America is a strange mix of Jerusalem and Babylon. So states the late Richard John Neuhaus in his book American Babylon: Notes for a Christian Exile. While acknowledging the religiously aware nature of the nation’s founding and of its citizens, he reminds us that “America is Babylon not by comparison with other societies but by comparison with the radically new order sought by all who know love’s grief in refusing to settle for a community of less than truth and justice compromised.”
This, our union, is less perfect than the more perfect one that the Constitution envisions, and hence the people of God are in a foreign land. But if exiles we are, then what is our role as the people of God in a foreign land?
In about 600 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, removed the people of God from their own land and transported them to a literal land of exile. The prophet Jeremiah, still in Jerusalem, gave a bit of advice in the form of a “thus saith the Lord.”: Build houses, start families, create businesses. You are going to be in a strange land for a long time. Most of all, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7 NASB)
If in fact we are pilgrims and sojourners on the earth, exiles in the American Babylon, Jeremiah’s message to his exiled people a good message for us as well. The city’s prosperity is our prosperity. The city’s peace is our peace. Its welfare is our welfare. As citizens of both the higher kingdom and the earthly one we must do whatever we can to make this Babylon a better place for all who inhabit it so that it can be a batter place for us too.
This comports well with the New Testament admonition to be salt and light to the world. It also brings into a clearer picture Jesus’ statement that we should render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. We might argue about what is Caesar’s and what is God’s – that at the core defines much of the political discourse in the American Babylon today — but it does give us the freedom, indeed, the obligation to participate in the life of the city, provided we remember that our true citizenship is in the New Jerusalem and that we conduct ourselves accordingly.
That’s why becoming involved in town hall events to strive for the welfare of the city is lawful, assuming we conduct ourselves lawfully. It’s why standing for the values of Jerusalem and working for the welfare of city is consistent with who we should be. It means easing the path for others, being generous to a fault, ministering to the needy, and conducting with a kindness and openness that will reflect the life of Christ.
It means standing for justice for the weak and helpless even when the political winds blow otherwise and doing what we must to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity by not selling our inheritance for the short term economic gain for a few.
In short it’s completely acceptable for people of faith to have our voices heard on the public square to defend our values in this American Babylon, for exiles are to work for the welfare of the city