Patriotism and the Church

Between Memorial Day and Flag Day and Independence Day, thousands of churches across the US have celebrated (or will celebrate this coming Sunday) some sort of "patriotic day" during their weekend services.

And I think it's entirely wrong.

No, I'm not a communist (probably what I would have been accused over 50 years ago). And I'm not against asking God to bless America.

I think "patriotic days" are wrong in that they miss the point of what a church service should be about. A worship service needs to be focused on glorifying Jesus, not praising a government. The sanctuary is where worship takes place, not where patriotism takes place.
"Every element of the worship service should direct our focus to the praise and worship of God, so I felt that this song ["Proud to Be an American"] had no place in the time of worship since it primarily exalts the nation." Matthew Kelley (Arlington UMC, Nashville)

Church vs Government

I don't believe that it is inherently sinful to be patriotic, and I definitely think that today's liberal understanding of the "separation of church and state" has been misinterpreted and wrongly applied.

But in promoting Sunday morning patriotism, many churches draw a sharp line between the "holy" church and a "pagan" government. They reflect back (with a biased viewpoint) on days when there was a "Christian America" (though I don't think there ever was one). And in defense, they want to form a safe huddle under a steeple.

The problem is that we don't see this separation (holy people vs pagan government) in the Bible. We see Mordecai go out of his way to do the right thing and save the life of a pagan king (Esther 2:21-23); and later, we see God use this righteous deed for an even greater good.

And more specifically, Paul (in Romans 13) commanded the early church to submit to the government's laws. Peter told them to honor the king. But did the early church celebrate "patriotic days"? And if they did, should they have?

I don't think so, in either case.

For Jesus, or For Country?

Yes, Christians should be engaged in the political process, in love and humility. But let's not just pull in Jesus and attach him to our patriotic and political leanings.

Our primary citizenship is in God's kingdom, not under any government on earth. And when we sing the 4th stanza of My Country, 'Tis of Thee or the 3rd stanza of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, we must remember that Jesus really is focused on liberty. But He is most concerned with our spiritual liberty from sin, and not any physical or political liberty. Don't you remember what he did first for this paralyzed man?

So, should a church choose to recognize some sort of patriotic day? Maybe. Maybe it's not such a big deal. In itself, that's neither wrong or right.

However, it might point to a bigger picture of what that church deeply believes about the supremacy of Christ. Church members in the US need to remember that before they are American, they are Christian.

When we promote patriotism, we may be
  • sending out a confusing message to the saved and unsaved, 
  • missing an opporunity to equip Christians, and
  • neglecting a proper focus for the worship service.

I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments: Did your church celebrate a "patriotic day"?

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