American Patriotism and Christianity

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With Independence day rapidly approaching and landing on a Sunday I am curious to hear how different congregations deal with this holiday. There has been such a wide variety of thoughts on this going from extreme patriotism with America being basically the new Israel and chosen by God to extreme isolation where you won’t hear or see anything remotely connected with culture expressed in some churches. Where does your congregation fall in the spectrum and what are your views on this as an individual? Should we celebrate these types of holidays or have American independence themes or songs in our worship?

I find these words from Randy Harris challenging,

So loyalty to country, loyalty to family, loyalty to friends–all of those strike me as commendable things. The problem is when patriotism becomes nationalism. Now this is a different matter. Nationalism is always evil because it is idolatry. It is the point where we confuse the nation with God, where our primary loyalties become aimed at the nation instead of God. This is always bad news. And nationalism is often lurking just under the surface of much of what we do. (God Work, 152)

Harris goes on to point out one subtle and dangerous form of nationalistic idolatry, quoting from the story of the golden calf, he shows the danger of worshiping country as God. We all know better than to worship America or pray to America (as Randy points out) but often things get kind of muddy. He says,

I think we are far more likely to be guilty of this kind of idolatry. Somehow we get the nation confused with a visible representative of God. And we think that our deep loyalty and commitment to the nation somehow is service to Yahweh. Soon we think God is especially represented or only represented in our nation. And then we’re into the deep water of idolatry. p.153

We do have to be careful to not view our country in terms that only God is worthy to receive. This country does provide for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I am very glad for that and very spoiled on account of that. But it can never provide what God can provide: eternal life, liberty from sin and death, and deeply rooted happiness that will last forever and ever. I never have really understood why songs like America the Beautiful and the Battle Hymn of the Republic are in our song books. I just think people come to worship for deeper and longer lasting reasons than American patriotism. I don’t think patriotism in and of itself is wrong or sinful. There have been so many stories of herorism and love that have come from our national story that certainly do reflect Christ-like priorities. But if we start putting nation in place of God we obviously have a deep rooted spiritual issue.

0 Responses

  1. Here is a communion meditation I wrote for our church bulletin for Sunday. In it I contrast our Declaration of Independence by which we gained freedom from Britain to what Jesus did to set us free.

    You make excellent points in your post. Too many times we forget that we are strangers and pilgrims on the earth, here as a colony of heaven. We need to think of Jeremiah’s letter to the people in Babylonian exile:

    Jer 29:3 He entrusted the letter to Elasah son of Shaphan and to Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. It said:
    Jer 29:4 This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:
    Jer 29:5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.
    Jer 29:6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease.
    Jer 29:7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

    In a very real sense, we are already citizens of the kingdom of God, which is not of this world. While we are in the present age, we represent our King – but we do not have our roots here. Our roots are elsewhere.

    Good work!


    1. Jerry,

      Sounds like you have read Hauerwas and Willimon’s Resident Aliens,

      “The church is a colony, an island of one culture in the middle of another. In baptism our citizenship is transferred from one dominion to another, and we become, in whatever culture we find ourselves, resident aliens.” p.12

      That book rocked my world.

  2. The way I always handle issues like this linguistically in our church family is the difference between putting someone/something up on a pedestal & putting them up on a throne.

    This always seems to be an issue, whether it’s Christmas, or Mother’s Day, or Father’s Day. I believe that there are elements of every culture that God would affirm, and elements of every culture that God would stand in judgment of. And so I see it as the church’s duty to act as sort of a Docent. You know, the person at the Museum who points out to you that what you’re looking at is actually art. I think we act as guides to say, “God says this is good; but God says that & the other thing are not so good.” And so on. God loves mothers. God loves fathers. He borrows their identity as an analogy to explain his own identity. I think that’s worth putting up on a pedestal. Not on the throne. But on a pedestal.

    In Philippians 2 — the part of Philippians we always skip over — Paul praises his fellow-worker Epaphroditus for the great hardship he endured for the cause of Christ. He writes:

    “29Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor men like him, 30because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me.”

    Paul wasn’t saying worship him. But honor him. Put him up on a pedestal. But not the throne. We can do the former without necessarily having a coronation to do the latter. And I think that people in the Kingdom are mature & sober enough to recognize the difference if we manage it properly.

    I think that there is a lot to be celebrated about our heritage & our nation’s founding. Values that dovetail with the Kingdom values. Sacrifice. Virtue. Independence/freedom from powers that would selfishly enslave. I would hope that Churches, like a Docent, would point to that & say, “This part of America… God smiles on that. It honors Him.”

    1. Amen! Philip, have you read Resident Aliens? If you haven’t caught on…I am going to ask everyone who comments that question. j/k

  3. I don’t do well with this one. I can handle Mother’s Day or Father’s Day but I struggle with this one. I have a kingdom and while we can pray for our country I don’t see any reason to go further. I try to imagine Paul preaching a sermon on the greatness of the Roman Empire or anything beyond help that they allow us to do what we need to do.

    Still struggling with this one because I have a lot of pressure.

  4. I was reminded of this issue when reading comments on facebook in response to Trey Morgan’s request for giving to the work being done with the dump people of Honduras. One commenter was upset that needs outsde the USA were being met when there were needs in the USA unmet. Since when did God’s kingdom have national boundaries?

  5. I actually like the song “America the Beautiful” because (and I may be wrong here) it does not strike me as a worship of America but more of a song of grattitude for the good that exists within this nation. Beyond that, most of the “patriotic” songs have the ring of idolatry to them. Though I recognize that there are soldiers and others who are striving to serve a greater good than themselves (and a great cost to themselves), I just cannot picture the Apostles singing “I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free and I won’t forget the MEN who gave that right to me” (emphasis mine). If they were here today they woudl sing “I’m proud to be a Christian cuz’ I know I’m free and I won’t forget the MAN who gave that right to me.”

    Any ways, I understand why people are patriotic even though I believe much of it has become nationalism. I just wish that American Christians would be as excited about publically celebrating the gospel of Jesus Christ as they are American Pride…but that seems not to be the case and that is one reason why American patriotism has become nationalism.

    Grace and peace,


  6. If you are a Muslim American you must be an American first and Muslim second. If you are a Jewish American you must be an American first and a Jew second. If you are a Christian American you must be an American first and a christian second. otherwise, I have serious questions about your loyalty to your country. I apologize to no one about this position and it is not about to change

    1. Ron, as Christians our first loyalty is to Jesus and not any worldly power. If you put your national country ahead of Jesus, then you are not a disciple of Jesus.

  7. For wendy. When the Muslims and the Jews and the Christians reach a level of understanding where they can all enter in to the same house of worship and worship their creator together as brothers and sisters then perhaps then I might be able to see religion as a unifying influence for humanity, but until then it seems to me to be divisive.

    1. Ron,

      How well has America done at drawing people together? America has really done a great job at dividing over race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and many other things. This country is really what we should all rally around over the fundamental core beliefs of our respective faiths? Not all paths lead to the same destination. So I have to respectfully disagree with what I hear you saying here. Feel free to correct me if I am reading you wrong on this one.

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