Thoughts on Christian Patriotism
On July 4, our nation celebrates its independence with waving flags, picnics, and parades. Some churches deck their sanctuary with red, white, and blue, and devote the worship service to the honor of the state. Other Christians virtually ignore this or any other national holiday. This raises the question, "How does Christianity tell us to think about patriotism?"
This question is quite personal for me, since I grew up in an intensely patriotic family. Patriotic holidays were solemn occasions and the national anthem and flag were regarded as holy objects of veneration. In many respects, my childhood was probably not typical of others', since I was raised on Army posts during a war. My childhood virtually coincides with the Vietnam War, a conflict which twice took my father away for a year and cast its shadow over our lives, both for good and for ill. My father returned from Vietnam, but many of my boyhood friends' dads did not. I would guess that I attended more funerals by the age of ten than most people do in a lifetime. As a result, these formative years instilled in me an intense patriotism, which played no small part in leading me into a military career like my father and grandfather before me. I was commissioned on Memorial Day, a time when I was always proud to be an American, and grateful for those who laid down their lives for us all.
Another way in which I am probably not typical is that my conversion to faith in Jesus Christ, which occurred when I was 30 years old, required me immediately to recast my ideas of patriotism. At first, I was tempted to reject the idea of patriotism altogether, since I had been transferred out of the world into the kingdom of Jesus Christ. However, even though my relationship with Jesus greatly altered my attitude towards flag and country, I soon realized that there is a Christian patriotism that believers should feel towards their country.
What are some guidelines based on biblical teaching that can help us to embrace a biblical idea of patriotism? First, let me point out patriotic views and attitudes that Christians must reject:
· Christians must reject a longing for national preeminence and power. How well I remember the fiery passion of my youth, determined that America would be first in all things. As a Christian, I no longer crave earthly glory for my nation, but rather God's blessing . As a Christian I embrace the principle of Proverbs 14:34: "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people."
· Christians do not accept the statement: "My Nation, Right or Wrong." A disciple of Christ must be loyal to God and his commands, even if it means speaking against his or her nation. As a Christian, I am horrified by sins widely embraced in America and consider it my duty to oppose in lawful ways the wide range of evil that increasingly dominates our culture. As a servant of Christ I am appalled both by the empty materialistic idolatry that often attaches itself to the political right and even more so by the pagan evil espoused by the political left. In any case, my desire is for our political leaders to appeal to God's Word as our founding fathers so often did.
· Christians are not nationalists who despise rival nations. As a believer in Jesus, I look on Christians of all races, tongues, and nations as brothers in Christ, and I consider non-Christians of all nations as fellow sinners in need of my loving witness to the gospel. My chief desire as a believer is that stated in Psalm 67:3, "O God, let all the peoples praise you!"
Based on the above principles, there are some people who would say that Christians have abandoned patriotism altogether. This is not true, however. Christians should not turn a cold heart away from their nation. In fact, celebrations like those of Independence Day provide a good start for developing a Christian patriotism:
- July 4 reminds us that we are part of a nation, with a great history, wonderful privileges, and important responsibilities. We are all indebted under God's grace to the sacrifices of others and in God's providence we are part of a great historical legacy of freedom and blessing that is worth celebrating. Recognizing our debt to prior generation and the blessings we have received as Americans should produce gratitude to God - a gratitude that serves as a good basis for Christian patriotism.
- July 4 reminds us that God has sovereignly placed us in this land and under this government. I praise God to be an American, precisely because of what Independence Day represents. As I have traveled on other continents and had personal interactions with government tyranny and injustice, I have learned once more to bless the sight of an American flag. Yes, Christians should frankly admit and oppose the evils of our nation, but we should not fail to be grateful for the many good things our country does and represents. Moreover, when Romans 13:1-7 commands us to honor and obey civil authorities, Christians should do so from the heart, with love and fervor for the blessings of the land in which God has placed us and with sincere loyalty to all public servants who are seeking to do good.
- July 4 reminds us to play our part today in the civil life of our nation. When God addressed the Jewish exiles living in Babylon, he told them to "seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf" (Jer. 29:7). Christians rightly think of any earthly home as a sort of exile, longing to arrive in the kingdom of glory with God. But we should be involved in the society and life of the land in which we are living. This means that we should be civic-minded as a church and as believers, exercising all kinds of gifts and opportunities to be a blessing to the nation and city in which we are living. In America, this calling involves participation in the political process, opposing evil, and promoting truth and righteousness. Especially when there are political leaders who openly seek a biblical agenda of godliness and civil well-being, they deserve the special support and prayers of God's people.
So maybe Christians can be patriots after all! Indeed, we can be, and we should celebrate our national heritage with thanks to God and with prayers for renewed faith and needed repentance. In fact, the best kind of Christian patriotism is that which offers a loving witness to the Savior, the great King Jesus Christ, who alone can give true freedom to anyone.
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