I can remember speaking to the older group at Richland Hills Church of Christ a number of years ago. It was a Sunday night crew that didn’t do small groups. They met in the smaller chapel and I set up a time to preach to them with the hopes of plugging the Let’s Start Talking Ministry (www.LST.org), a ministry I worked for as a team developer for four years.
I poured my heart out about how our plea for one nation under God must become a cry for all nations under God. I spoke with passion from my favorite chapter in the Bible, Revelation 5, and how the blood of the Lamb purchased a kingdom made up of people from every tribe, nation, and language. Satisfied I had made my point persuasively I gave the invitation. The song leader got up and led….wait for it…America The Beautiful!
Now maybe he didn’t hear well or maybe he was deliberately defying my message. I will never know for sure, but it was a humbling experience. The truth is nationalism and patriotism are deeply felt (probably more so by that WWII generation I was preaching to). As I see it, that isn’t all bad, but there can be problems for the people of God, if that grip is too unrelenting.
There is something noble in patriotism. There is the commitment to a vision and ideal bigger than any individual. There is a call for sacrifice and devotion. Truly patriotic people are less likely to forget the responsibility of freedom and they are far more likely to die protect your freedom than someone who is not patriotic.
I like to think of myself as a patriot. I love Independence Day. I cheer for my country in the Olympics. More seriously, my brother is an army ranger who has seen action twice in Iraq and once in Afghanistan. So, why do I venture to say anything critical at all about nationalism on our special day of celebration?
It comes back to the point I tried to make in the sermon that night. God is not particularly in love with America. He’s not inclined to bless it above others. He loves every American, but he loves every Afghan too. He even loves those terrorists we send unmanned droids after. His global vision is far more encompassing than “one nation under God.”
As Christians, who are Americans, we belong to a greater kingdom. “Our citizenship is in heaven” Phil. 3:20. We await a better city and country (Heb. 11:10, 16). All lesser loyalties, including nationalistic ones, must become subservient to our loyalty to the Kingdom of God. If they do not, then it is idolatry.
When we think that being a good American is the same thing as being a disciple of Jesus, we are deceived. In fact, being a disciple of Jesus may, at times, require us to stand against our country’s actions. Our allegiance to Jesus may call on us to speak up for those who are harmed by our country’s policies. It may even cause us to be called unpatriotic by our own countrymen.
Faith and nationalism can co-exist as long as our nationalism serves the greater loyalty. If nationalism is given equal or greater weight than our commitment to the kingdom of heaven, then authentic faith and loyalty to Jesus is destroyed.
Jonah’s nationalism caused him to abandon the call of God. So great was his love for Jerusalem and the temple and his hatred for her enemies that he literally ran from God. It isn’t hard to hear the rhetoric of hate coming from professing Christians who have placed national interests over kingdom interests.
Yes, we should be proud to be an American. Enjoy the hot dogs and fireworks today. But remember the people of God cannot help their own nation, if they can no longer distinguish between the nation and the Kingdom.