As a Christian, if I had to select a Facebook status to describe my relationship with the Fourth of July, I’d choose “It’s complicated.”

On July 4, I was flipping burgers in my USA tank-top and enjoying the fireworks off the butte just like every other dad in my neighborhood, but, as usual, I felt weird about it.

The congregation I pastor is in the process of restoring an old church building we recently purchased in Bend. We have gutted and rebuilt the sanctuary, but when we got the keys last year, one of the first things I noticed were the two flags prominently displayed on either side of the baptistery — the American flag and the Christian flag.

This is a common sight in many places of worship and, in one sense, there’s a strong theological reason for it: As American Christians, we hold dual citizenship. We’re citizens of the United States, and we’re also citizens of the kingdom of God. But unlike those who are dual citizens of two different countries and can go back and forth between them, we live in two places at the same time.

This is true of every Christian in the world and always has been. Think about the way the Apostle Paul starts several of his epistles. He opens his letter to the Ephesians, “To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus.” He’s addressing a congregation that is living in two places at the same time. The Ephesian Christians were in Ephesus, and they were in Christ. The same kind of thing is true for American Christians. In that sense, then, I understand why some churches choose to fly both flags.

But what happens when these two flags are in conflict with one another? That’s when dual citizenship gets complicated. What do you do when the American Way and the Jesus Way are heading in different directions? What do you do when God and country are in a tug-of-war for your loyalty? What do you do when our nation sets aside a day to celebrate our independence, but we know how the promise of Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness came (and continues to come) with a price tag of millions of Indigenous and Black lives?

These are some of the questions that make the Fourth of July complicated for me. I love our country and, having traveled all over the world, I am deeply grateful that I was born here and I get to live here. I’ll be cheering for Team USA in next month’s Olympics. I am indebted to all the men and women who have served and sacrificed for our nation. I’m proud to be an American. I really am.

But I’m a Christian first, and my allegiance will always be pledged to Christ and his kingdom. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructed his followers, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (the Greek word here is better translated justice).” Which is why when our congregation gathers to worship in our new sanctuary, neither the Christian flag nor the American flag will be raised. The church ought to be the one place in all creation where the Lordship of Christ is unopposed.

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Pete Kelley is the lead pastor of the Antioch Church in Bend.

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