Patriotism

Jesus Wasn't American—Neither Is The Bible

Bible on an American flag. Image courtesy Sergey Kamshylin/shutterstock.com

Bible on an American flag. Image courtesy Sergey Kamshylin/shutterstock.com

Unfortunately, American values are often completely in conflict with the Gospel of Jesus.

We point to the Bible and use verses like Romans 13:1-7 to show that it’s actually God-ordained to submit to our governmental authorities and pay taxes, support our military, and proudly back our country’s actions.

We obviously don’t think these same verses apply to other governments, other authorities, and especially not to our enemies’ empires. Surely Romans 13 wasn’t meant for dictatorships, communist regimes, and states that are unfriendly and uncooperative with the U.S. Citizens of those nations should revolt, rebel, and join our cause—that Biblical text is only applicable to an American government, in an American society, benefitting American citizens.

Imagine how we would react if our faith in God superseded our national identity? 

An Antidote to Religious Strife in Egypt: Nationalism

Two young Egyptians on top of a tramway pole holding Egyptian flag. Photo via Shutterstock, by George Nazmi Bebawi

After decades of polarization along religious lines, Christians and Muslims in Egypt are coming together to rally behind their flag.

The country is in the midst of a swell of nationalism that began during the revolution in 2011 and intensified when citizens took to the streets in June of this year to call for the removal of President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Egyptian flags adorn houses and buildings throughout the capital, and everything — from sandbags buttressing military blockades to pillars along the Nile Corniche — has been painted in the national colors of black, white, and red.

Re-Imagining Patriotism

Flag-painted hands in the shape of a heart, nito / Shutterstock.com

Flag-painted hands in the shape of a heart, nito / Shutterstock.com

I was five years old on Independence Day in 1976. The United States' bicentennial fever had overtaken the entire population. Everything was dressed in red, white, and blue. I remember decorating my tricycle in streamers and balloons for the neighborhood parade. It rained through the entire event, and although I crossed the finish line covered in red and blue dye, my award for "most colorful float" made it all worth it.

Also attended Willie Nelson's Fourth of July birthday party/concert that same year. We camped out under the stars and enjoyed music for days in a Woodstock-like environment. I remember seeing my first naked adult woman there. She and her family – or some group of friends – were taking a break to bathe in the nearby river. Hey, it was the 70s, remember?

But even there in that hotbed of post-hippie activity, everyone displayed affection for our country. Even those who likely had stood in protest against the Vietnam War only years before rose and placed their hands over their hearts when the national anthem was sung and the flag was unfurled every morning.

Somewhere along the way, the idea seeped into our national consciousness that patriotism and political criticism could no longer coexist. Those who questioned or challenged the agendas or motives of those in power were pegged as patently unpatriotic; in turn, those dissident voices increasingly rejected the commonly embraced symbols of patriotism as mere tokens of jingoist American exceptionalism.

July 4th and the Table of Demons

4th of July barbecue, Morgan Lane Photography / Shutterstock.com

4th of July barbecue, Morgan Lane Photography / Shutterstock.com

On July 4th I will be attending the annual party at my son and daughter-in-law’s home. They will be serving up smoked chicken and spare ribs while fireworks from neighboring towns inscribe a nearly 360° circle around their backyard. While we are waving our flags with differing degrees of enthusiasm, one member of my family will not be with us: my sister the Jehovah’s Witness. As much as we’ve tried to persuade her that the holiday is just an excuse for the family to get together, she will not give succor to patriotic fervor. By partaking of our celebration she feels that she risks having her attendance misinterpreted as an endorsement. For Jehovah’s Witnesses, the trouble with patriotism is twofold: 1) it tempts us to equate God and nation, and 2) it provides a sacred cover for violence.

God and nation are not the same, my sister believes. When a government’s demands come into conflict with God’s, Witnesses obey God. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus emphasized love of neighbor and service to others and that the early Christians refused to become soldiers and fight in wars. In emulation of that dedication to serve God and not governments, Witnesses not only refuse to celebrate national holidays but they are conscientious objectors to military service.

