Is it appropriate to use a worship service to promote patriotism? 

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Do Patriotism and Worship Services Mix Well?

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I’ve been in churches where the congregation was asked to stand and say the pledge of allegiance during a worship service. I have a strong pride in America. I lived in the Philippines during a very tumultuous time in which our own US servicemen were killed by terrorist attacks. I was there when there were base demonstrations and our daily lives had to be altered because of real threats to us. We had curfews and base restrictions.

I remember when singer Lee Greenwood came to Clark Air Base (Philippines) at a time when we were all emotionally reeling from the recent attacks on our servicemen.  When, at the conclusion of his concert, he started singing the words, “I’m Proud to be an American,”  there was not a dry eye in the audience.

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When I came back to the States, my husband was sent to the Persian Gulf for Operation Desert Shield. My husband was defending our country and I was taking care of our 3-yr old and infant. Every single time I saw an American flag, I got tears in my eyes, knowing that my husband was “over there” and seeing first-hand the sacrifices made by our servicemen and their families.

So, obviously, you cannot say that i am unpatriotic. I am proud to be an American. I understand what freedom means.

But the several times I have been in a church service and asked to stand to say the pledge of allegiance, something has stirred within me – some sort of conflict and I never really spent the time to think about what it was.

I ran across this article recently: This is my confession: I struggle with patriotic worship services.

Sunday gatherings of believers are a microcosm of the Kingdom of God. For me, at their best, patriotic services celebrate baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet at the expense of Jesus Christ crucified and risen. At their worst they rehearse selective history, celebrate decisions of a man-made government, and blur the line between the kingdoms of man and the kingdom of God.

Sundays find followers of Jesus gathered celebrating His victory over sin, death, hell and the grave, not American victories at Iwo Jima, Normandy and Bastogne. We gather with the promise of a Prince of Peace whose return will not only render Valley Forge, Gettysburg, New Orleans, Normandy, Guadalcanal, Da Nang and Baghdad impossible; He will make them unneeded.

I posted this article on the SSB Facebook page and here are some of the comments:

I suffered in church every Memorial Day, July 4th and Christmas…

As a music pastor, I ALWAYS dreaded planning the Sunday nearest the 4th of July. HATED it!! 

What do you think? Is it okay to mix church and patriotism? Am I being overly sensitive? Is America God’s special nation? Do pastors overstep their bounds when they encourage patriotism?

Happy 4th, everyone. Stay safe!  I can’t wait for you all to see Kathi’s husband’s photo in tomorrow’s Sunday gathering.  It’s so cool!

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43 comments on “Is it appropriate to use a worship service to promote patriotism? 

  1. Independent Fundamental Baptist churches commonly do this. But unless the sermon is on Romans 13 for example, or Peters starements about tge Christian and civil government, wrapping the Cross in the flag is totally inappropriate. The gospel of Christ is for all men of all nations and is not to be Anglicized or Americanized.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. No brainer! We are NOT citizens of this world. Given that many nations go against God in what they promote or allow, the two are not compatible.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Some comments coming in on Twitter:

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  4. I honestly couldn’t care less one way or the other. I see nothing particularly spiritual or otherwise better in doing it or not doing it.

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  5. Ugh.. Independence Day has always been a huge battle between what I thought was my conscience (I think now that it’s a learned guilt reaction) and my natural distrust of authority and mass enthusiasm. I do not take any abnormal pride in America or her people. I do not say the pledge of allegiance anymore, not because I am anti-American, but because the moment it becomes a requirement, a great big red flag goes up inside my soul. To put it quite simply, I balk at forced reverence.

    For some of us, the method of celebration is incredibly traumatic. I don’t just mean the vets with PTSD (though they certainly deserve our utmost consideration). As an individual with autism, the fourth is unbearable for me. I have spent most Fourth of July celebrations camped out by myself, earplugs in, shaking and nauseated with the terror of bangs, booms, shrieks and crackles. The noise and moving lights make me dizzy, sick, and tearful, because my brain is incapable of handling that much information.

    But all that aside, I do not think it is appropriate to have a “patriotic service.” We gather on Sundays (well, some of us, anyway) to worship God, not America. I think a separate event would be fine. But to make a worship service dedicated to a country with ever-changing leadership and a hypocritical stance in corruption is not within the bounds of conscience, in my opinion.

