This year my husband and I are both on leave from Calvin College in Michigan while he pastors a small church in a small city on the edge of the Canadian prairies. Canadian-born, I looked forward to returning “home” (if only temporarily). I am also looking forward to my two sons (ages 9 and 11) learning that Christians can express regional and national loyalty in different ways and still be united in confessing Christ as Lord of all. I want them to figure out both what is nonnegotiable about being Christian, no matter where one lives, and what is open to personal and regional variation as part of the freedom and creativity God gives to individuals and communities.

The culture shock was at first a little hard on them. Although they attend a Christian school, as they did in Michigan, they are suddenly learning French in middle elementary school, which they would not have done until tenth grade back home. They are in a place where the provincial symbol (the buffalo) is also served up as meat. And they are in a place where the landscape is flatter but skies are grander than back home.

Getting to know and appreciate another region’s values and loyalties also set me pondering the value and limits of patriotism. Can we bring a biblical analysis to bear on this complex emotion, which at one extreme can weld together millions of diverse individuals, and at the other be used to excuse such things as wars of aggression, genocide, and prideful ignorance about the rest of the world? I think we can.

The good news about patriotism is that God has made us irreducibly social creatures. It is no accident that God says in Genesis 1, “Let us make humankind in our own image, after our own likeness.” Already, at the very beginning of the Bible, we ...

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