There is nothing wrong with enjoying, exploring and celebrating national identity.
Make no mistake I get a great thrill when England do well at sport. The 2003 Rugby World Cup Final,and the Ashes victory in 2005 are two of my top sporting memories.
Sadly I haven’t got a great football memory for I watched the 1966 World Cup Final in my nappies and ‘we’ haven’t had much (any?) significant success at the round ball game in the intervening forty-nine years!
I would put alongside my solely English successes the British and Irish Lions series wins in 1989, 1997 and 2013, the G.B. Coxless Four (Steve Redgrave et al) winning Olympic Gold in Sydney as sporting events which transcend my ‘Englishness,’ and yes, at Ryder Cup time, I become decidedly Pro-European.
It seems I am capable of more than just one nationally defined identity, even though at heart I am English.
To give it a theological analogy I experience my Englishness as imminent and,my British, and European identity as transcendent.
And, I suppose it was for this reason that Nigel Farage’s decision to describe the S.N.P. as racist (and UKIP as English) felt so uncomfortable. Its a bit limited and tribal, don’t you think?
Of course for the Christian national identity is problematic. I would want to stress that this does not, should not, mean there is anything wrong in affirming a national identity. Bonhoeffer was always ready to let his readers know that he thought of himself as a good and loyal German. St. Paul was keen to acknowledge and affirm his status as a Roman citizen (see Acts 22, 25).
However it does mean that we Christians should first and foremost acknowledge our status as subjects of ‘the Kingdom’ and this implies accepting that the kingdom is not just ‘out there,’ but here, on earth, in our midst.
The Kingdom unlike national identity is in fact both transcendent and imminent. And, one of our basic Christian duties is to help grow The Kingdom ‘on earth as in heaven.’ Amongst other things this might mean (to paraphrase one of the Taize chants) working for justice and peace whilst trusting in the Holy Spirit. Justice and peace are of course relational assets.
If we are serious about justice and peace we need to transcend basic binary and competitive definitions of identity.
We also need to take St. Paul’s words to the Philippians seriously,‘our citizenship is in heaven,’ (3, 20). As latter day apostles we are sent as ambassadors, to spread the good news and, to make disciples of all nations, to be living sacraments, pointing the way to a better more Godly way of being.
We would do well to hear once again Paul’s words to the Galatians: ‘there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave nor free, there is no longer male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,’ (3, 28).
These words are surely a rallying cry for justice and peace?
But what do they mean for contemporary British Christians?
How do these words help inform our sense of identity and inclusion, our mission to the world, and maybe even the electoral choices we make?