Patriotism In Perspective

It is the 4th of July, a time when American patriotism is front and center, and rightly so.

However, I’m concerned that during the other 364 days of the year patriotism has become too cherished by American Christians.

Much has been written about the dangers of an American civil religion, and on the balance I agree, but that is not where I’m headed here. I’m more interested in the impulse than the outcome.

I’m not suggesting Christians shouldn’t love their country, but I do think the patriotism exhibited in the modern American church is born out of a political impulse rather than a Kingdom one.  Patriotism (and nationalism) are encouraged by governments because they are necessary to the preservation of the state.  They are necessary because if your government goes to war it needs you to be willing to fight, and if necessary, die for it.

The question Christians must ask is the extent to which patriotism is necessary to the kingdom of God, and I think the answer is “not  very.”

There is nothing in the Bible I can think of that mandates one’s love of country or the willingness to die for it in a conflict with another country. Jesus spoke of laying down one’s life for a friend. (John 15:13). I suppose dying for one’s country is like laying one’s life down for many friends or a cause larger than oneself. But if the act is righteous per se then we have to grapple with issues like brave Nazis and Islamic terrorists.

One may say the rightness of patriotism is dependent upon its object. In other words, Americans should be patriotic but North Koreans should not. That, of course, is not very helpful to North Koreans. (In reality, North Koreans would probably say they love their country but not their government). My point is that patriotism is much lower on the list of virtues–if it even is a virtue–than where most American Christians place it.

Loyalty to King Jesus supersedes one’s loyalty to one’s friends or one’s country. The kingdom of God is more important than the United States of America or any other nation or cause.

For a citizen of the kingdom of God, patriotism toward one’s country is important only to the extent it inspires a desire to see it reconciled to King Jesus. What you love you will attempt to save. To that extent, patriotism may be useful. Maybe it’s even worth a day of celebration each year. But Christians should always steward their patriotism responsibly and be ready to discard it when it’s at cross-purposes with the kingdom of God.

Have a great 4th of July, but when its over, get back to advancing the kingdom of God. GS