This week, we celebrated the American holiday of Independence Day, the 4th of July. For our society, this day is a day off of work (for most) and a time for fireworks, waving flags, wearing red, white, and blue, giving props for those who have served in the military, and perhaps even remembering the historic event of one nation gaining its independence from another.
I like to think of myself as a patriot - a man who loves his country. I'll stand with a sober spirit, hand over heart, to sing our national anthem. I'll pledge allegiance to the American flag; and to keep that special, I don't recite pledges to other flags, no matter how good the cause they represent. I am grateful for what both God and great people have done for our country to flourish.
But I also grieve a little over how some celebrate this day.
Some will use this day to recite all the things wrong they see with the U.S., angrily refusing to celebrate. There are those within this group who will even try to guilt others if they dare celebrate the day. I completely support their right to express their views, but it grieves me that there's no ability to celebrate the good. (Note: I have not walked in their shoes and do not know firsthand the devastation of some of these ills of our society.) Even with our faults, we certainly enjoy life in ways that is not possible in other nations.
On the other hand, some within the church swing way over to the other side to the point of confusing the U.S. with the Kingdom of God. For them, patriotism has been conflated with following Christ. Political slogans have been turned into songs to be sung in a worship context. Criticisms against our nation are received as an afront to God. I've seen video of worship services that seem more about Americanism than life in the Kingdom. I wonder what non-American believers who were present learned about the Gospel that day.
G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) wrote often about the idea of patriotism (at times in order to make even larger points, such as loving mankind). To summarize Chesterton:
- The non-patriot doesn't love his country at all. He sees all the flaws and just criticizes.
- The shallow patriot loves his country just the way it is, ignoring the imperfect parts. But this person is not a true patriot.
- The true patriot loves his country as it is, but loves it so much that he's dedicated to its constant improvement.
Chesterton's patriot can both lament a nation's faults and still celebrate it's goodness, with a heart for its potential. This patriot loves the country as it as and as it can be. To be dedicated to improvement, one must first acknowledge what's lacking.
To be truly patriotic, we must be able to genuinely critique our nation. Not just the easy potshots, but the difficult, ugly, criticisms, too. But being truly patriotic, according to Chesterton, also means that we love our country, both for what she is now and what she can become.
I am obligated to add that we must never allow patriotism to blur the edges of the Gospel or move the boundaries of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is our first loyalty, our truest patriotism. This Kingdom warrants no criticism, and there is much to love about what it currently is and about what is still yet coming.
The Gospel of this Kingdom uniquely allows the citizens of heaven to be patriotic citizens of the nations where they live. Because of the Kingdom of God, we can love our nation as it is and for what it can become, and do freely so because this place is not our home.
(image: By PAUL FARMER, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14314566)