Christians, Patriotism, and Idolatry

I’ve noticed a tendency in recent years.  American Christians who criticize acknowledgement of patriotic holidays in general, or who oppose patriotic expression in particular. A few go so far as to suggest any sense of national identity is inappropriate for Christians. It’s as if their embarrassment at the fervor of some “patriotic” Christians or past national flaws drives them to disavow any love of country altogether.

I DO NOT QUESTION THE PATRIOTISM OF THOSE WHO FEEL THIS WAY. (Unless of course they specifically say it is wrong to be patriotic, in which case I suspect they do not wish to be considered so.) Most that I observe do not object to patriotism itself, but to its expression by Christians – particularly what they identify as “Christian nationalism.” I do however, take exception to the inference (and sometimes outright statement) that patriotic Christians who participate in such patriotic observances are somehow “worshipping our country,” and that it is somehow idolatrous to even participate in them.

It is possible to have more than one allegiance without conflict.

It is possible to be patriotic without being idolatrous.

For all those who think it is wrong to be “patriotic,” I’m just thankful I’m not in their family. They seem to think that allegiance to anything other than God is idolatry. That to express thankfulness for the good in our nation is to ignore (or even affirm) the bad.  I’ll be the first to admit that any relation (whether individual or group) can become such an idol, but just because it can doesn’t mean it will.

I love my family. I believe in family loyalty and allegiance. Doesn’t mean I agree with everything, but I love them and would stand by them nonetheless. They can be an idol, but don’t have to be.

I love my church. Not to the degree that I love my family, but it is a relational love for a group of people that I am a part of. Doesn’t mean I agree with everyone over everything, but I have a deep sense of loyalty to them and would stand by them nonetheless. It can be an idol, but doesn’t have to be.

I love my country. Not to the same degree that I love my family, or my church, but it is a relational love for a group of people that I am a part of. Doesn’t mean I agree with everything or everyone in it, but I have a deep sense of loyalty to it and would stand up for it nonetheless. It can be an idol, but doesn’t have to be.

I won’t stop loving my family, church, or country because of the danger of corporate idolatry or those who engage in it. I won’t stop admiring the honorable because I must acknowledge the dishonorable.

None of these loves supersede or replace my love and worship of God, because I can have various loves and allegiances in my life without one infringing on the others. I can discerningly maintain my love for my country (despite its sinfulness) with my reverence and worship for God.

Praying for our country, remembering God’s blessing on our nation and giving thanks for it, as well as committing ourselves to being a righteous influence in our culture are some legitimate aspects of patriotism that focus on God rather than country alone.

We enjoy the privileges of living in this country only by God’s goodness. How can we avoid specifying those same blessings when we give thanks and praise? If we happen to do so more specifically on a national day of memorial, is that wrong?

The key to this is balance, but I find it hard to separate my “civic” responsibilities from my “spiritual” responsibilities. Being a good citizen is part of being a good Christian, and being a good Christian makes me a better citizen. And that is true no matter which country you live in.

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