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Imagine how we would react if our faith in God superseded our national identity?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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?
I believe we can seize this future together -- because we are not as divided as our politics suggest; we're not as cynical as the pundits believe; we are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions; and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are, and forever will be, the United States of America. And together, with your help, and God’s grace, we will continue our journey forward, and remind the world just why it is that we live in the greatest nation on Earth. -- President Barack Obama, 7 November 2012
Yesterday I joined a Facebook exchange about whether the United States is indeed the greatest nation on Earth. By quite a few objective criteria, I argued, we trail other nations: health care accessibility, lifespan, maternal mortality, education, infrastructure development, employment, equality of opportunity ... well, the list is frighteningly long. We are clearly not the greatest nation on earth by any standards that people from other nations would accept, and we are becoming less great every year (for a European view of America's decline, read this sobering article - in English - from Monday's Der Spiegel).
Yesterday I also told my two little dogs -- Muffin the poodle mix and Tiggy-Winkle the terrier -- that they are the best little dogs in the world. By quite a few objective criteria, I am deluded about my dogs. Tiggy digs holes in upholstered furniture, and she barks so much that she was nearly kicked out of obedience school ("Just give up," the trainer advised; "she's going to bark, whatever you do"). Muffin snores, refuses to cooperate with her groomer, and bites large dogs. But I love my dogs passionately. I wouldn't trade them for any Westminster champions or obedience winners. Several friends, watching me interact with Tiggy and Muffin, have said they would like to be my dogs.
It’s a hot summer evening in a Midwestern town. The grass is glimmering in the bright lights, contrasting with the brown dirt of the base cut-outs and pitcher’s mound. On the field, nine to a side, young men are dreaming of making The Show, although one suspects that in their hearts they know most of them won’t. There are no big city teams flush with cash, no mega-millionaire superstars.
The park is half-filled with fans, many of them families out for an evening together. It’s a diverse slice of America; white, African American, Latino, a few Asian. Young boys, and a few girls, sitting in the stands with their gloves on, awaiting a hoped-for foul ball souvenir. Dinner is bratwurst or a chili cheese dog, followed by peanuts or popcorn.
Recently, someone asked me to respond (on video) to how I reconciled both love of God and love for country. I struggled with the question, mostly because of the typical baggage that comes along with Christian patriotism, much of which teeters on the verge of jingoism. So I didn’t respond at all.
I’m really sensitive to what I call “Christian exceptionalism.” There are those within Christianity that honestly believe America is God’s second Zion, the new Israel, and that we Americans are God’s new chosen people. This, in turn, helps justify everything from flags in worship spaces to the Ten Commandments in the public square, and even pre-emptive acts of aggression against perceived threats around the world.
Basically, when you hold yourself up as somehow favored in the eyes of God, it’s easy to hold those you deem as less favored to be somehow “less than,” and to dehumanize all who do not conform to your custom-built ideal of what it means to be “American.”
For me, though, such sentiments not only are un-American in the sense that they don’t ascribe to the “liberty and justice for all” ethos; it’s also patently un-Christian.
As Americans celebrate the nation’s founding, some Mormons may outdo their neighbors in fireworks, fanfare, and frenzy to express their outsized patriotism.
Love of America, they believe, stretches beyond appreciation and gratitude. It is theological, prescribed in holy writ.
When it comes to American exceptionalism, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) recently said, “Mormons sort of have an extra chromosome.”
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney repeatedly lauds the crucial role this country has to play in human history.
While liberals aren't as guilty of showmanship as conservatives (Keith Olbermann is the exception), they are as guilty of not taking politics seriously. Conservatives often resort to name-calling in the absence of debate, but liberals ignore whole categories of discussion. Like patriotism and religion. I suspect the reason is discomfort with talking about them, and I suspect that that's partly because they don't want to risk sounding like conservatives.
Well, it's time we got over that.
I’ll admit, I follow a few celebrities on Twitter — especially the writers and actors of my favorite sci-fi shows. If I didn’t love Firefly/Serenity and Chuck, I probably wouldn’t be following Adam Baldwin (@adamsbaldwin). There's something sickly fascinating about reading Baldwin's extreme right-wing hate speech on a regular basis.
I’m still not for sure if his Twitter persona is an extension of his characters or if he simply plays himself in his shows — as his gun-loving Ronald-Reagan-obsessed characters mirror what he posts on Twitter. So whether or not his tweets are caricature or the real deal, they serve as my reminder of the extremes of individualistic nationalism that stands in direct contrast to the ways of the Kingdom of God.
A few days ago, he posted the following Tweet:
anti -American Blog! | RT @washingtonpost "Why do we overlook civilians killed in American wars?" - http://wapo.st/xhLko2 ~ #FreedomIsNotFree
Environmental activist Tim DeChristopher was sentenced recently to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine for disrupting a federal oil and gas lease auction in 2008 that was later deemed illegal. But don't cry for him. Having met the man, I can confidently say the last thing he wants is pity.
At a speaking engagement earlier this year, someone asked Tim how we could keep him from going to prison. He quickly responded, "I'm not sure keeping me out of prison is a good thing. I'd rather think about having you join me." After all, he didn't do it for himself.