by Hendy Matahelemual, Conference Pastor of Formation & Communication
One day I asked my 6-year-old son, “Are you Indonesian or American?” He answered, “Both, Daddy, I’m American and also Indonesian.” This is a reasonable response. However, in terms of citizenship, he is not an American citizen, but an Indonesian because we cannot have dual citizenship.
National and political identity cannot be separated in human life. Even when someone leaves the land of their birth or changes citizenship, that identity is still attached. As a newcomer to the USA and as a seminary student, I am interested in learning how we place national and political identities in line with God’s Word.
I have no problem with national identity, but we must be careful not to go too far into ultra-nationalism, where someone puts the interests of a country and its people above all things. This certainly makes the country at the same level or higher than God. Therefore, as followers of Jesus, we believe that our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). We rely on God and do not deify the state, citizenship status, or even certain political parties or political figures.
Article 23 of the Confession of Faith in Mennonite Perspective, states:
We believe that the church is God’s “holy nation,” called to give full allegiance to Christ its head and to witness to all nations about God’s saving love. The church is the spiritual, social, and political body that gives its allegiance to God alone. As citizens of God’s kingdom, we trust in the power of God’s love for our defense. The church knows no geographical boundaries and needs no violence for its protection. The only Christian nation is the church of Jesus Christ, made up of people from every tribe and nation, called to witness to God’s glory.
It is common today for someone to rely on the state to give us prosperity, security, and comfort. In most countries, we are taught to sing the national anthem and other patriotic activities. Therefore it is very important that we return to Paul’s words in Romans 12, “Do not be conformed to this world but change with renewal of your mind, so that you understand my will, which is good, pleasing and perfect.”
As someone who was not born and raised in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition, I feel that I have experienced a new birth in Jesus because I used to misplace my national identity. But now, I am sure that my identity is as a citizen of heaven, and every believer is a co-worker without being limited by national and political identity. As a result, it should not be an exaggerated problem if someone kneels when the national song is sung. And, it should be a big concern for us if there is a problem happening in another country. Because as Christians, we are a holy nation that belongs to God.
Let’s continue to persevere in our faith, especially in these difficult times. I believe God’s grace is endless. Love, joy, and peace from God will cure our longing for our hometown, which will also fill the emptiness of our heart. This will convince us of our true identity, as God’s children, heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven.
I also hope that the topic of national and political identity is no longer a taboo topic to be discussed in churches. I believe that each of our voices needs to be able to build up one another, and strengthen the church of God, a holy nation that is spread throughout the world. After all, we are all still waiting for heaven’s greencard.
(Credentialed leaders: join us May 6 or 7 as our quarterly Faith & Life gatherings focus on National & Political Identity. Learn more and register HERE.)