Thursday, May 29, 2008



I have been wondering about this a lot lately. Actually, I've been wondering about it for a very long time, but perhaps even more so in the last couple of years. Several times I have considered pursuing this a bit in this blog, and then in the end decided not to. But with Memorial Day weekend just behind us, I find myself thinking about it again . . . and I want to try to be responsive to what God seems to be surfacing in my journey. Maybe it's an unconscious or subtle form of a death wish.

"Patriotism," according to Webster is, "love and loyal or zealous support of one's own country, especially in all matters involving other countries; nationalism." It's a word that comes up a lot these days in the political dialog that dominates so much of our news coverage.

To be honest, at least the way the word is generally being used, it tends to elicit more in the way of reaction than reflection. So much so, that even the suggestion that we probe the meaning of the word will, in some quarters, at best, set off a strong reaction that may result in an avalanche of stories of people in the armed services making great sacrifices for which we are not nearly as grateful as we should be (which of course is true enough in itself) . . . and on the more "at worst" end of the spectrum, the sense that even the act of raising questions is itself an "unpatriotic" act. It's touchy territory, and like the proverbial elephant in the room, it often seems to be best left alone, whether or not it is housebroken.

So then, with discretion being the better part of valor, this is probably a good place to stop. But if I were to pursue this further, some of the questions I might be led to ponder would be:

  • What does patriotism look like for a Christian? Or to break the question down further, to what extent is nationalism an appropriate posture for a Christian to take? When two countries are in disagreement with each other, should the Christians in one country side against the Christians in the other country for nationalistic reasons, or should they seek unity on a deeper level, assuming that the things that unite them are greater than the things that divide them? When the issues involved are more about control, comfort, convenience or even political perspective, should they take sides, or even arms, against each other? Would refusing to do so, and insisting on working together to find other solutions instead, be unpatriotic?
  • When Christians reflect on those passages of scripture that remind us that our primary citizenship is in heaven, and that Christians are strangers, or aliens (perhaps even immigrants) in this world, does this imply that being a patriot as a Christian means being loyal or zealous in support of the principles of God's Kingdom (or government, if you want to use a more contemporary term)?
  • Given the qualities taught and embodied by Jesus in regard to what Kingdom life is all about, what does Christian patriotism look like from this perspective? Given the clear thrust of the gospel that insists on dissolving the dividing lines of economic status, gender, race and nation, would participating in efforts that work to make these divisions even more sharp actually be unpatriotic acts from the standpoint of God's Kingdom? Is it possible to find one's national patriotism in conflict, or even in direct opposition to, the patriotism of God's Kingdom? What are the implications of this?
  • If we make reference to Romans 13 in justification of Christians supporting the actions of their country during times of conflict (sometimes taking the form of slogans like "My Country Right or Wrong" or "My Country, Love it or Leave it"), what do you say to those who live in the country on the other side of the conflict who also might make reference to Romans 13?
  • Is it possible, from a Christian perspective, to love, be loyal to, be supportive of one's country and what it stands for . . . and yet be opposed to actions taken by that country that seem to be in opposition to the core values that the love, loyalty and support are rooted in? Is it more patriotic to go along with what one to believes undermines these things for the sake of safety, profit or even survival . . . or to be willing to stand in opposition to these things, even if it means vulnerability, sacrifice or loss?
What seems so odd, disconcerting, even frightening to me, is the extent to which these kinds of questions seem to have gone, not only unconsidered by many in the Christian community today, but also the extent to which they are unwelcome. If I were to ask questions, this would lead me to these additional ones:

  • How does this happen among those who have rejected a way of life based on Rome's vision of the power of the cross in favor of Jesus' vision of the power of the cross?
  • Are the ideas of generosity, grace, loving one's enemies, Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, etc. simply fluffy hyperbole unsuitable for the real world, or were they intended to be taken seriously, even if doing so means taking up one's cross and following?
  • Is it possible for my love for, and pride in, my own country to be expressed in a way that allows others to have the same sentiments for theirs, and for these to be equally respected? It is possible for my sense of specialness and choseness not to override or negate someone else's sense of the same?
  • Is it possible for political ideology to make us blind or deaf to the voice of the Spirit? Is it possible to be open enough to the voice of the Spirit for our political ideologies to be critiqued?
Those are among the questions I would ask if I were to pursue the topic of patriotism, and what that means for those who seek to follow Jesus. Meantime, the elephant* does take up an enormous amount of space, and sometimes is a bit rough on the furniture (not to mention those we share our homes with).

Considering these questions brought to mind an old song by Ken Medema, . If you are wanting to ponder how love for God and country can go together, going to this link is not a bad place to start:

One Christian group that does ponder questions like this is Sojourners
Another interesting idea is the Global Marshall Plan proposed by Tikkun

(*incidently, the "elephant" in question is simply the proverbial one, not one that is meant to designate any political entity. If you would rather have a donkey in the room, or some other animal, it's fine with me)

1 comment:

Jared Wright said...

One of the complications with nationalism that I've been mulling the last few days is the conflicts in identity that can (and probably do) arise when identities collide.

Which identity (and you alluded to this) comes first - my identity as a Christian, or my identity as a citizen of a particular country.

What if, let's say, I'm a Seventh-day Adventist Christian in Korea during the Korean war, asked to take up arms against Seventh-day Adventist Christians from the United States?

Of course that raises a separate issue about the appropriateness of Christian bearing arms in the military. But to me, it is clearly one of many areas of conflict that might arise when one identity is pitted against another - particularly in a global church like the Adventist Church.

I guess that's tangential to the direction of this post, but still part of the larger issue as I see it.