I've been a part of numerous churches that celebrated American Independence Day with abandon: 80-foot flags hanging from the ceilings, singing the "Star Spangled Banner" and "I'm Proud to Be an American" and even— most disturbing to me as I reflect back—saying the Pledge of Allegiance during our corporate worship.
If some visitor had asked us on those Sunday just what we were worshiping, I think that might have been a very perceptive question.
For many, the Fourth is about gratitude for the blessings of freedom. And as far as that goes, I'm in complete agreement—though to see only the "blessings" of freedom and not also repent of all the many varied and creative ways we've abused it might be a bit short-sighted. Still, yes to gratitude.
For others, these celebrations go beyond merely the gratitude and obedience that Scripture commands, into something else, something entirely absent from the God's Word: Patriotism.
Patriotism, defined as "devoted love, support, and defense of one's country; national loyalty" makes little sense to a people called to live as aliens and strangers, as exiles. If I am—as Scripture tells me I am—a "citizen of another country," where should my "national loyalty" lie?
And as for my "devoted love"what does it mean to say I "love my country"? I love and feel called to the people in it? Yes. But should I ever love the people of America more than the people of Canada or Mexico, of Haiti or Ghana? Probably not. To say "I love America" is to say I love a political system, a set of laws and arbitrary boundary lines that history will eventually erase and more: I think it might be saying more than I ought to say as a follower of Jesus.
Tony Campolo puts it this way: "America may be the best Babylon the world has, but it is still Babylon nonetheless."
We are exiles living in Babylon, folks. Our corner may be called "America," or "Canada," or "France," but it's still all a part of the same thing: a world system that transcends borders, is dominated by materialistic consumerism and exploitation, and is fundamentally opposed to the Kingdom of God. And while love and affection for the people living in that system is entirely necessary, and while we should certainly pray for the peace and well-being of the place where God has set us, we need to avoid the mistake we see over and over in Scripture: becoming so enamored with our temporary dwelling—whether that's called Egypt, Babylon, or even America—that we lose sight of what Hebrews calls "a better place."
- Monthly issues on web and iPad
- Web exclusives and archives on Leadership Journal.net