This past Fourth of July weekend, I reflected on Kurt Willems' recent post, which had a lot of great points. Like Kurt, I have thought for many years about the congruence of church and state, especially in regards to violence. The main critique that I have in response is that Christianity is bigger than violence or nonviolence; it has a great many things to say in all realms of life. Furthermore, we must not boil the American Revolution down to merely the means our founders employed, which included some hefty doses of violence (which I, like Kurt, reject).
One thing that I hear about from other reformed service members and veterans is a struggle against cynicism. Many of us have seen or done things that we deeply wish we had not, and we recognize ways in which we had become conditioned to respond in ways that, had we thought more critically, we would have objected to. The fact is, we tend to want to blame the system and exonerate ourselves; it is the classic "us-versus-them" mentality that seems to dominate our world.
But I'm not convinced the U.S. is all bad. The more I read and the more I travel (I just drove 2,000 miles from Los Angeles to Nashville), the more I get all nostalgic about the "land of the free and the home of the brave." Something in the American experiment has worked. After all, you and I get to sit here and have these conversations openly, without fear of reprisal or censorship. The Fourth of July holiday may represent to some the violence that our forebears used to win our freedom from King George III, but it just as powerfully represents freedom to others (though certainly not all, as many non-white, non-male, non-colonial voices of their time and ours might attest).
It is important to note that colonial militias did not organize simply to oppose taxation. There are no less than 27 individual grievances outlined in the Declaration of Independence, representing a systematic oppression the American colonists opposed. They responded to such oppression the same way many other peoples have -- with force. That is not to say I agree with their choice, but I believe it was no easy choice, one which was arrived at over a period of several years. Their considerate discernment should at least be a testament to their refusal to enter hastily into war; they could even be seen as adherents to just war ideals, which is itself a form of pacifism (in its restraint of war).
Finally, I totally agree with Kurt when he calls for us to challenge the very things we celebrate. At Centurion's Guild, we do that quarterly in our newsletter, Change of Command. (The title reflects a reordering of our internal command structure from empire to ecclesia.) It is in conversation with the members of the Guild that I have come to believe that one cannot claim to truly love anything without acknowledging its weakness alongside its strengths. It is through that framework that I have come closer to reconciling my faith and my patriotism.
On a good day, that means we don't feel too guilty sitting around the grill on days like last Sunday, criticizing the very country we celebrate.
Logan Laituri is an Army veteran with combatant service in Iraq during OIF II and experience with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Israel and the West Bank. He blogs sporadically and is a co-founder of Centurion's Guild.