Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Becoming an American

Gideon Strauss


August 27, 2010
by Gideon Strauss

Sell house: done. Store furniture: done. Deliver both children to college: done. Move to America: done. Become an American citizen: next action.

Earlier this week my wife, Angela, and I moved into a graduate student apartment at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California, where Angela will be studying church music and liturgy for the next year or so. With this we become U.S. residents for the first time.

I started working for the Center for Public Justice—based in Washington, DC, for those of you who don’t know—in October of 2009, on an H1B visa. Because our younger daughter, Hannah, was finishing high school, we remained at our home in Canada until she entered Gordon College near Boston a few weeks ago, alongside her sophomore sister Tala.   

The decision by the board of trustees of the Center for Public Justice to hire as its CEO a South African living in Canada seemed to me to be an indication of the scope of the board’s vision—a vision for public justice that does not stop at the borders of the USA. (This vision is a current expression of the long-standing purpose statement of the Center for Public Justice: We aspire to a United States and a world in which citizens, particularly Christians, take their civic responsibilities seriously as a service to God, until the kingdom of God comes in its fullness. We aspire to a United States and a world where governments carry out their high calling to do justice to all citizens, institutions and communities. We aspire to a United States and a world where citizens and leaders work together to shape public life for the good of all, both nationally and internationally.)

Since the aspirations of the Center for Public Justice start with the United States, even if they do not end here, I explained to its board of trustees at the time that they offered me this position that I could not see myself doing the job with authenticity unless I was willing to accept the responsibilities of a citizen of the United States of America, and that I would therefore pursue such citizenship as I took on the duties of CEO.

This decision raises big questions for me: What does it mean to become an American? What does it mean to be an American? Is it possible to fulfill the responsibilities of American citizenship while retaining citizenship in Canada and South Africa, or must those citizenships be relinquished? What is the relationship between the duties of a citizen of the USA and the duties one has to all of humanity—that is, can one be both an American citizen and in some sense a cosmopolitan? And perhaps the biggest question of all: what is the relationship between being a citizen of the USA and being a citizen of the kingdom of God?

These are not only questions for me, or even just for immigrants in general: they are questions for every current or prospective American citizen, whether you drove in from Canada or Mexico yesterday, or if your parents came freely or in bondage by boat from East Asia or West Africa generations ago, or if you can trace your ancestors back to the Mayflower or Dutch Manhattan.

Citizenship demands considerable commitment: it is an expression of a certain kind of love, and woven into it are certain kinds of responsibilities. How should I—how should we—love America?

These are questions I will be exploring for years. I have some sense of where this journey should start. America is not my first or deepest love. That love is reserved for God, and, therefore, my citizenship in the kingdom of God is the larger context and the greater demand in terms of which my pursuit of American citizenship must be understood.

Knowing where to start does not mean I know where I’ll end up. I pray for good guidance from the Word of God and from the community of believers and its expression both in historical Christian social thought and in you: the associates of the Center for Public Justice. So let me know what you think … ?     

—Gideon Strauss is CEO of the Center for Public Justice and editor of Capital Commentary.   

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”