I didn’t plan it this way. I’m not bright enough for that. It happened by providence. This past week, while our country roiled with accusations of who the true patriots are, I spent the week looking at a story about the prophet Jeremiah that God used to give me the following response. This is based on the sermon I gave Sunday arising from my study of Jeremiah 38:1-13; and, I will admit up front, it is highly critical of the U.S. at this moment in time.
Since Tuesday, July 16, the United States has been in an intense argument over the answers to questions like: What makes a person a “true” citizen of this country? What does it look like to “love” this country? Some of the loudest voices in this fight have been white, Evangelicals who claim to be followers of Christ. More than any other group they have proclaimed that a person must “love” this country, “or leave it.” And by “love” this country they mean: support the current President and his administration; or, be quiet!
So right in the midst of this battle over these issues I was studying a story of God speaking to another nation in turmoil over similar issues of patriotism, Jeremiah 38:1-13. After reading that story, if followers of Christ are to take the Bible as God’s Word, I do not see how we could ever say of this, or any other country, “a citizen must support the current regime in control, or be silent.” This story of Jeremiah reveals to all followers of Christ that God is our primary allegiance, not country; and, when and where our country veers from God’s ways, we are called to be prophetic, not patriotic.
If Jeremiah was a current, U.S. Representative in Congress and said similar things as in this story, there is no way in which white, Evangelicals would construe him as “supporting” the head of government. And, he is not quiet about it:
Shephatiah … , Gedaliah … , Jehukal … , and Pashhur … heard what Jeremiah was telling all the people when he said, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine or plague, but whoever goes over to the Babylonians will live. They will escape with their lives; they will live.’ And this is what the Lord says: ‘This city will certainly be given into the hands of the army of the king of Babylon, who will capture it.’”
The four representatives from the king’s cabinet who heard what Jeremiah was saying did not feel he was being patriotic:
The officials said to the king, “This man should be put to death. He is discouraging the soldiers who are left in this city, as well as all the people, by the things he is saying to them. This man is not seeking the good of these people but their ruin.”
Let’s be honest, they are right! Jeremiah is NOT being patriotic, in any general understanding. In fact, he is being traitorous. He is undermining the regime’s policies. Any commentator with any integrity writing about this story recognizes Jeremiah’s lack of traditional patriotism. Walter Brueggemann calls Jeremiah’s message, “an effective act of sabotage of royal policy.” Tremper Longmann III notes: “Jeremiah sounds like an agent of the Babylonians.” Sound familiar? Jeremiah’s words are so contradictory to our general understanding of “God and country” in the U.S. that some commentators get angry with what Jeremiah says because it is not being patriotic. And they are right. It’s not patriotic. But it is prophetic!
This is what the Lord says: ‘Whoever stays in this city will die … but whoever goes over to the Babylonians will live.’ And this is what the Lord says: ‘This city will certainly be given into the hands of the army of the king of Babylon, who will capture it.’
God’s people, both the rulers and the general population, had drifted from the ways of God. They weren’t caring for the weak and vulnerable. The rich were hoarding power and wealth. They adopted the immoral practices of the cultures around them. Profiteering and sexual exploitation were rampant, and often done in the name of God. For decades, God had been trying to get the nation to set things right; but they wouldn’t listen and they wouldn’t change.
But Jeremiah did listen to God, and followed God’s leading. Jeremiah followed God’s leading even though it looked like treason to some, because Jeremiah knew: Our primary allegiance is to God, not country; and, when and where our country veers from God’s ways, we are called to be prophetic, not patriotic.
I believe that we in the United States are in the very same position as people of Germany in the 1930’s. The chant from the crowd at Trump’s rally in North Carolina on July 17th, was chilling: a horde of almost entirely white people yelling, “Send her back” – referring to a duly elected representative from the United States Congress! But they were following the current occupant of the White House and what he had said about Rep. Omar and three other duly elected representatives from the United States Congress. By design, all four targets of the President’s tweet were people of color, and women. And given that this crowd was made up of mostly white people from North Carolina, it is pretty much a sure bet that most of those yelling that sickening chant were people who claim to be followers of Christ.
This is how genocide starts. Genocide starts by saying that a whole people group doesn’t belong, in this case because of the color of their skin. Already we are letting people with similar skin colors die at the southern border, some being only infants! The move from allowing persons die to shooting them is not far.
Growing up in the U.S., we were all taught that the Nazis, and Hitler, were evil. We wondered how Germans could have let more than 6 million human beings be slaughtered; or, how some could have actively participated? I know many of us wondered: “What would I have done, if I’d been there?” Well folks, we’re there! We are “there”, here and now in the U.S. The current cover of the German magazine, “Stern”, has a picture of Trump with the flag of the U.S. draped over his shoulders and one arm raised in the “Seig Heil” salute. It is beyond time to act.
We must stand up to all those who are dehumanizing our sisters and brothers in the human race. We must resist, and work to break their power. Not because it’s “patriotic,” but because it is the way of God! We know from the opening scriptures of the Bible that God creates every human being in the image of God. Every human being shares that image equally. Further, throughout the scriptures, God judges nations by how they treat the weak, the poor, and the oppressed, especially. Right now, our President and his regime are not merely failing to help the weak, the poor, the oppressed; they are actively seeking to eliminate them!
Through Jeremiah we are reminded that our primary allegiance is to God, not country. And when and where our government veers from the way of God we are called to be prophetic, not patriotic.
God help us all.