Being a Christian Citizen in 2020 (A Response from a “Beyond the Divisions” Reader)
by Joe Marlow
I am a follower of Christ, husband, father, grandfather, and citizen. These personal identifiers are the foundation of what David Brooks in his book The Road to Character calls the “eulogy virtues.” These identifiers are what I desire to be remembered for in the memories of my family members and friends after I depart this life.
For me, being a Christian is the foundation of all my other personal identifiers, including being a citizen. I also draw wisdom from the ancient Greeks in their view of citizenship- being a member of a polis (city-state) has the common expectation that a citizen is an informed participant in the political life of the polis. Granted, those Greeks were not perfect about who they allowed to be citizens; but, at least they possessed the basic concept of civic participation.
For readers, I want to identify myself more fully, realizing that they could box me in politically and then refuse to seriously engage me further. But I take that chance because I am a firm believer in thinking “inside the box” in more ways than one. Politically, I am independent of any political party and am registered as such. Ideologically, I am a social conservative in the Edmund Burke mold. Thus, I believe in thoughtful discussions, in using history and tradition as guides in making decisions for the future, and in placing myself into what Burke calls “little platoons of affection”- church, family, friendships, etc. I am also a limited government libertarian in that I believe the federal government has too much power that is corrupting the freedoms granted to us in our natural rights as humans and in the Constitution. I believe that the Tenth Amendment is the most violated part of our Bill of Rights.
Considering all I have written about my general perspective on citizenship, I now list some specific applications:
- Citizenship is not a spectator sport. For example, I currently serve on a state board in Kansas which I chair. I was appointed by a governor from one political party and was reappointed by a governor from another party; I appreciate their confidence in my ability to serve Kansans. I am also the secretary of the board of my local homeowners’ association, which allows me to serve my neighbors.
- No particular political party or candidate has a monopoly on righteousness. All politicians are flawed, some more so than others. And since political organizations are composed of flawed individuals, they are also imperfect. And there is no “right side of history” in the secular sense as some liberals and some conservatives profess; only the coming of the Kingdom of God on earth initiated by divine intervention is the right side of history.
- Active citizenship also involves listening to others, either verbally or by reading. My rule of thumb is that I try to listen to thoughtful, reasonable, and rational discussions of the issues. Bombastic commentators for any political position do not interest me; they only try to arouse me emotionally with often incomplete or even erroneous information. My “play list” for political and social commentary is a mixture of folks who assist me in thinking through the issues of the day- some are female and some male, some are black and others white, some are gay and others straight, some are religious and others not, and some are conservative and others liberal. In addition, when one of my alma maters appointed a diversity officer I initiated an exchange of email messages discussing free speech on campus. Our discussion was respectful and tolerant of the other’s position.
- We do well to have worthy heroes to serve as models of character and action. My primary hero in this regard is George Marshall, a quiet, stoic Christian of the Episcopal faith tradition. A career army officer who served as chief of staff during World War II, Marshall retired in 1945. The very next day, President Truman asked him to be his special envoy to China. Then over the next six or so years, when his desire was to work in his garden and relax, Marshall became secretary of state, secretary of defense, and president of the American Red Cross. The Marshall Plan to rebuild war-torn Europe was his genius as well as his mentoring and promoting of Dwight Eisenhower to become Supreme Allied Commander during the Normandy invasion and afterwards. Eisenhower perhaps owed his successful run for the presidency to Marshall more than to anyone else; but, when partisans in Eisenhower’s party attacked Marshall for being a traitor to the United States for being soft on communism, Eisenhower did not come to his former commander’s defense. Still, Marshall forgave Eisenhower, refusing to hold a grudge. Marshall was the epitome of active citizenship, professional conduct, and Christian spirit.
- Finally, we need to be cautious about our language. Despite any political disagreements you may have with anyone and despite what you may think or say privately, public name-calling and shaming is beyond the pale in Christian citizenship. Everyone is worthy of dignity, courtesy, and respect. This includes our use of social media. Facebook is not a place for political rants and if you use twitter, think about the possible consequences before you tweet.
In closing, we Christians hold dual citizenship with both heaven and earth, and as such, despite our political differences, we seek the welfare of the nation, state, county, and community in which God has placed us (Jeremiah 29:7). Our active citizenship and positive contributions to our own “polis” are a vital part of our discipleship journeys as serious followers of Christ.
Editor’s Note: This opinion piece was written as a reader response to the “Beyond the Divisions” series. We invite other readers to submit perspectives of their own to firstname.lastname@example.org for possible inclusion in the blog series.
Joe Marlow, D.Min., is a retired elementary school principal who has also held staff positions in Baptist and Episcopal churches. He is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma and holds graduate degrees from Boston University, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Pittsburg State University. In his retirement Dr. Marlow is a consultant and writer.