Of Patriotism and Piety
Can Christians love the USA?
A few years ago, I'm not sure of an exact date, it became un-gospel-centered to express anything that resembled patriotism-love for country. But at the same time, it became vintage Christianity and Jesus-talk, to speak of “loving your city," “transforming your city” or “serving your city.” Somewhat out of the blue, it was Christian vogue to love your city, but Christian taboo to love your country. Say what?
So can patriotism and piety coexist?
Patriotism is uniquely human. Humans are the only creatures on the planet who love their country. Animals, while they may display a pack mentality, don't show any measurable affection for their homeland. Being made in the image and likeness of God, humans tend to feel pride about their roots and history. We show similar loyalty and love to our families, especially for our children. We feel pride when a daughter rises to deliver that valedictory, or when our son hits the winning shot in a playoff game or when a grandchild is married. People are also the only creatures that have favorite sports teams. We don our choice team’s swag and sticker their logo on our SUV’s. So the next time you get choked-up while listening to a moving rendition of the national anthem, may it remind you of your humanness. Only image-bearers feel love for country.
Patriotism is not removed at salvation. Galatians 3:28 says that "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." The ground at the foot of the cross is level. Ethnic, social, and gender divisions make no difference to one's standing as a child of God, through faith (3:25). Hallelujah! However, Greeks were still Greeks, Women were still Women, etc. The gospel while it shows no partiality, doesn't eradicate distinctions. Jesus was from the tribe of Judah. He lived and died a brown-skinned, Middle Eastern Jew. He rose as a resurrected, brown-skinned, Middle Eastern Jew. He ascended a brown-skinned, Middle Eastern Jew. He sat down at the right hand of the Father a brown-skinned, Middle Eastern Jew. You get the idea. So, while the gospel shows no partiality, and it is for all the nations, and every people group, it doesn't eradicate distinctions. In Revelation 5 we get an 'early edition' of what worship will be like around the throne. What it won't be like: There will not be billions of blond-headed, blue-eyed, perfectly-tanned clones. Oh no, we are told it will be, "every tribe and language and people and nation." While there is unity in the gospel, even ethnic, linguistic, and national distinctions aren't eradicated in eternity. So, if you will be an American for the eons and eons of eternity, why would you consider it to be sub-spiritual to identify as an American while you are here?
Patriotism has no place in the church; however, thanksgiving does. The Lord has done a new thing in the gospel of Jesus Christ. He has made one, new nation in Jesus Christ. When we meet for reading the Scriptures, preaching, communion, praying and singing each Lord's Day, we gather under the exclusive Lordship of Jesus Christ. No national symbol, pledge or anthem unites us as God's people. We are one in Christ. The Spirit has created this supernatural unity in Christ. Nothing more. Nothing less. Patriotism has about as much place in a local church as compelling a church to cheer for a specific football team. However, giving God thanks when the church gathers, for the privilege of being a citizen of the greatest country in all the world and all of history, is appropriate. Praying for our governmental leaders is also commended to God's people. So, while patriotism has no place on Sundays when we gather for worship, gratitude for the Red, White and Blue does. Such thanksgiving is not political, it's Biblical.
Here's an appeal for Christians and Christian leaders. As a couple of national holidays are upcoming during which patriotism will be displayed, don't be self-righteous or a confuser. Christian, don't judge your brother or sister as unspiritual because they go all-out to honor the memories of our fallen heroes and passionately celebrate our country's birthday. Remember, patriotism is what image-bearing, eternal beings do-they just don't do it in church. And pastors, let's not confuse our people by constraining them to show patriotism in a worship gathering. Wrong place. Wrong emphasis. Worship Jesus.
God Bless the USA!