“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”
No king but king Jesus!
—Revolutionary War motto
Every 4th of July the church I grew up in would hold a worship service. During every sermon an American flag would stand sentinel at the corner of the stage. It really wasn’t until recently that I reflected on these things and realized that they are more than weird–they’re terribly, terribly wrong.
It isn’t that I’m not a fan of America. While I could do without the drone strikes and NSA spying and gratuitous killing of brown people, my affection for the principles on which this country was founded is deep and true. I don’t always (or ever) like the government, but I am rather fond of bald eagles and fireworks and, of course, football. However, loving this country is not the same thing as loving Christ. It really isn’t. Just thought I’d put that out there because I have a sneaking suspicion that in certain sectors of Christendom patriotism and Christianity have been smushed together to form some sort of freak-hybrid-religious-monstrosity.
Here’s the thing: America is not God’s country. The church is. America is not to be the city on the hill or a light to the nations. The church is. You see, when Jesus was preaching for people to hate their fathers and mothers and little tiny babies, He wasn’t contradicting His other many commands to love. He was making a point that when we enter the community of God other loyalties take a back seat. When I became a Christian, the church became my family. When I became a Christian, the worldwide catholic church became my country. Jesus is my king, and all His people became my people. There’s simply no room in that paradigm for any competing patriotism.
I’m not sure when or how this understanding became obscured in evangelical circles. My love for Christ is not only to be separate from my love for my country, it is to trump it. As a reformed neocon, I’ve done a lot of reflecting on the intersection of faith and politics, and it seems to me now that all those years dutifully reciting the Pledge of Allegiance (okay, try and leave aside your childhood indoctrination–pledging allegiance to a flag in borg-like fashion is super weird) and treating voting like a moral imperative were acts of disloyalty to my true king.
In a way it’s natural and makes complete sense to revel in patriotism. To be Team America vs. everyone else. But one of the beautiful aspects of Christianity is that it tears down the artificial barriers that separate us. In Christ there is no slave nor free, no male nor female, no Jew nor Gentile, and certainly no American nor Iraqui/Syrian/Egyptian/French, etc. There can be no Team America for me. Team Jesus is all-consuming. My loyalties are otherwise engaged.
I’m grateful I live in the country I do. I appreciate its diversity, its beauty, and its ostensible commitment to liberty, but my faith teaches me that I’m an alien in a foreign land. I have no issues with celebrating ‘Murica’s birthday (any excuse for a barbecue, really), but I am not first and foremost an American, and Independence Day is not a religious celebration. In fact, a case could be made that to be Christian is to be conscientiously un-patriotic. We are to be in the world but decidedly not of it. Our fidelity is not to any plot of land or system of government or to any national interests but to a person, and, all blue-eyed portraits of white, European Jesus aside, He is not American.
But, then again, what do I know?
So, um, happy Independence Day! I hope it’s been awesome, and I hope that even as we reflect on the history of an undoubtedly great nation, we, as the church, can gain a renewed sense of wonder at the even greater victory and more profound liberation which was won at the cross.