individual must sometimes seek balance in fulfilling fidelity and fealty to their commitments and principles. For many, it is an ongoing challenge.

It is also not unusual to encounter those who are less sympathetic to such struggles of conviction. For instance, there are Christians who emphasize the heavenly citizenship of believers to the exclusion of any possible

participation in the world's political or cultural affairs. Some even go so far as to accuse anyone of betrayal of the faith if they dare to contemplate the virtues of a particular society (or political philosophy) over another. Some might even advocate a kind of segregation or dissociation from the world at large, or even further, a general subversion or undermining of existing social structure.

We might expect that if it was Jesus's intention for his followers to disregard civic responsibilities toward secular authority, he or the apostles would have indicated such motives. Based on what we know, it does not seem likely that Jesus advocated indiscriminate anarchy, insurrection, or isolation. After all, believers are encouraged to conduct themselves with integrity and deference within the context of a civil order in this temporal, terrestrial realm (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:13–17).

We may even find, as the apostle Paul did, that certain rights and privileges we enjoy as citizens of an earthly empire can be capitalized upon for the benefit of the kingdom of God and the proliferation of the gospel message (Acts 16:37-39; 22:22-29).

At the same time, though we are indeed citizens of heaven striving to be exemplary citizens of whatever land we currently inhabit, another aspect of the transformed mind and spirit of believers is that our ultimate authority is in fact God. When circumstances arise which demand contradicting or

neglecting our accountability to the Lord himself, we must, as Peter insists in Acts 5:29, "obey God rather than men."

A reasonable question that proceeds from this claim is to what extent should "civil disobedience" be enacted. In Peter's case, the prevailing local religion mandated that the disciples should not continue preaching the gospel of Jesus. Apparently, Peter and the other apostles possessed a consensus regarding this: they were willing to comply with the law of the land insofar as it was not

resolved to hinder their duty to the primary kingdom which they served.

Thus, there can be times when our true calling as citizens of heaven does not align with the expectations of whatever government to which we are subject, and will indeed be at odds with public mandates. In such cases, we pray for God's wisdom to conduct ourselves with honor and without contempt before others while remaining true to our faith in the renewing power of Jesus's life, death, and resurrection.

Our goal should be to serve as model citizens within this earthly domain while doing our part to continue expanding the kingdom of heaven on earth.

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