Just suppose-as the first of three possibilities-that an alien faith begins asserting itself in your region of the country. The historic biblical Christian faith, these people teach, is not only misguided and wrong, but wicked as well. And the Jehovah God of the Bible is similarly disdained and rejected by these alien folks. This is what they teach their children-very quietly, of course, but also very emphatically. They understand that they are a minority group, and that the tolerance they enjoy may have some limits. But tolerated they are-just as they and every non-Christian and anti-Christian religion has been tolerated in America since the nation's founding.
Or imagine, as Possibility No. 2, that yet another group of aliens has become known in your area for rejecting and hating not the faith held by a majority of the people in their host nation, but that nation's culture and government instead. Quietly but thoroughly, they teach their children the inferiority of their hosts' values and customs, and the need one way or another, when the opportunity presents itself, to crush and destroy the warp and woof of the civilization that nurtured you and all your nation's governing structures.
Here's Possibility No. 3. Not that anything so unlikely would ever happen-but just stretch your imagination. Imagine that Possibility No. 1 comes along absolutely simultaneously with Possibility No. 2, and that both come from the same scary source. On the one hand, an all-out attack on your faith. On the other hand, an all-out attack on your civil government. And both from the same source. Which would you consider more ominous? Which needs to be addressed first? Which needs your priority attention?
My guess is that your first response is (as mine was) that of course, while your faith and your nation are deeply important to you, your faith is eternal while your earthly citizenship is only passing. So your clear obligation is to take on first those who would strike at that which is most vital.
Except, of course, that in real life we have done precisely the opposite. We have deliberately and officially tolerated those who have attacked our Christian faith, but chosen to take those who in sinister ways undermined our government and ship them off for stern treatment at Guantanamo Bay.
Have we had all this backwards? Have we just pretended that our faith was the critical issue, but shown with our actual behavior that our trust in Jehovah is something we will lightly trade away?
I think not. We are indeed altogether faithless people-and I don't mean to justify our shallow loyalty. But backwards as it may seem, there are good reasons why we take up arms to defend the honor and safety of our nation-and then amazingly take up even those same arms to defend the right of others to dishonor the very King to whom we are first committed. How can that be?
The answer has to do with the profound difference between the two kinds of kingdoms we are comparing. One is a temporal kingdom, and the only way we know to defend it is with laws and treaties and armies and ships and atomic bombs and all such paraphernalia. The other, as Jesus put it so tersely, "is not of this world." Neither the sword that Peter used to cut off the soldier's ear just before Jesus was crucified, nor all the military hardware assembled through all the history of the world is able to touch the kind of kingdom Jesus is right now establishing.
This does not turn us into pacifists. It does help us keep straight when we are to be taking up literal arms, on the one hand, and when, on the other, we are to be relying exclusively on the Spirit of God. It is to remind us always to keep in mind the teaching of Jesus: "I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear Him who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him!"