American Patriotism and Christianity

With Independence day rapidly approaching and landing on a Sunday I am curious to hear how different congregations deal with this holiday. There has been such a wide variety of thoughts on this going from extreme patriotism with America being basically the new Israel and chosen by God to extreme isolation where you won’t hear or see anything remotely connected with culture expressed in some churches. Where does your congregation fall in the spectrum and what are your views on this as an individual? Should we celebrate these types of holidays or have American independence themes or songs in our worship?

I find these words from Randy Harris challenging,

So loyalty to country, loyalty to family, loyalty to friends–all of those strike me as commendable things. The problem is when patriotism becomes nationalism. Now this is a different matter. Nationalism is always evil because it is idolatry. It is the point where we confuse the nation with God, where our primary loyalties become aimed at the nation instead of God. This is always bad news. And nationalism is often lurking just under the surface of much of what we do. (God Work, 152)

Harris goes on to point out one subtle and dangerous form of nationalistic idolatry, quoting from the story of the golden calf, he shows the danger of worshiping country as God. We all know better than to worship America or pray to America (as Randy points out) but often things get kind of muddy. He says,

I think we are far more likely to be guilty of this kind of idolatry. Somehow we get the nation confused with a visible representative of God. And we think that our deep loyalty and commitment to the nation somehow is service to Yahweh. Soon we think God is especially represented or only represented in our nation. And then we’re into the deep water of idolatry. p.153

We do have to be careful to not view our country in terms that only God is worthy to receive. This country does provide for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I am very glad for that and very spoiled on account of that. But it can never provide what God can provide: eternal life, liberty from sin and death, and deeply rooted happiness that will last forever and ever. I never have really understood why songs like America the Beautiful and the Battle Hymn of the Republic are in our song books. I just think people come to worship for deeper and longer lasting reasons than American patriotism. I don’t think patriotism in and of itself is wrong or sinful. There have been so many stories of herorism and love that have come from our national story that certainly do reflect Christ-like priorities. But if we start putting nation in place of God we obviously have a deep rooted spiritual issue.