Which Comes First: Religion or Citizenship?

black woman and flag

It’s kind of like the Civil War where brothers fought across the Mason-Dixon line.  I don’t want to stain my faith.  I don’t want to stain my fellow Muslims and I don’t want to stain my country’s flag.”

Ardi Arkun, 32, of Lindenhurst, N.Y., who joined the Marines in 2000 and was deployed to Iraq, on the complicated position of soldiers who are Muslim.

After Paul and Silas had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews.  And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three sabbath days argues with them from the scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead saying, “This is the Messiah, Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you.  Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.  But some Jews became jealous, and with the help of some ruffians in the marketplaces they formed a mob and set the city in an uproar.  While they were searching fro Paul and Silas to bring them out into the assembly, they attacked Jason’s house.  When they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some believers before the city authorities, shouting “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has entertained them as guests.  They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying there is another king named Jesus.”

–Acts 17:1-8, New Revised Standard Version

I woke up this morning and saw the first quote on the New York Times mobile email I get sent to my phone about 6:45 every morning.  And it yet again dawned on me on the duality that many people are forced to live in as citizens of an empire.

Let’s be clear, any of us living here in the United States of America are not merely citizens of a country, nor a kingdom, but indeed an empire.  Think about it, when your country has to spend vast amounts of money on the military, it is indeed an empire.  Generally empire’s are not thought of well outside of the empire–and our international image still has a long way to go.  Historically empires have been seen as some ad-mixture of political and most certainly military domination of an entire region that encompasses one or more different types of ethnic backgrounds.  That is to say, the United States from the beginning was an empire in the making; clearly this country is a melting pot.

Now, I’m not going so far as to say that the United States is an empire of old just running roughshod over any and everyone unchecked–although you could ask certain ethnic groups that question and they’d probably spit in your face–however, I am quite clear that the U.S. is a new updated, 21st century model of what an empire is.  Empire 2.0 if you will.

That being said, I think it’s awful that we live in conditions where one is forced to check their religion at the door for the sake of citizenship.  Which therefore means that the gods of Americanity, Capitalism and Consumerism are supreme to the individual deity that the First Amendment guarantees.

Work with me here.

Without the shadow of a doubt, we, as American citizens worship the supreme god of Americanity, lock stock and barrel.  We give over tithes and offerings every time we walk into a mall.  We sacrifice our morals and our basic standards just to appease the gods when we walk into the altars WalMart and Target and watch our money be burned up–we offer the best to them.  And then in typical imperial fashion, we’ve allowed our individual religion to be tainted and understood in the terms of Americanity–that’s why we have the Word of Faith movement, prosperity gospel, this “kingdom theology” and good-God, yes, even Joel Olsteen.

Americanity allowed Joel Olsteen to get on “The View” last week and declare that God wants us to have homes, cars and a good job and promotions on that job.  Really?  Once we begin to equate God’s blessings with our “stuff” we’ve missed the boat.  If we interpret the John 10:10 passage about Jesus coming that we might have life “more abundantly” as to mean material goods, then we’ve totally succumbed to the god of Americanity.  How is it that God is happy is when we get a new car, or get a new house, or get a new job with better benefits–or are we really saying that if we’re happy first, then God is secondary in the equation.

Any time we participate in the consumerism and capitalism of this society, we’re acting as accessories to the crimes against humanity that this empire, and that this system has allowed to promulgate unchecked and unregulated with no end in sight.

I highlighted the Acts 17 passage, not just because I preached it last week in class entitled “It’s Time to Act Up!” but rather because it highlighted the issue of dual citizenship with Jews living in Rome, but acting in the interest of the Roman Empire, rather than engaging in their Jewish ancestry and listening to Paul.  And as if merely ignoring him wouldn’t have been bad enough, they decided to offer him up as a human sacrifice to Roman just in order to prove their Roman citizenship over their Jewish ancestry.  For those Jews, being Roman was more important than being Jewish.

That’s a question many of us non-Anglo-Saxons are forced to ask every day: is our American citizenship more important than our African roots?  And as highlighted by the first quote, now Muslim-Americans are asked to weigh their religion versus their citizenship.  Despite Arkun’s analogy of the Civil War and the Mason-Dixon line division that some families had to endure, their moral dilemma was quite clear, it was the preservation of the Union versus the immorality of slavery; now the lines are much more blurred.  Muslim’s have full citizenship here in this country, but still face discrimination in the workplace and still must endure xenophobic comments from members of Congress following the massacre at Fort Hood last week when former Democrat and former Vice-presidential candidate turned Independent fool Joseph Liberman most recently went on Fox News Sunday and said that the actions of lone gunman Major Nadal Hasan should be investigated to see if his actions should be seen as terrorism.

To those that outright say that their religion comes before their citizenship, I would say, “That’s what they want you to believe.”

