Is Patriotism Christian?

Finding the right balance
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It is also appropriate—and Christian—to want the best for your country, to want to see it prosper. When the prophet Jeremiah was writing, the Israelites had been forcibly removed from Jerusalem and taken as hostages to Babylon by enemy soldiers. Nevertheless, God encouraged the people to make themselves at home. "Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters …. Increase in number there; do not decrease" (Jer. 29:5-6). Not only should they improve themselves, but they should also "seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper" (Jer. 29:7). In other words, it is the duty of the people of God to seek stability, peace, and prosperity wherever they go. This includes supporting the nation in which we live.

All of this, though, is balanced by the awareness that we are aliens and strangers in this land (James 1:1; 1 Pet. 2:11). We are commanded to honor and support our civil rulers, and we are called to seek the prosperity of the city, state, and nation in which we dwell. But we must always remember that "our citizenship is in heaven" (Phil. 3:20). Sometimes this will result in conflict with the governing authorities. Many first-century Roman civic festivals and celebrations were dedicated to Roman deities. Some even worshiped the emperor as a god. But Christians refused to venerate the emperor as divine. The first Christians refused to participate in these celebrations. As a result they gained a reputation for being atheists (because they didn't believe in the Roman gods) and potential traitors. As committed as they were to honoring the authorities, their citizenship and loyalties were not ultimately Roman.

Those of us who live in America should certainly be grateful. David Gushee has pointed out that because gratitude is an important Christian quality, we do well to show our thankfulness to God for the opportunity to live in a free and prosperous nation. But we have to be careful not to give full and unqualified allegiance to anyone but Jesus Christ. The Jewish officials responsible for the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus blasphemed when they claimed they had no king but Caesar (John 19:15). Indeed they had—Jesus was supposed to be their king! We must be careful not to make the same mistake.

We must also be Christian in our engagement with and conversation about our leaders. We need not agree with them. But it is clearly unchristian to slander them, even if we do so—perhaps especially if we do so—in the name of patriotism. We must honor them in our language, and we must commit to pray for them (1 Tim. 2:1-2). We pray for wisdom, insight, and courage as they guide the nation "for our good." And we pray that America, under their leadership, will prosper, "because if it prospers, you too will prosper."

Brandon O'Brien is an editor at large with Leadership Journal.

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