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My father used to display a crisp American flag outside of our house. That flag flew not just on holidays, but on every day of the year. He never told us why he flew the Stars and Stripes. It was not because he was obviously patriotic. Sure, he had served in the Korean War, but the experience sounded mainly harrowing. As an analyst for Congress, he was involved in the hurly-burly of public debate on major policy issues. He respected how our country's democratic system works. He was not sentimental about our nation. But he flew that flag every day.

Is it theologically appropriate for Christians to be patriotic? Does it compromise our citizenship in Christ's kingdom to wave the banner of loyalty to an earthly kingdom?

As with so many other issues, American Christians seem hopelessly divided.

On the Christian Right are many of that dwindling number of Americans who are happy to proclaim their love for this country and to wave the flag proudly as a symbol of that love. Meanwhile, on the Christian Left there is an emphasis on the international loyalties of Christ's people—and also some trenchant critiques of our nation's behavior. So the Right bashes the Left for its internationalism and critical spirit, while the Left skewers the Right for its confused consecration of national life.

Philosopher Jeffrey Stout says that piety is the virtue associated with gratitude toward the sources of one's existence. Love of country can, in this sense, be seen as a form of piety. We wave the flag in gratitude for the nation in which we live and move and have our being, the geographic source and arena of our existence. Asking someone to avoid patriotism because it compromises Christian faith is like asking them to avoid demonstrating affection ...

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What's Right About Patriotism
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In the Magazine

July 2006

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