On Being Patriotic
Yesterday marked the 243rd anniversary of "the unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America." As the backyard barbecues cooked and the fireworks began to boom, we Americans were reminded yet again of the privilege it is to live in the land of the free.
And we American Christians are reminded yet again of the need to consider how we ought to appreciate such privileges. We know that it came at great cost; but not everyone rejoiced in the victory of the colonial rebels. It would be a mistake for us to ignore their pain as we reflect on the past.
Doing so does not make us less patriotic, although some will inevitably view it that way. Patriotism, like everything else, needs to be defined, and the political climate of our day clearly tells us that there is no agreed upon definition of what makes a true patriot.
The question of Christian patriotism is a profound question to explore and to define, but my argument here is simpler. Christians must prioritize the kingdom of God over every kingdom of this world although this will make them appear less patriotic in the eyes of the non-Christian world.
Allow me a simple illustration. Many people who know me think that I do not like dogs. Some even say I "hate" dogs. But they are wrong. The fact that I do not own a dog (and haven't the entirety of my adult life) or that I am not interested in owning a dog or that I complain all the time about dogs does not mean I do not like them. We had a dog all the time growing up and were my living situation the same now as it was then, I would most certainly have a dog now. Yes, I like dogs.
In the same way, some of my Christian brothers and sisters seem to question one’s patriotism because their church, like ours, does not have an American flag in the sanctuary or does not sing "God Bless America" in their church services or does not push (without actually endorsing, of course) one political party over the other. I've said the Pledge of Allegiance plenty of times. I don't mind singing or hearing patriotic songs in other settings. And I do my best to vote in elections. I am an American and, yes, I like America.
But I do not like it (or, to be more honest, do not want to like it) more than I like the other nation to which I belong. As a Christian, the kingdom of God needs to have top priority in my life although making it so will mean I will not appear to be as patriotic as some would like me to be. If we are indeed "seeking first the kingdom of God" as our Lord commanded (Matt 6:33), then this must be evident in the way we prioritize God's kingdom over the national kingdoms to which we also all belong.
To be sure, Christians will not all agree on the specifics of what that should look like in our lives. In our quest to prioritize the kingdom of God above all other allegiances, we may even find ourselves disagreeing on how we engage in the politics of civil society. But we ought to be able to show how it works, how our allegiance to God and his kingdom and his purposes affects how we vote and how we celebrate and even how we pray.
My concern for many of my fellow American Christians is that we do not put the effort into this question that we ought to be making. We settle for the acceptance of what we hear from our preferred news outlet and make that fit with our perception of the kingdom of God.
The question, then, is not whether we are good American citizens or not, whether we love America and are grateful for the privileges we have here. The real question is whether or not we are good citizens of a better kingdom, whether we love and are "grateful for a kingdom that cannot be shaken" (Heb 12:28). This is where our allegiance must be found and must be evidenced in the priorities of our lives.