Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Citizenship: Re-Minded by the Holy Spirit

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Citizenship: Re-Minded by the Holy Spirit

Article excerpt

And finally, teach our people to rely on your strength and to accept their responsibilities to their fellow citizens, that they may elect trustworthy leaders and make wise decisions for the well-being of our society; that we may serve you faithfully in our generation and honor your holy Name.1

"For Sound Government," The Book of Common Prayer.

The above prayer trusts in an expected answer. That answer generates the question for this essay. What kind of conjunction between citizenship and discipleship might it, and a common Christian assumption of harmony between being Christian and being an American citizen, depend on? Is the conjunction theologically strong in the sense of arising from truths, values and divine influence at the core of Christianity, or weak in the sense of a permissible human adjustment to an indifferent circumstance? Can exercise (not the legal status2) of American citizenship mediate discipleship or does it simply attach an ethically neutral condition to it? Exploration of this question leads to undramatic results that serve to deepen appreciation of ordinary Christian lives in America. The direction of the inquiry heads toward a strong, theological basis for the conjunction between discipleship and citizenship. This represents a step beyond John Courtney Murray's argument that the natural law ethic in Catholicism-though he could have pointed to parts of natural law ethics in other churches too-- found major elements of itself in the design laid down by the U.S. Constitution.3 He argued the congruence between Catholic adherence to natural law morality and to American democracy. Here, however, the focus is on generally Christian, theological grounds for congruence, with special attention to "his own first gift to those who believe,"4 the Holy Spirit, and to Johannine theology of the Paraclete in particular. The question can be put, does Christian discipleship, especially in light of the Third Article of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, find scope for its exercise in active American citizenship?

Members of the Episcopal Church have compiled a distinguished record of active citizenship that signifies a tradition of faith expressed, among other ways, in concern for the "well-being of our society." Most often, perhaps, that concern has issued in an exercise of citizenship that fulfills the ordinary duties of paying taxes, discussing public issues, voting for "trustworthy leaders," serving in the military, etc. Fewer, but still a remarkable number, have toiled for the "well-being of our society" in public office. Least trodden may be a path of holy indignation that has led, as with William Stringfellow, to prophetic challenge of the social and political status quo.5 In these and other ways Episcopalians have let discipleship underwrite active citizenship.

The question, though, about discipleship and active citizenship pertains to all believers in Christ from all churches and ecclesial bodies, including my own Roman Catholic Church. The context of the question is a new attention to citizenship. Discussion of philosophical, juridical, historical, political, social, economic and ethical aspects of citizenship enjoys a new prominence.6 Education for good citizenship has become a recognizable task. Exploring the conjunction of Christian discipleship and American citizenship has positive implications for democratic practice. Events of the recent past-for example, increased voter apathy, nationalist movements in Eastern Europe, failed environmental policies that depend on voluntary cooperation-"have made clear that the health and stability of a modern democracy depends [sic] not only on the justice of its `basic structure' but also on the qualities and attitudes of its citizens."7 To the extent that Christians gain a better grasp of how discipleship supports active citizenship, this anchors their practice of citizenship in something more solid than a putative social contract.

Admittedly, another worthwhile avenue would be to explore the mission of the Spirit in various churches that, within their overall mission, embrace a messianic social ministry on behalf of the poor and marginalized that often produces official statements and supports advocacy and lobbying on public policies. …

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