This article originally appeared in the July 4, 1969 issue of Christianity Today.
On July 4, in a thousand hamlets, loyal Americans will march in parades as millions of their fellow citizens watch with pride. The passing of the Stars and Stripes will cause many backbones to stiffen and bring smart salutes from the military as well as the placing of hand over heart by those who pledge again their allegiance to "one nation under God."
But many of our people will offer no salutes, feel no sense of pride, and pledge no allegiance to the flag. Some will not respond because of indifference or calloused hearts. Others will be working to tear the fabric of our national life to shreds; to worsen, not heal, our sickness; to destroy, not to build; to bring disunity, not unity, to the nation. For them, patriotism is dead; love of country is archaic. Far from echoing the words of Stephen Decatur, "Our country, right or wrong," they will even refuse to say, "My country when it is right."
Perhaps the time has come for us to read again the stirring words of the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience bath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
We do well to ask: Has the time come for us to abolish what our forefathers created? Has their vision of liberty, justice, and happiness proved unattainable? Ought we now to burn the flag, send our congressmen home, and close the doors of the White House?
Are we ready to say that the mythos, the heroes, and the folk tales that have bound us together as a people for almost two hundred years no longer enthrall us? Are we willing to forget our common heritage, dilute our sense of fraternity and destiny, and dissolve the cohesiveness that made us one?
The American dream that drew millions of immigrants as a magnet attracts metal has not been wholly fulfilled. We are faced with grave and challenging problems in our national life. We see many things we dislike, and can point to many injustices that have not yet yielded to truth and righteousness. But even as we acknowledge the defects we cannot forget the victories. The slaves have been freed; universal suffrage has become a reality; startling advances have been made to assure all our people of life and liberty as well as the right to pursue happiness.
Unlike millions of people in Russia, Czechoslovakia, China, and Cuba, our people walk as free men across our broad prairies and along our city streets; unlike the avantgarde Communist writers who languish in concentration camps or lie in unmarked graves, our people are able to write freely and to dissent vigorously while the whole weight of government, court, and police protects them in their rights and in their persons. The doors of our churches are open, the Bible is read, and the pulpits are free to sound forth the glories of our God. Church is separated from state and freedom of religion is no fond dream—it's real. Our coins say: "In God we trust." Our presidents take their oath of office on the Bible. We still pledge allegiance to a nation "under God." In a spirit of hope and pride we can sing:
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, And this be our motto: "In God is our trust." And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Christians ought to be the best citizens and the finest patriots. Certainly they have a prior allegiance to God Almighty. But this can only make them better Americans. They need not gloss over the nation's defects or sweep its failures under the rug. They need not claim that their country is always right. When it is right, they will support it; and when it is wrong, they will love it and work to correct it. Even as the Apostle Paul could speak proudly of his Roman citizenship, so should every American Christian speak proudly of his. The day that patriotism ceases, that day we will have ceased to be a people.
Patriotism is not dead; our nation is not finished. Let us rally behind our flag; let us love our country with all its faults; let us work to improve it with all our strength; let us defend it with all our resources; let us hand it on to generations unborn better than it was when we received it; let us instill in our children the hope of our forefathers for the ultimate fulfillment of their dreams. But above all, let us tell them that the greatness of America lies not simply in the achievement of the ideal but in the unrelenting pursuit of it.
Copyright © 2001 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
See today's other articles on patriotism, in commemoration of the American Independence Day:
What Jonathan Edwards Can Teach Us About Politics | Before Jerry Falwell and Jesse Jackson, another preacher ventured into the public square.
Watching My Daughter 'Defect' | Part of being a good Christian is being a good citizen
More articles are available at ChristianityToday.com's Fourth of July area.