(Picture was taken at a church in Rwanda, where Air1 listeners have now given these girls' families access to clean water, for the first time in the their lives. Thank the Lord.)
"We've got poverty right here in America. Let's take care of those people, first, then worry about someone way over there."
I've heard this before. A lot. When we tell people about needs elsewhere, desperate, crying needs elsewhere, we hear we shouldn't even really be talking about it. Look around! Let's take care of Americans first!
Problem is, for the Christian, it doesn't make sense.
First, and most obviously: Why can't we help people both near and far? Why is this an either-or choice? You've got a burden to work with the homeless, here? GOD BLESS YOU. You want to provide clean water, there? GOD BLESS YOU. You want to do both? AWESOME.
And secondly: Where's the Biblical justification for prioritizing, as a church, American people over non-American people? Good luck on that. It's an open-book test.
Seriously, I loves me some America. Serving in the military wasn't an option for me (turns out you have to be able to see straight) but my brother served, and my step-dad, and my grandfather, and so forth. I've initiated and led community-wide "support the troops" efforts in my radio career. I root for the American hockey team in the Olympics. And don't even get me started on the founding fathers -- I'll extol their unique genius for hours, or until you're bored into a coma, whichever comes first.
America is a beautiful, brilliant, and God-blessed experiment.
I love America. I have an allegiance to America.
But it's not my highest allegiance.
My highest allegiance is to a Kingdom that exalts the humble, and humbles the exalted. It's a Kingdom that's given to the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers. Its laws are above American laws, its borders beyond American ones, and its people -- the Church -- are not even at home here. They are aliens, themselves, and they are strangers.
While you're looking in the Bible for "our nation first" commitments, you might want to clear a few days. It will take you awhile, because "nations", as we now know them, have been around only a few hundred years. (Interesting, challenging, and stunning: Sometime check out where the collections from New Testament churches went. Not fractions of them, but the entire collections were sent elsewhere, to poor believers in other lands, or the border-less work of traveling apostles.)
If it seems... unsettling... to say these things, to question the centrality of American nationhood in God's plan, to question our government's ultimate authority, please know: It's always been unsettling. It's always been subversive to say, "Jesus is Lord." Always was, is, and will be.
"Jesus is Lord", means Caesar... isn't. And "Jesus is Lord" means America... isn't. He's the King above kings, and if you are a citizen of His Kingdom, you are to see His will is done. He's not subtle about this. Check out Amos 5 (The Message), where He talks about a people who ignore the plight of the poor, but still give Him religion:
"I can't stand your religious meetings. I'm fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals. I'm sick of your fundraising schemes, your public relations and image-making. I've had all I can take of your noisy ego-music....
Do you know what I want? I want justice -- oceans of it. I want fairness -- rivers of it. That's all I want. That's all I want."
Like I say, not subtle.
I say we give Him what He eternally wants, and we don't stop at our -- very temporary -- national borders. If we are truly citizens of the Kingdom, let's let our borders be His borders, and not an inch closer.