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Where Is Your Citizenship?

By September 16, 2016December 16th, 2019Uncategorized
This post was written by CGJ Academic & Administrative Director S. Ernie Walton

Today we celebrate Constitution Day and Citizenship Day.  While the nature of this day has changed over the years, it is fundamentally a time to remember and give thanks for our great and enduring Charter as well as celebrate the fact of our citizenship in this great nation.  For more on the U.S. Constitution, see my post tomorrow.  This post is about citizenship, and specifically how the idea of “citizenship” relates to Christians. 

Today, the concept of “citizenship” means very little.  In our globalized and politically correct world, citizenship has been reduced to little more than a piece of paper that identifies where a person lives.  Indeed, citizenship today is not about becoming bonded to a state—its traditions, culture, ideology, etc.—but about what benefits a person can obtain, whether it be government services or better tax treatment for one’s assets.  But at its core, citizenship is much more.  Historically, citizenship was not just a piece of paper that provided benefits; it was an identity.  Citizenship defined, at least in part, who you were, how you thought, how you lived, and where your allegiance lied.  

To illustrate this point, consider one of the most famous cases in International Law: The Nottebohm case.  In that case, Lichtenstein brought a claim of diplomatic protection on behalf of one of its nationals, Mr. Nottebohm, for harm allegedly caused by Guatemala to Mr. Nottebohm.  Guatamela argued that the Court should dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction because, despite Mr. Nottebohm’s status as a national of Lichtenstein, Guatemala could not be forced to recognize it under the facts of the case.  The Court first noted that the “bond of nationality alone” permits a state to bring a claim of diplomatic protection on behalf of an individual.  Thus, if Mr. Nottebohm was not a national of Lichtenstein under International Law, the Court would have to dismiss the case.

According to the Court, foreign states do not have to recognize a claim of citizenship or nationality unless that citizenship is “real and effective.” To determine whether citizenship is real and effective, the court listed a number of relevant factors to consider.  Among these factors were the place of the person’s habitual residence, the center of his interests, his family ties, his participation in public life, attachment shown by him for a given country and inculcated in his children, and where he intended to spend his future. Thus, under international law, “nationality is a legal bond having as its basis a social fact of attachment, a genuine connection of existence, interests and sentiments, together with the existence of reciprocal rights and duties.”[1] 

Applying the law to the facts, the Court found that Nottebohm had lived in Guatemala for 34 years, did almost all of his business there, attempted to return there immediately after acquiring Lichtenstein citizenship, and had stated his intentions to retire there as well.  With Lichtenstein, however, Mr. Nottebohm had “extremely tenuous” connections.  He had “no settled abode,” no “prolonged residence,” and he did no business in Lichtenstein, nor did he state any intention to do any business there in the future.  In other words, Lichtenstein granted Mr. Nottebohm naturalization “without regard to the concept of nationality.”

For purposes of International law, then, citizenship must be “genuine” or “real and effective.”  Having a piece of paper declaring one to be a citizen of a certain state is simply not enough. 
How does this relate to Christians? Directly.  In Matthew 13, Jesus tells the parable of the weeds.  According to Jesus, the world is full of wheat and weeds.  The wheat has been planted by the Son of Man, and the weeds by the Devil.  Both live side by side in the world, where the Devil is the “god of this age.” 2 Cor. 4:4.  Despite the Devil’s ruling title in this world, the Kingdom of God has come and is coming.  When Jesus became a baby more than 2,000 years ago, the invasion began.  And when Jesus died on the cross and rose again, conquering sin and death, the victory was secured.  According to Colossians, Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities,” making “a public spectacle of them.” Col. 2:15 (not the past tense).  Despite this defeat, the Devil doesn’t yet know that he has been defeated.  The Kingdom of the Devil and the Kingdom of the Son of Man are thus in conflict, waging war against each other until the end when Jesus brings everything under his feet.  

Thus, in this world there are two kingdoms in conflict. A kingdom of course implies “subjects.”  Just as one of the elements of a State under international law is a permanent population, so too does a kingdom require subjects, subjects that are citizens of that Kingdom and loyal to its causes.  Paul tells Christians in Philippians 3:20 that Christians are “citizens of Heaven.” He contrasts that with those who belong to this world, whose “mind[s] are set on earthly things.”  Because of the work of Jesus, anyone in Christ is a citizen of Heaven.  That is the Gospel, the good news about what God has done for us in Christ to “rescue” us from the dominion of darkness and [bring] us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” Col. 1:13.

In light of our incredible status as citizens of Heaven through Christ’s redeeming work, I ask you, Christian, if the Kingdom of Heaven sought to bring a claim of diplomatic protection on your behalf because of an injury the Kingdom of the Devil committed against you, could the International Court of Justice (ICJ) hear the case?[2]Would there be jurisdiction? Or would the ICJ throw the case out, refusing to hear the merits because it could not find any “genuine link” between you and the Kingdom of Heaven?

Do the legal analysis. What do you think about? How do you spend your time? Where you do you spend your money?  What are your motivations? What do you read? What do you watch? Who are you friends and advisors? In the totality of circumstances, would these factors combine together to reveal a “genuine connection” to the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of this world?  On Citizenship day, Christians would do well to ask themselves these questions.

[1]While the most important part of the Court’s holding was the fact that Mr. Nottebohm was seeking to evade the laws of war by gaining citizenship of a neutral country (he was a citizen of Germany) during World War II, the citizenship analysis was heavily featured and certainly was important to the court’s holding.

[2]Of course, Jesus’s work on our behalf does not depend on our own works but our status in Christ. Thus, this post should not be taken to be construed that if a Christian appeals to Christ for aid in resisting the enemy, the Lord will only offer help if on that day you are acting in a certain manner.  This position is contrary to very nature of the Gospel.  Nonetheless, the point of the blog post is for Christians to humbly ask the Lord to convict them where perhaps they are living not as citizens of Heaven but as citizens of this world.