I have seen this hash tag – #iambritish – and others like it on Twitter in the last day or two.
It concerns me.
It concerns me because when my denomination is wed to the (British) state (in a civil partnership) and has a very particular affinity with Unionism/Loyalism in Northern Ireland the move to merging the church with #iambritish doesn’t take much. (When this is the case we might just sing the National Anthem in church without batting an eye-lid. Oh, wait…)
Seeing Christians tweet #iambritish or #ProudtobeBritish concerns me because while I’m not expecting anyone to be treasonous, out rightly disrespectful or generally speaking a terrible citizen; I am expecting a more considered approach to identity cognisance.
The kingdom Jesus spoke of claims a person whole – Jesus created a new people around himself, followers of Jesus became a new people, a new nation, under a new king. This still applies to any who would follow today.
Paul develops on this in the context of his letters to churches in the Roman Empire. On one occasion to the church in Philippi he writes,
“Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Philippians 3:20
Paul envisages the reality of the kingdom of God by telling believers in Philippi that the coming kingdom, which was fully realised in heaven and had yet to come to earth, was the place they were citizens and to that extent they were resident aliens on earth while they awaited their Saviour from there to come here because as the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6 has it, God’s kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven.
The Christians citizenship is changed when they begin to follow Jesus. This identity as one who belongs to a kingdom in heaven which is coming to earth becomes primary; all other identities are to be held loosely.
#iambritish concerns me further because Christians are members of churches that know they are to be places founded in the dissolution of distinctions and the embrace of diversity.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28
When we hold identities loosely, unity arises out of difference. The holding of an identity in a primary fashion that is not the identity of the Christian who embodies the reality that anybody can, would and will be embraced by Jesus himself is to risk blasphemy.
I like the Queen and wish her nothing but good things – but “God Save The Queen” is not a song that simply wishes the Queen good health, it is a song that has killed others in her name.
Britain is a nation at war, creating poverty and homelessness, perpetuating injustice and oppression and lies in a world were nations will give as good as they get and innocents ‘get called facts on the ground’ or ‘collateral’.
I don’t really want to be British but I am –historically Britain has not treated my land nor the brothers and sisters of my land well at all.
The Christian cannot primarily identity as British (or Irish or American etc. for that matter) because they are now a foreigner in the world, they are one without a home in a land they may very well recognise and like.
But when British is your primary identity there will be distinctions and divisions that you cannot let go.
We cannot enter the church holding primary identities that are not firstly our understanding that the kingdom is our first allegiance because with them comes distinctions which serve to distort the body – if there is a refusal to distinguish male from female, there is certainly a refusal to distinguish black from white, Republican from Loyalist, British from Irish, Pakistani from BNP member and so on.
However, Christians are citizens of a kingdom that throws them into radical discontinuity with all divisions and boundaries and distinctions – we are the people of peace, hope, rest, non-violence, justice and truth and we extend it to all.
Christians risk compromising themselves when they celebrate, in a primary fashion, any identity that is not the one given them by Christ, ‘citizens of heaven’, just as the Church compromises itself to the point of blasphemy, for the sake of the state, when it permits the raising of Union flags, the singing of national anthems, the glorification of war, the divesting of its social responsibilities and the carrying out functions of the state (i.e. legal marriage) with little more than a perfunctory wave.
You may be British, so am I; you may be a Christian, so am I – perhaps consider joining me in being a Christian first, thank the Queen in so far as you can but remember that today many will not be jubilant for her and these people need saved much more than she does.
Remember the Queen but seek solidarity with those who have good reason not to celebrate. Britain has not helped them and will no doubt forget them, but the kingdom is for them and so is the church because Jesus is with them and in them. And we serve these poor and oppressed, these homeless and sick, and Republicans and Romanians because the kingdom is theirs.
When we look into their eyes, we see God; and when we carry them, we hold royalty; and when we wash their feet, we celebrate because the kingdom embodies a jubilee of a different sort with which Britain simply cannot compete.