Every fourth of July there are many Christians writing reminders of the dangers of being overly patriotic while even more Christian go on ignoring those warnings while waving American flags from the pulpit as military men and women are brought before the congregation to be honored for their service to the country. For many hundreds of years now we Christians have been trying to find our Christian identity in the midst of our national loyalties. Oddly enough many Christians over the last sixteen centuries have been citizens of powerful empires whether that be Rome, or Byzantium, or Great Britain, or the United States. Some whole heartedly embrace some sort of dual citizenship without any regard for the possibility that there may be a tension. Others have tried to disavow the nation within whose borders they reside while enjoying the benefits.
I am a proud American citizen. If I had to choose any country in the world in which to be born it would have been the United States. When we go to war there is nothing in me that wants to see us lose. When we struggle in the global economy while some nation like China thrives there is disappointment. When our basketball team does not win the gold metal in the Olympics I blush. I expect the United States to be the best country in the world and I think that it is just that.
Nevertheless, this must be something that I keep in perspective. In fact, I must be intentional when it comes to reminding myself that my utmost loyalties are elsewhere. No, I am not saying with another nation. I am speaking of the Kingdom of God whose citizenship is infinitely more important to me than that of this country. I have read that when people ask Stanley Hauerwas why he is a pacifist he responds that it is because, “I am a violent son of a b****”. Likewise, if I was asked why every fourth of July I oppose the presenting of flags in a place of worship or the honoring of soldiers for acts of war it is because I am prone to be overly patriotic.
It is nationalism that can be one of the great distractions for an American Christian. We need so little; we have so much. So yes, I may be a bit eccentric when I say I wouldn’t feel comfortable in a church where the American flag was hanging. I think we must create space where foreign visitor or even an illegal immigrant can come, sit, and worship our shared Lord without obligation to honor a shared flag. I do not want to place a Japanese brother or sister in the odd situation of hearing us rejoice about the end of World War II.
After we gather for worship we can all go our various ways if we wish honoring our secondary loyalties while maintaining perspective that they are exactly that –secondary. If I am Democrat, a Republican, or an Independent that has nothing to do with the time we gather to honor the resurrected Christ. It is not the time to argue what political or economic policies are the best (unless we have concern that something may be a real injustice). If I am a Steelers fan it is not about which football team is playing that day. As the scale slides from more important to less important the fact is that none are as important as our shared loyalty to Christ alone.
If I act like I have moved beyond nationalism to some extent this is not true. As I said at first it is the country that I love. There is no other country in which I’d rather live. It is the story of which I am a part. Therefore, I must be intentional when it comes to reminding myself of the above truth that my first loyalty is to Christ. I think if all American Christians would do this we would make even better citizens though I know this will never happen. So today I pray that God would bless the world and thank Him for allowing America to have a purpose in His plan for this time. Please lead us away from doing too much damage while we wait for the Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.