Why I Love My Country

Margaret M Stewart / Shutterstock.com

Constitution with American flag and Statue of Liberty, Margaret M Stewart / Shutterstock.com

What do I love about America? I love the land, one of the most spectacularly beautiful countries in the world (and I’ve visited many of them). I love walking our long stretches of beaches, hiking our majestic mountains, seeing the desert skies, walking beside the rivers, sailing along the coasts, and visiting hundreds of lakes in my home state of Michigan, where I camped as a kid. I even love some of our big cities! “O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesties, above the fruited plains.” I love our many diverse cultures, including their music, their food, their art, their sports, and their particular stories and histories.

I especially love our best national values: freedom, opportunity, community, justice, human rights, and equality under the law for all of our citizens of every race, creed, culture, and gender, not just for the rich and powerful. In particular, I love our tradition and history of democracy, its steady expansion here, and how it has inspired the same all over the world. We take legitimate pride in seeing how our founding documents have been the models for many new nations.

My Country ’Tis of Thee: Evangelicals Score Highest on Patriotism

Photo courtesy RNS/Shutterstock.com.

God Bless America sign on a chalkboard with vintage American flag. Photo courtesy RNS/Shutterstock.com.

When it comes to God and country, white evangelicals report the strongest levels of patriotic feelings in a new poll, with more than two-thirds (68 percent) saying they are extremely proud to be an American.

That figure was markedly higher than for white mainline Protestants (56 percent), minority Christians (49 percent), Catholics (48 percent) and religiously unaffiliated Americans (39 percent), according to the study, conducted by the Washington-based Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service.

White evangelicals are also more likely than any other religious group surveyed to believe that God has granted the U.S. a special role in history (84 percent) and to say they will likely attend a public July 4th celebration (62 percent).

Memory, Identity, and the Fourth of July

4th of July fireworks, artcphotos / Shutterstock.com

4th of July fireworks, artcphotos / Shutterstock.com

Every 4th of July, our collective story pushes to the fore all that is good and beautiful within our history; the moments of bravery, the moments of brotherhood where men fought side by side, the moments of sisterhood where women sewed stars and stripes together to wave overhead on the battlefield, the moments of selfless abandon for the sake of freedom.

These good and beautiful moments feed our collective memory of ourselves. Memory feeds our identity: We are the brave ones. We are the band of brothers. We are committed to one another. We are the ones who would die for the sake of our neighbors’ freedom. We are exceptional.

But there are other moments, before and after the Revolution, that we mutually agree to forget in order to plant hands to hearts and let tears fall on the fourth day of the seventh month every year.

Loving Our Country By Facilitating Opportunity

American Dream illustration, carlosgardel / Shutterstock.com

American Dream illustration, carlosgardel / Shutterstock.com

We had taught, run, and dreamed together. Our ministries were growing, I was once again flourishing spiritually, but Richard seemed to be stalled. His peers were finishing college, finding jobs and mates, and Richard was hustling to find odd jobs and was being left behind. As we tended the land, I took a risk. I asked him why he had said he did not want a family. He confessed that he had reached that conclusion out of despair. He truly wanted to find a wife and previously hoped to have kids, but he did not have citizenship (his family moved to the U.S. when he was 7 years old) and was not able to find legal, reliable employment. He could not afford to go to college without access to financial aid. He insisted he simply would not start a family that he could not reliably provide for. He had lost hope. But he still had integrity. I was deeply saddened. I was saddened for Richard and his loss of hope. I was also saddened that our community and nation would potentially be deprived of his vision and courage.

In God We Trust

U.S. coin motto,  I. Pilon / Shutterstock.com

U.S. coin motto, I. Pilon / Shutterstock.com

If asked, “what is the most challenging Sunday to preach a sermon?” I suspect few pastors would say July 4th weekend. But as leaders providing spiritual guidance in a country that is often associated with strong nationalistic tendencies, offering a word that speaks to the messy relationship between “God and Country” is a task that American pastors cannot take lightly.

This dilemma of competing loyalties is not new. In both Matthew and Mark, Jesus is approached by opponents who sought to trap him by asking whether they were obligated to pay Roman taxes (Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17). An affirmative response would have been a betrayal of faith but a negative answer would be perceived as an act of sedition. Faced with this paradox, Jesus wowed his inquisitors by telling them to give Caesar what was due to Caesar and God what was due to God. Yet, as Franklin Gamwell, notes in Politics as a Christian Vocation, this only raises the question of what belongs to each of the competing authorities. If Christians are called to love God with all our being, then how can anything not belong to God? How can any other authority make a claim of allegiance on our lives?

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