Don Martin told me that if he were in Vinebranch last week, he would have asked what Paul would say to someone like Muhammed Ali, who in the ’60s refused to serve in Vietnam for religious reasons. Leaving aside difficult questions associated with Vietnam and Ali’s Muslim faith, Don’s question is to the point: Paul would say that our ultimate allegiance is to God.
As Don says every Patriotic Sunday, “We salute the flag but kneel at the cross.” Likewise, St. Paul would want us to appreciate the difference between a conditional and an absolute loyalty. When they are in competition, our choice is clear—even when it means accepting difficult consequences. Regardless of the merits of Ali’s action, no one can say he failed to accept the consequences: he believed in his cause so much that he was tried and convicted to five years in prison (although the conviction was overturned on appeal to the Supreme Court) and had his boxing license suspended.