The spectacle of international Islam this past week has been astonishing for Westerners to behold. We have seen a global wave of rage on account of an obscure video on YouTube that is, as they say, “insulting to Islam.” No doubt it is.
But part of what strikes us about this worldwide agitation is how passionate these people are about their religion, albeit in ways that show no concern for human life. What I as a Christian find remarkable is how fundamentally Muslims identify with their religion. Of course, that identification is not as strong as it sometimes seems. They are divided very powerfully at times by tribe, ethnicity, nation, even religious traditions. Part of their passion stems also from grievance over perceived victimization.
Nonetheless, there is a strong international affinity that Muslims have for one another as Muslims that has no practical Christian parallel, despite the catholicity or transnational character of the Christian faith. Yet Jesus inaugurated a Kingdom, not many national kingdoms. He is risen and exalted as King of kings not so that his blood-purchased people should give their primary-though-Christianized allegiance to the kingdoms of men.
If Christ were utmost in the hearts of His people, war between Christian nations would be a doubtful undertaking. Rulers would seriously wonder if their people would fight for them against their Christian brothers. If Christians identified more fundamentally with the cross than with the flag, the thought of marching against one’s Christian neighbors in 1914 would have been appalling to the common run of people. The American Civil War would at the very least have been far less savage.
I confess that when a gang of Islamists assault and burn our consulate in Benghazi and kill our ambassador I get angry (and rightly so). But when (again) Islamists burn 50 Christians alive in their pastor’s home in Nigeria, I am horrified, but I don’t feel the same angry defense of my people … though my people they are. In my understanding, I am first a subject of King Jesus, a citizen of God’s Kingdom, and only second a grateful citizen of the United States. But my heart does not appear to be true to the principles I profess. That’s troubling. And I’m not unusual among my brothers and sisters in Christ.
Even so, if we were to repent of our spiritual disloyalty and seek and savor the Kingdom of God above all lesser kingdoms, saying with Jesus “whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:50), I daresay we would grasp for an idea without content. Our understanding of the Christian faith is so individualized and denuded of implications for larger corporate life, we don’t know where to turn after repenting. If evangelicals do not develop a more serious ecclesiology and political theology, we will continue to be captivated by our politics instead of taking captive every political thought for Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).