Our Problem With Patriotism

American Christians do not do well with patriotism.

On one extreme there are those who act as though Thomas Jefferson and Ronald Reagan helped David to bring down Goliath. The American flag is hung prominently in their sanctuaries. They would have a hard time finding the book of Genesis in a Bible but they know the flag code by heart and if Old Glory is on the wrong side of the baptistry, heads will roll. Every Old Testament promise is a promise for America and every New Testament prophetic symbol is somehow a reminder that America is God’s favorite nation with Israel coming in at a close second.

Most Christians around my age grew up hearing this kind of skewed theology. And that explains how we got to where we are today.

For some Christians today, the sight of an American flag in a sanctuary is on par with a severed pig’s head on the temple altar. And any form of gratitude or thankfulness for living in America is all lumped in with Lee Greenwood and tacky American flag shirts.

The first extreme is dangerously wrong because it turns our country into an idol. The end towards which all other means gravitate. But the second extreme is equally dangerous and equally wrong because it completely disregards a gift from God, all the while enjoying its benefits.

“Man, I’m so sick of how narcissistic and consumeristic this country is. Someone get me my iPad so I can vent to all of my Facebook followers about it.”

James tells us that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). If American Christians really do hold to the authority of Scripture, they will show gratitude to the Giver while prayerfully fighting against the tendency to worship the gift. This certainly is a battle but it is one well worth the fight.

Over the Memorial Day weekend my wife and I had lunch with a friend from another country. During the meal he told us about the turmoil in his nation. The current president is aging and wants his son to take his place. Most of the people want someone else. There are talks of a military coup. Our friend’s brother serves in the military and is caught in the middle. The entire country is on the brink of collapse.

My wife and I were shocked as we heard the details. We were worried for our friend and several others who we know that live over there. We asked how he was dealing with all of this news. Was he scared? How was he holding up?

His answer still disturbs us.

“I’m okay. It happens all of the time.”

Our country certainly is not immune to a military coup, some other form of turbulence or even collapse. But those things don’t happen here all of the time. And it’s not because America is “a Christian nation.” Christian nations don’t murder millions of babies every year. For some reason, for the better part of two centuries, God has chosen to be gracious to our country.

So patriotism can be more spiritual than you might think. When properly understood, it doesn’t involve elevating the flag above the cross, asking God to bless our national sin or constantly trying to twist the Scriptures into saying something about America that isn’t really there.

It just means thanking God for what he has given us.

It means thanking God for not giving us what we deserve.