Michael SteeleFact of the matter is that for the Christians, at least, if we really followed the teachings of Jesus as outlined in the Gospels (and not Paul necessarily) we’d be labeled anarchists.  Honestly, do you believe that a government killed a man for preaching about love?!?!?!!?  No, they killed him, or in church language, crucified him, because he was challenging the empire saying that he was the king and Caesar Augustus was like “Hell naw.”  What I think is scary about it is that I’m sure the historical Jesus was barely a blip on the radar of Caesar Augustus all the way in Rome–it was really the kin folk, the “us folk” that surrounded Jesus who did more damage to him–which one could really interpret as the other Jews and the Pharisees and the Saducees–and lead more to the execution.

I mean, Paul, Silas and Jason were accused of turning the world upside down.  The religious factor is scary to an empire because it threatens the very nature of its existence.  Why do you think the Black Liberation Theology (with all of its gaping pot holes) was labeled anarchist and nationalist by FoxNews?  Or why do you think even black people had such vast problems with Jeremiah Wright–the majority of us black and white have been trained to think America first, with all of its issues, and then somehow make our religion, namely Christianity fit into the tradition of Americanity.

That’s why the Muslim faith is seen as so other, it fails to conform to American standards.  So it’s outrightly rejected from the beginning by most of us.  It’s so “other” to us, we only recognize Islam when we talk about terrorism–which is a sad state of affairs.

I say all of this to say, on the surface, we’re really asked to pick our citizenship before our religion.  Our citizenship however has become the religion of Americanity where we worship the gods of Capitalism and Consumerism.  We play our parts in the imperial religion and we generally don’t question it because we’ve been so acculturated from birth with messages that support the rugged individualism of capitalism and that tell us to buy, buy, buy and then buy some more so that we can fit into the rest of the mold of this country.  And for far too many of us, when we hear that message connected to God and Christianity, it’s a done deal as to what we really believe and really do.

Stay tuned for Part II

In what ways do you see how our citizenship and our loyalty toward America is directly tied into our religion, namely Christianity?  In what ways do you see Christianity being non-related to each other?  What are thoughts on this topic in general?

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL



7 thoughts on “Which Comes First: Religion or Citizenship?

  1. Uppity, islam is an extreme religion, ask me how I know. There is little to no moderation in this religion, either you are extreme or a terrorist. Please don’t waist your time over thinking it, or finding sympathy. There is a reason relatively sane people can go from being normal to wanting to kill infidels, yes Uppity you too are an unworthy filthy infidel you Jesus loving freak. I’m happy to not be killed or blown up every day because I’m not a follower of their Allah. As American Christians, we oppress no one, not to the point that you think people are. If you want to see oppression, please spend a couple years in this region. I’m sorry Uppity, from experience I’ve seen and learned about this Islam and it is not by nature a peaceful religion and never will.

    1. @ Terry

      Islam is no more extreme than the Christianity that some of the religious right preach. Muslims just have the guts to actually act on their beliefs. Christians are wimps in that regard–and thankfully so, cuz we’d be really blowing up people left and right. Um, yes, I’m quite happy to not be blown up as much as the next person. And historically, Christianity has done as much physical oppression and systematic oppression historically as has Islam. And again, Islam is no less or no more peaceful than Christianity. Both sacred texts talk about warring against the enemy–for Islam it may be the “infidel” and for Christians it may be the “antichrist.” Muslims just actually act on what they read, Christians just sit around and….I don’t know, just sit around. It’s only within the last century we’ve seen Christianity move from being less oppressive. And please guarantee that if America was much more a Christian theocracy as some of the religious right want to happen, we’d be no better off than some of the Muslim countries in the middle East and in Asia.

  2. The Joel Olsteen clip is 30 to 45 minutes longer than the clip here. Just so you know…

    Thoughtful post. Thanks.

    Keeping it uppity

    1. @dowl

      it’s longer than that, I don’t know if it’s that long. I saw the show, he wasn’t on for that much of the show.

  3. Sorry, I meant SECONDS, not minutes. Joy Behar and Whoopi questioned the Olsteen declaration ‘not God’s best…’

  4. I think we could all stand to use reeducation in the gospel. It does seem like everytime a person gets a new job, new home, new significant other everyone calls it a blessing. Prosperity Preaching gives folks the believe that they can have it all and should. People walk around saying they are blessed and highly favored. What does all of that mean? What does it mean if you don’t have these things and you follow the commandments, attempt to be christ like are you a failure?? That’s another conversation for another time…You love comparing America to an Empire. There are many similarities of America now to Ancient Rome. I believe capatalism has been preached to us so now it’s a part of our lives. What happens on pay day for a lot of folks. First thing they do is go out and buy something. But that’s another story as well. What you really should ask is why minorities (blacks, muslims, latinos, asians, indians etc) are told to give up their ethnicity to become apart of the Fabric of America. ie. Which comes first Race or Citizenship. If we all dropped all our separate religions and became Southern Baptist tomorrow we would still be fighting. It’s in the skin man. It’s in the skin.

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