quod pro nobis traditum est

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Civil Religion

The following quote from Theodore Roosevelt was received in an e-mail. While it does not speak about liturgy or church, in a way it does. (Below I share a response to the quote.):

Theodore Roosevelt's ideas on Immigrants and being an AMERICAN in 1907.
"In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person's becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American...There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn't an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag... We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language... and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people."

As one who majored in history in college it is a joy to read quotes from historical figures. Still this quote raises some questions. How does this quote fit, or does it fit, with the church’s confession? I ask this because, as a pastor among Hispanics, I often get asked 2 questions: 1) Aren’t Hispanics Catholics? (is this a question about Hispanics or Catholics or both?) and 2) Are they learning English? (yes, quite faster than we Germans did.)

Anyway, this quote raises bigger questions about religion in AMERICA and the church and her confession. For some it appears that my role as a pastor is to Americanize the Hispanics. (When I preach the Gospel I can get in trouble.) Actually, the schools are doing the job of assimilating the immigrants quite well. The church has another role for the pastor or priest – ministry, to people of all nations (look at Revelation’s picture of the church in heaven). Another question raised by this quote is that the total loyalty demanded to America seems to imply an AMERICAN religion or creed. What does a church do then if her Scripture or confession demands loyalty to a God beyond the state? Should the church assimilate herself into the state religion or remain true to her confession? I would argue that for the church, her pastors or priests, and people, there is another loyalty that may at times not be consistent with that of the state’s religion.

If Theodore Roosevelt is correct about having “no divided allegiance here” then we need to re-think religious freedom so that we are on the same page with the AMERICAN religion. Having served among anglos and Hispanics for almost 15 years I can assure you that Hispanics ARE learning English and being “Americanized.” Not all left their jobs recently to march against immigration legislation. Not all who marched did so to bring down the American dream.

More importantly, we can draw comfort from the fact that Jesus’ kingdom is in this world but not of it. This means that His Church may not always preach an undivided allegiance to the state. On the other hand, this opens the possibility that people who come into the Church`s doors from other nations may also be saved. For some, this is a higher priority.

We do not need to fear. There is another kingdom beyond AMERICA and there is hope for those who belong to this kingdom, no matter their nationality or background. As Americans, we all need to follow, support and uphold the laws of the state. Hopefully, the immigration questions will be worked out legislatively in due time and in a fair and just way. Still, there is another allegiance beyond that of our beloved native land and sometimes this allegiance raises questions about the AMERICAN creed and how it is lived out.

Note that this is written in English.

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