Allegiance to God, not self, nation or CaesarBy Marty Troyer
There is a god, and it’s not you.
This is as cute as it is true. But biblically speaking, it’s more accurate to say there is a god, and it’s not Uncle Sam. From Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar to Herod and Domitian, biblical authors use rulers to frame faith as allegiance to either God or state. Unequivocally, God (YHWH, Jesus) demands and deserves ultimate allegiance and not Caesar.
Allegiance goes well beyond creeds or sterile doctrine and demands radical trust. After all, what does faith look like when the King is also demanding ultimate allegiance? Take for instance Christians in Europe during the Second Great War. For those who want “to save their life” (pretty much everyone), National Socialism posed a gut-wrenching challenge.
The story is clear: Too many Christians chose allegiance to self, nation and Caesar over God, including many Mennonites. Moving from a posture of survival to collaboration and then to perpetration, allegiance given to King Adolf destroyed millions of lives and the modern soul with it.
Did it have to be this way? Was there no theology that could have shouted “no!” loud enough to stop the war machine?
I believe there was. Mark was a storyteller faithful to God who lived in a similar context of imperialism and militarism. Centuries of oppression and exploitation were followed by the razing of his capital city (similar to the carpet bombing of Dresden and other cities). At that precise moment, this storyteller chose to tell the story of his leader, who had said a generation before: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, pick their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life must lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
Listen to how that text sounds when another king besides God demands ultimate allegiance: Become one of us, or die. Do you physically fight against the oppression? No. Well then, do you collaborate or perpetrate crimes in order to save your life? No. The only option is allegiance/faithfulness to God alone with a corresponding absolute “no!” to the powers that be.
In Birmingham, Ala., firemen use water power to break up a civil rights demonstration.
The nonviolent movement of the American South embodied this complex tension. The protestors and marchers who partnered with the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t just test drive the philosophy of nonviolence. They were trained to be self-differentiated at the highest levels. Over and again demonstrators were trained by King, who said, “When we march, don’t panic, and remember that we must remain true to nonviolence. I’m asking everybody in the line, if you can’t be nonviolent, don’t get in here. If you can’t accept blows without retaliation, don’t get in the line.”
In other words, don’t fight the system with violence. But equally so, don’t collaborate with the system of injustice. Instead, remain true to self and God.
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