Dual Citizenship and Divided Loyalties?

Were you aware that officially the United States does not allow its citizens to be citizens of any other country? When my wife became a US citizen four years ago one of the things she had to do was to renounce her Malaysian citizenship.


The US, and many other nations (but not all) resist dual citizenship because they fear divided loyalties. For most of recent history nation-states have wanted to be the sole claimant on the loyalty of their citizens. It was believed and accepted that a person with dual citizenship couldn’t be relied on to fully support the nation.

This was particularly problematic where a nation was defined by ethnic identity, such as is found in China and Japan, or in some countries in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

So, for example, Indonesia and China had a long dispute over whether Chinese citizens of Indonesia should also have Chinese citizenship – something the Chinese government granted automatically to all ethnic Chinese. In the Second World War the US interred thousands of Japanese, suspecting that their loyalty would be to Japan as an ethnic Japanese state rather than to the US. Greece and Turkey exchanged ethnic populations, you might recall, earlier in the previous century.

But what if dual citizenship doesn’t come from presumed citizenship in an ethnic state, or from simply having parents from two different nations, but from religious affiliation? Israel gives every Jew the right of citizenship and thus practically speaking makes every American Jew a possessor of dual citizenship. Pakistan has long granted at least automatic residency to every Muslim, because it is a Muslim state.

So what about something less concrete, but just as real. American Christians claim to be citizens of God’s Reign in Jesus Christ. American Muslims may also regard themselves as part of the global ummah of Islam. Can dual citizens of a nation-state and a transnational religion be relied upon to be loyal to their nation? Or will they be torn by divided loyalties?

The answer we give will depend on how we understand ourselves as religious people in relation to nations, and more particularly the governing authorities of the nation whose enforcement of its laws have the potential to make us choose between God and the nation. Paul writes about this in the book of Romans, but it is a theme found in the ethical and political writings of other religions as well. We’ll look at those in the next blog. ..  .

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