My first summer as a pastor in Pontiac, I saw a sight that just tore me into pieces. A local church had a float in the parade with soldiers holding weapons and a cross painted as or wrapped in the flag. Why was that troubling? Well, in my opinion, too much nationalism can be a dangerous thing when it obscures God’s message or when it is put above God’s Word.
I am a patriot. Absolutely. I love that I live in this country and I want the best for this country and everyone in it…but I firmly believe that we can not let that obscure that God is above any flag and loves the people under every flag!
The message that I read in scripture is that God loves the world and wants the best for everyone in it, not just the United States. In fact, in history it is the times when nationalism is put above the Word of God that people are hurt. When the Hebrew people came into the land of Caanan with more nationalism and sense of entitlement than grace of God they slaughtered everyone and took the land by force. When Europeans put nationalism and a sense of entitlement before God’s grace a native people were ravaged, their people killed, and cultures nearly wiped out. When Medieval religious zealots put nationalism and a sense of entitlement before God’s grace a long terrible series of “Holy” Crusades tore apart Palestine and Europe and destroyed Muslim, Christian, and Jew, alike. If you haven’t put it together on your own, let me point out what I see: In each of these cases (and there are many more examples) religious rhetoric was used to mask what was clearly done out of a sense of selfishness, greed, and national/cultural/ethno-centrism. Put another way? Nationalism and a sense of entitlement were put above God’s Word and God’s apparent desires!
So, when I come to each Fourth of July I do feel pride in our nation and I do feel patriotism…but it also reminds me that we are one nation among many and we cannot forget our place and our greatness. Our greatness stands under God’s and our needs and desires, while important, are not more important than others. So we can and should love our nation and support our olympians, teams, and troops…but we should do so remembering that we do not have to diminish others or God in order to feel love for our own nation and our actions as a country are not necessarily righteous.
I write this blog out of a love for this nation and because I truly hope for greatness from our country. I believe there are great things about this country and I believe greater things are possible for us and by us…if we can focus on the sacred worth of all people and ensure that the dignity of all people is upheld…if we look to the ‘least of these’ to provide love, health, hospitality, witness, and safety…if we find creative new ways to work toward peace and God’s-justice in the world!
I am a patriot, but some of the patriotic rhetoric and imagery that confuses nationalism with religion frightens me. Let us consider, this Fourth of July, the greatness of this nation, but also God’s work we must accomplish to make it ever greater and more grace-filled. On this Fourth of July let us remember that our forefathers were working to find new forms of freedom and find a more perfect government…and that work, in the history of America, is an unfolding one!!! May this be the greatest Independence Day yet as we imagine not just an already-great nation, but an even greater nation under God.
blessings this Fourth of July!