Is American Patriotism Incompatible with Biblical Christianity?
Older and younger Christians are increasingly divided about patriotism and the church, but a middle ground does exist.
In C.S. Lewis’ classic The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape writes to Wormwood saying, “your main task [is to make the man treat] Patriotism…as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part…Once you have made the World an end, & faith a means, you have almost won your man, & it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, & crusades, matter more to him than prayers [& other spiritual disciples, like loving his neighbor].
Satan has no new strategies. What was true in 1942 (when The Screwtape Letters was originally written) is still true today. The church is being divided over politics, politicians, and even national celebrations. While I will not advocate for politics or politicians in this forum, in light of much conversation about the church and politics, I would like to weigh in on how and what we celebrate. Older generations of Christians have grown up and still celebrate Independence Day with an extremely patriotic “God and Country Sunday”, while younger generations of Christians are uncomfortable with these types of displays. As a young-ish Southern Baptist, I am very familiar with God and Country Sunday, complete with the National Anthem, Pledge of Allegiance, and more, but I can also identify with the discomfort of wondering why we are giving glory to something other than our God.
Why the Divide?
The division about how to celebrate America in the church is a multi-faceted issue. I am sure there are many opinions about this, but here is my evaluation of the main issues confronting us:
- Spiritual Warfare: As I referenced in the quote at the beginning of the article, it is one of Satan’s main strategies to divide the church. If he can get us to split up into little groups, especially over insignificant issues. Earlier in the same letter Screwtape admonishes, “All extremes, except extreme devotion to the Enemy, are to be encouraged…We want the Church to be small not only that fewer men may know the Enemy but also that those who do may acquire the uneasy intensity and the defensive self-righteousness of a secret society or a clique.”
- Comfort: Whether we like it or not, children born after 1980 have lived during the most affluent and technologically-advanced eras of human history. Comfort breeds complacency. It is very easy for younger believers to misunderstand and take for granted what previous generations have had to work for or shed their blood for. The national pride connected to older Christians is the result of remembering close family members who fought and died advancing liberty (or failing to do so), seeing people who lived through a national military draft, hearing stories of veterans for years and years, among other things. Younger generations of believers would do well to listen to these older believers and ask the reason for their patriotism (much of our problem could be resolved through biblical fellowship).
- Discipleship: Older believers would also do well to listen to younger believers and ask why they are apprehensive about singing song’s about a nation on a weekly gathering associated with corporate worship. Younger evangelicals, such as myself, have been taught to love the church, the church’s purpose, and the reason for the church gathering on Sunday. We gather to exalt the name of Jesus Christ, to encourage steadfastness and accountability, and to rejoice in God’s calling on our lives. As a pastor, this decision drives every element of our Sunday gathering: what songs we sing, the goal of the message, etc. It also drives what we don’t put too much focus on (how we dress, the genre of the music sung, etc.). When the church gathers, the glory of God is on display. Giving glory to America seems like a diminutive tradeoff. Additionally, the purpose of Sunday is to understand our place in God’s massive purpose of redemption. Growing up with the Internet has helped us embrace the idea of a global community of individuals, the beauty of cultural diversity, and the dignity and worth of all human beings. While there will be tribes, tongues, and people groups in Heaven, there will be no American flags (see Revelation 7:9-12).
Is There A Solid Middle Ground?
Church unity is not just a secondary issue. It is of utmost importance for younger and older believers to stay together, not just in superficial, begrudging agreement, but in sound, generational respect (like you find in Titus 2:1-8). Therefore, I believe there is a solid, middle ground that celebrates the glory of God and the stewardship of American freedom. Here is a description of biblically-balanced patriotism.
- …praises God for placing us in an environment where we can raise our kids in & worship in freedom;
- …gives thanks to God for the foundational principles of liberty, rooted in God’s design, by which our founders established this nation (we can be thankful for the idea of America while also recognizing that what some Americans have done with that idea has been immoral or unjust);
- …is humbled & willing to bestow honor upon the many men & women who have fought & died to protect the freedoms we hold so dear;
- …recognizes that liberty is a stewardship to continue to pursue justice for all peoples;
- …exalts the biblical worldview & narrative above the many political narratives being espoused today.
Focus on the Mission
Christians must recognize that our greatest problems, as temporary citizens of America, come from inside of us rather than outside of us. Individually, our desire to criticize, disrespect or divide from our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ over their ability to celebrate or their inability to celebrate is clearly against Paul’s commands in Romans 14. This kind of spiritual compromise is not what the world needs to see from the church.
Additionally, while we need more Christians to seek political office, Christians must not focus SOLELY upon politics and political solutions. Politics are downstream from culture. Older and younger generations of believers would do well to speak the Gospel to individuals (rather than political talking points) as a way of seeking individual transformation. This is how we can be agents of God’s Kingdom Restoration in culture and ultimately see change in the political environment (which is, candidly, far less important than where people will spend eternity).
The world needs to see a church that understands freedom BIBLICALLY. Freedom is a gift from God to be used for His glory. If you are a Christian in America, you have rights and privileges afforded to you, namely the liberty to share your beliefs and convictions about the beauty of God’s design and the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. We must unite for this purpose while we still can (look at Canada and California). In this way, Christians should be the best citizens of the United States of America — who else can love our neighbor sacrifically, affirm their worth as a human being created in the image of God, and yet disagree with them about important issues?
So celebrate the Lord Jesus and freedom God has given you on Independence Day. Celebrate the men and women who have served on Veteran’s Day and those who have died on Memorial Day. What you celebrate shapes who you are. Let us turn our eyes upon God and bless His name for these freedoms that provide an opportunity to spread His glory.