Reflections: Allegiance to earthly kingdoms or the kingdom of God?

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John 18:36 (NLT) Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.”

I just read an article about House bill 1070 which would create a “Center for American Exceptionalism” on the campus of Black Hills State University.

It would be charged with working alongside South Dakota’s other public universities in creating a new K-12 curriculum on “American history and exceptionalism” to be made available to all public schools.

Of course, American history has always been taught in our schools, so this bill represents nothing more than a continuing culture war that seeks to undermine the truth telling about the dark underbelly of American history, while glossing over it with the facade of “exceptionalism.”

Since this term was first coined some years ago, I’ve tried to figure out exactly what it is that some people believe makes America exceptional. Is it that we abolished slavery decades later than England did? Is it that we have exponentially more gun deaths per capita than any other country? Is it that we have nearly 30 million Americans who have no health insurance while every other developed nation covers all their citizens? Is it that we are currently seeking to undermine our own democracy by limiting voting rights and casting aspersions upon free and fair elections? Or is it simply that we have the most nuclear weapons; enough to destroy the entire world?

The specific language of this bill says that the curriculum the center creates should explain “why America rose to greatness and how to keep it that way, and (teach) students to balance critical thinking with love of country.” So I continue to be confounded by this obsession with claiming our American greatness and love of ourselves. I don’t hate this, or any other country. But I also don’t love this, or any other country. Why? Because Jesus called his followers to love their neighbor, not their country. He was no respecter of nations, or any other distinctions that separate the human family. He taught the parable of the good Samaritan to teach us that we are to love people from other places and people of other religions as much as we love our neighbor next door.

The scripture verse I have referenced is the account of Jesus being questioned by Pontius Pilate on the eve of his crucifixion. As a governor, Pilate thought the Roman Empire was exceptional, and he loved it because it gave him power. But Jesus makes it clear that he is not interested in the kingdoms (nations) of this world, because his kingdom is “not of this world.” Maybe we who call ourselves believers should focus less on claiming the exceptionalism of our “kingdom” and indoctrinating our children through pledges of allegiance to flags and the kingdoms for which they stand, and focus more on pledging allegiance to God and God’s kingdom above any earthly one.