Living With Dual Citizenship
Making the news lately has been the Commonwealth Government's new Citizenship Test. On the 26th of August the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, the Hon. Kevin Andrews MP, released a draft of the government's proposed resource book, Becoming an Australian Citizen, from which the questions for the proposed Australian Citizenship Test will be drawn. In a media release1 Mr Andrews explained that the government believes it is important that people who wish to become Australian citizens understand and are committed to Australia and our way of life and the core values of Australian society. It also believes that prospective citizens should accept the responsibilities that come with the freedoms and privileges of Australian citizenship, and be able to participate fully in the national life and make the most of the opportunities that Australia has to offer. To this end it also believes it important that new citizens should have a basic knowledge of English, and know something of Australia's history and heritage, all of which will not only assist them to be better citizens, but which will also help 'to foster a cohesive and integrated society with a shared sense of destiny and should the need arise, shared sacrifice for the common good.'
Public reaction has been mixed. In 2006 when the Government called for public submissions of the 1664 submissions received, 60% were in favour, 25% were against, and 15% were 'unclear'.2 Since the release of the draft resource book and questions, much of the public comment has clearly been coloured by the politics of those concerned, with many opposed to it 'on principle' (it is proposed by the Howard government) rather than on any specifics of the proposal - like Dan, who commented: 'Trust the Government to come up with idiotic things like these. It's like allowing Catholics to participate in the Mass only if they know what the shortest verse in the Bible is or when the last Papal Bull was.' Others overlook the fact that the proposed test is part of a package - that is, like the theory part of a driving licence test, it is actually a test of how carefully one has read the resource book provided by the government, not a test of general knowledge - like Brian, who commented, 'Did the test, scored 15/20-good luck to the migrants trying to pass. 'Others appear to overlook the fact that the test is not a test of residency - like Sammo, who comments 'The English requirement is a travesty, some of my good friends have grandparents and even parents that didn't speak a word of English when they arrived here (and some still don't), but they're just as Australian as I am, if not more so.'3
And then there are others who would be happy to have a citizenship test, but who don't like this one - like Larry Schwartz in his tongue-in-cheek article in the Age.4 As a mid 1980's arrival from South Africa he writes, 'My sympathies are with those facing a new citizenship test. Just don't make it retrospective or I'm in trouble. I've been here half my life and am still discovering aspects of landscape, institutions, identities, history and nuance of language.' Reflecting on the mysteries of Australian culture as he found it, he writes '"D-what?" I said softly to myself the first time a news editor sent me out to cover an event in Sydney's northern beaches suburb of Dee Why. A woman rang to say her pet wombat was missing. A what bat? Some kind of sporting equipment used to hit a ball? Someone rang to talk about mufflers - we called them exhaust pipes where I came from. A jumper - we called them jerseys - must be an athlete, or perhaps an energetic child. Spoutings were gutters.' â€¦ but he says, 'My problems seem trivial compared with those of people who struggle with English and who are now forced to reckon with a multiple-choice test in English.'
Significantly, while media commentators like Larry Schwartz find fault with any suggestion that Australian citizens be required to learn English, anecdotal evidence suggests that most Australians believe that it is a very good idea. But whether that evidence is reliable or not, the whole question of citizenship is thought provoking. Citizenship of Australia is something most of us take for granted, for we were born with it - but are we proud of it? What does it mean to us to be Australian? Again, anecdotal evidence is all that one has to go on - but my impression is that Australians are not as proud of being Australians as, say, Americans are proud of being American. Thinking about it, I'm not sure whether I'm proud of being Australian or not, or whether 'proud' is the right word. Certainly I'm thankful to be a citizen of Australia, and having briefly travelled abroad, all the more thankful! As any Australian who has been overseas will agree, it was good to get one's feet back on Australian soil, and be 'home' again.
As Christians we are to remember that while we are citizens of the earthly nations, we are also citizens of God's 'nation' and citizens of heaven. There was a time when this was not so, for while we were born into the citizenship of an earthly nation, we only became citizens of heaven by a process of immigration - that is, not physical immigration, but of spiritual immigration! By God's grace (his unmerited favour) we trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ who died for our sins, to reconcile us to God - and we 'migrated' from outside the kingdom of heaven into the kingdom of heaven - as the apostle Paul wrote 'Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (that done in the body by the hands of men)--remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.5
Such dual citizenship does not mean that we are to despise our earthly citizenship, or be less than excellent citizens of the nation we belong to. On the contrary, because we are citizens of heaven we must be the best citizens of our earthly nations that we can be. We do not have to be proud of all that our nation has done, or agree with everything that our governments do, but as far as it lies within us, with God's help, we are to be model citizens. As the apostle Paul told the Christians of Rome, Christians are to submit to the governing authorities because they are established by God, and so to rebel against the authority is to rebel against what God has put in place, and 'those who do will bring judgment on themselves.'6 But we are to be good citizens not just because of fear of the authorities, but for conscience sake, for fear of God - and so as Christians we are to pay our taxes in the sight of God, who knows our affairs better than anyone, and we are to keep the speed limit, even when no one is watching, because we love to please God, and he is always watching!
Christ Jesus is our king, and we are called to live as citizens of heaven now. As Paul commanded the Philippians: 'Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.7 Unlike the Australian government's citizenship test, which is for residents, God's test is lived out here, on earth, where the reality of our faith in Christ and whether we are really awaiting his coming from heaven is (or should be) seen in the heavenliness of our lives, as we live out our faith in the power of the Holy Spirit.
2. http://www.minister.immi.gov.au/media/responses/citizenship-test/summary_report_citizen_ test_ paper.pdf
4. Will the citizenship test really help new arrivals fit in? The Age, Tuesday, August 28, 2007, p. 11.
5. Ephesians 2:11-13
6. Romans 13:2
7. Philippians 3:17-21