Tuesday, June 22, 2010

God and Country

Because I am a good Presbyterian, I am on a committee. :)

Had a worship committee meeting this afternoon, and I loved the thoughtful discussion we had there. I won't transcribe the whole thing, but I wanted to post a few thoughts, because the conversation was so good.

We were discussing worship in relationship to Memorial Day, which just happened, and Independence Day, which is coming up (and happens to be on a Sunday this year).


  • We have a multi-generational church. And therefore, multiple very different perspectives on the relationship between patriotism and worship.
  • The WWII generation seems to have a sense of reverence for God and a sense of reverence for our country that exist very comfortably together.
  • My generation, on the other hand, is largely perplexed at the thought of worship and patriotism living in the same space.
  • Many in my generation feel that religion (evangelical Christianity in particular) has been hijacked and is now being used as a political tool. To the degree that this is true, it is genuinely offensive. And it makes patriotism in church feel offensive too.
  • Unfortunately, the fact that we're offended makes us resistant to thinking about what Scripture says about country. And it does say something. Many somethings. About the role of the State. And our role as citizens--dual citizens of both an earthly country and a heavenly country.
  • All of this is complicated by the fact that we're in a military town. How do we honor young soldiers, many of whom have done multiple long tours during the current Middle East conflict (a responsibility that we have not asked of any previous generation of soldiers)? What do we make of the fact that many of them are highly trained to do their job as soldiers, but not at all equipped to put their wartime experience in any kind of spiritual context? (A pastor friend of mine was asked by a soldier if God could still accept him because he had killed someone in combat.) How do we do all of this thinking about God and country while also tangibly loving the soldiers and airmen in our town?
We didn't reach any conclusions, but we wondered together how we can start a conversation between generations about this. I love that this is happening in our congregation! Would also love to hear your thoughts on the subject.



    I am 31. I would fall in with the "younger generation," presumably. I have spent 4 years on Active Duty (Army).

    The issue (as I see it) is not so much patriotism & worship. I believe that patriotism and worship are compatible. The problem I see within evangelical Christianity today is a migration away from patriotism (which I loosely define as the appreciation and special care for the individuals residing within a particular geopolitical boundary (the U.S.A. for example) and toward nationalism. Being caught up in "national greatness" or "American exceptionalism" turns quickly into state worship, or nation worship. Nations are not to be revered and worshiped. Only God is to be revered and worshiped.

    The military is not to be revered. Reading through Scripture will provide multitudinous examples of God specifically making little of military prowess so that His glory will be on display. Look at the story of Gideon. Look at the "weak" fleeing Israelites as they were trapped by a vastly superior force against the Red Sea. Look at Psalm 20:7, which points to an "either/or" in that you are either going to trust God or the military chariots.

    What I see today in the evangelical Christian world, particularly the very politically-involved "neoconservative" Republicans, is not so much patriotism as it is nationalism. They worship America. They turn and look to the state for hope and salvation. They believe that the state will solve all social ills if only the right politicians are elected. They believe that the Gospel is great, but that Republicans in office is what is really needed for the health of this country.

    And, they revere and are fascinated with war and military. Rarely does a good and gory war flick come out that isn't heavily supported by the dollars of thousands of evangelicals.



    Providence and blessing that are appreciated and recognized as extended corporately to the residents of a geopolitical region by God is the essence of patriotism. In history, God has extended his grace through different forms of government: Theocracy, Monarchy, Republics, Democracy. One can be patriotic in any of these systems as they recognize that their national blessings arise from God and extend to their co-citizens, whom they especially care for.

    However, once people within any of those systems fail to realize that it is God who provides safety, blessing, etc., patriotism morphs quickly into worship of the State and ultimately quasi-deification of the heads of state. The Babylonian kings considered themselves worthy of worship. Pharaohs were "god-kings," and the same tendency exists today among nationalistic, nation-worshiping, but well-meaning evangelicals. George W. Bush was revered on the Right by the Right. Barack Obama is revered on the Left by the Left.

    Patriotism, as a response and recognition of Providence, I believe, has a place within local churches. A recognition and reverence of God is at the heart of patriotism, not any particular State or Nation. Nationalism, I believe, has no place in Church, and, in actuality, is nothing short of idolatry.

    I recently saw a video about a painting that many people may have seen. It depicted Jesus himself presenting the Constitution with historical and representative figures surrounding him/it paying homage.

    Is this not idolatry? Is this not setting up a man-made and imperfect document as being delivered by the hand of Jesus himself? Jesus DID GIVE us a document. And even the Bible itself is not to be worshiped. The God of the Bible is the only worthy object of worship.

    A YouTube clip of the painting is here.

    The Jon McNaughton painting is a fusion of Christianity with political America - it is the essence of setting the stage for America-worship. It is the heart of nationalism.

  3. Good thoughts. I like the distinction between patriotism and nationalism.

  4. A few thoughts:

    1) Thank you for seeking dialogue. It is sorely lacking by those on all sides of the issue, myself included.

    2) I've been helped in understanding this (and also frequently had my position change) by constantly trying to understand why those who I disagreed with believed what they did, and not stopped asking until I didn't like the answer. When I find an answer I like it's easy to accept as truth, but usually Truth is uncomfortable.

    3) In the last few years I've seen the divide more partisan than generational. Or perhaps it's better said that I see the divide in expressions of patriotism as more and more partisan.

    4) Much of the generational discomfort I see seems to be a discomfort with the overt expression of pride. Our generation is far less comfortable with saying that my X is better than your X, especially when X is given mostly by birth. It is very hard (or impossible) to separate Patriotism from Pride, and for our generation red, white, and blue pride can sometimes be as uncomfortable as white, black, gay*, straight, or whatever else pride.

    5) Our generation is far less comfortable with celebrations of war victories, because it more readily thinks of the defeated "other side" as our human brothers. It also tends to be less individualistic in its application of the message of Jesus. This takes many forms from thinking all enemies should be loved to near-socialist ideas on caring for the poor. Some are probably good changes, some bad, but they all are real changes.

    6) Our generation tends to be self-critical. Narcissistically so, actually. When it's gaze widens, it criticizes its larger "self": our nation. It can be harsh, bitter, and mean about it. But what it criticizes can also be true, even if it is cruel about how it does it (think Simon Cowell.) Keeping a dialogue with the older generations at that point is hard. But it's needed. For the younger generations' sake, mostly.

    *Not saying it is or isn't "born-in". Just saying it's mostly perceived that way.