“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”
You have just read the Oath of Allegiance, recited by those who wish to obtain United States citizenship.
On this Fourth of July, the day we set aside to celebrate our uniquely free country, I am reminded about a day about five years ago.
I proudly sat with my oldest son while we watched his wife, my lovely Colombian-born daughter-in-law, take that oath in the company of 147 others from 44 countries as each ended a long path to become U.S. citizens.
Smiles graced everyone’s faces. People cheered and clapped. Cameras everywhere recorded the moment for posterity.
All had worked hard to get there, studied, prepared, hoped they passed and had properly filled out loads of paperwork. For my highly educated daughter-in-law, the process took five years, several appeals to U.S. senators, multiple interviews with the Department of Homeland Security and a great deal of money.
The problem for her was that my son has worked and lived overseas during most of their marriage, with one of their sons born in Australia and the other in Canada, and the uniqueness of their situation played havoc with the usual rules.
Nonetheless, even the most straightforward of paths to citizenship twists and turns with laborious complexity.
But to those who gained it, the necessary study and understanding of U.S. civics opened a door to new life and hope. To me, born here in the USA, generally unconscious of the freedoms I enjoy because of it, civics was a boring high school course I had to suffer through to graduate.
To them, being willing to serve in any capacity for the sake of our freedoms is a privilege; to most of us, it is an unwanted and unwelcome responsibility, and to be avoided if at all possible.
A quick leap, isn’t it, to what people of faith claim to have: citizenship in the kingdom of heaven.
I wonder how many of us who claim that citizenship could pass even a simple test on the basics.
For example, one of the possible questions during the immigration interview is, “Name the first 13 states.” Well, how about naming the 12 original apostles or the primary leaders in a particular faith formation tradition?
Another question, “What do the stripes on the flag stand for?” How about, “What is the purpose of the Sacraments?”
Or, “How many changes or amendments to the Constitution are there?” versus “Recite the two greatest commandments and accurately identify the references to them.”
I also wonder how many who claim citizenship in or rights to the kingdom of heaven are ready to carry the burden of defending that place? Will we serve when requested, even to the point of disrupting our normal lives, because there is indeed a greater call upon us?
Most who claim heavenly citizenship and who also claim U.S. citizenship do so woefully ignorant about their faith foundations and the foundations of the republic in which we live.
We may know the TV schedule, plots of the latest movies, key moves to the latest electronic games, the scores and rankings of our favorite sports teams, and the passwords to our computers. But we rarely can articulate the language of political freedom and the language of religious belief.
And that’s just not right. As they say, ignorance of the law is no excuse. Nor is ignorance of matters of eternal importance.
THE REV. CHRISTY THOMAS can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her blog is at www.christythomas.com.