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  6. That’s a good idea, Witch Hazel, for churches to host an optional event celebrating Independence day.

    Forced reverence can definitely be triggering to those of us who were forced to elevate and defend our pastors.

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  7. I am thankful I was not born in Saudi Arabia to a father with 12 wives, required to cover, have an arranged marriage and not be able to drive.

    I am very thankful to be in a country that separates religion from government which was pretty much a radical idea at the time. And I pray for that in all nations.

    I am thankful to live in a country where it is NOT required to turn out for patriotic parades. Not to attend any sort of patriotic service/celebration.

    If you love Liberty and Jesus Christ, America is a pretty good place for that.

    BTW: Most pastors get Romans 13 VERY wrong and try to map a 1st Century warning to the Body of Christ in” Rome” to people TODAY who ARE the government. It boggles my mind how they do this mapping and it makes no sense to me.. I cannot sit in church services on July 4 weekend because of it.

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  8. Over the years, I’ve become increasingly convinced that patriotic celebrations have no place in church. We take time away from honoring God’s kingdom to honor a kingdom that is often ungodly. Some say it’s just to honor the sacrifice of our troops, but I wonder how that is viewed by Christians overseas who take seriously the Bible’s stance on pacifism. Many claim that our troops are protecting our right to worship freely, but is that really what they’re doing when they fight in Iraq or anywhere else? As far as I can tell, we’ve never entered a war because our right to worship was threatened. However, we have entered wars to quash opposing economic systems, depose tyrants unfriendly to our interests, and seek retribution for attacks on our people or sovereignty.

    I say this as someone who has had and still has close family in the service.

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  9. I am a proud mom of an Army officer. That being said, I do not believe that the church is a place to promote nationalism. Too many people confuse Christ with conservatism, flag waving, national pride, individualism, and the Republican Party. There are those who interchange Christian with American. I am thankful to have been born in the US where I enjoy privileges many other countries can’t provide. However, Christ transcends all nations and people. My American privilege should never be confused with what Christ has done on the cross.

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  10. I attend a church where a year or so ago several families left because they wanted to see an American Flag put in the sanctuary. I was fine with not having a flag there and the majority were in agreement. We are there to worship and remember Jesus and what He has done for us; nothing or no one else.

    I am thankful for those who risk their lives for freedom every day and to their families who are sacrificing, also. I spoke to a gentleman earlier who was in the Air Force as a young man and it aggrevates the fire out of him that we spend so much money putting on fireworks displays, but wounded soldiers and amputees are neglected. I have to agree.

    I am all over the pledge of allegiance and God Bless America at the baseball park. It is completely appropriate. Go Tigers!!

    I am thankful that I was born and live here in this country, but am very concerned about the direction we are headed. My true home can’t come fast enough. I am in this world, but not of it.

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  11. Before I moved to NC I had never been to a patriotic service. It did disturb me, it seemed worldly. I wanted a Bible Study. My Father, who served in the Army, never drew attention to himself for his service to our country. He didn’t want special discounts or privileges, etc. I guess it is ok if the pastor wants to pray for those in service, but then let’s get on with the study and no worldly patriotic music instead of worship music.

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  12. Last Sunday in church, the Sunday before Canada Day, all four verses of O Canada were sung. There was no flag, no mention of the upcoming day, or anything else. Just singing the national anthem was fine with me. Anything more may have bugged me. (By the way, I don’t recall it ever being sung in a church I’ve been in before.)

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  13. As an individual with autism, the fourth is unbearable for me. I have spent most Fourth of July celebrations camped out by myself, earplugs in, shaking and nauseated with the terror of bangs, booms, shrieks and crackles. The noise and moving lights make me dizzy, sick, and tearful, because my brain is incapable of handling that much information.

    Posting from an place where the Mickey Mouse Artillery (Disneyland Fireworks) goes off at 9:30 every night, it’s been sounding like a continuous Third Battle of Fallujah ever since sunset.

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  14. I swear Julie Anne you must have my phone tapped as I just finished a marathon phone call this week with a friend on this very topic. I’m dancing with joy that this is a topic that some believers are evaluating. Blogs like this are catalysts bringing focus on some of these issues and I’m so thankful for all the work so many do on blogs, hosts and posters alike.

    The church I currently attend has two, memorial day and around the 4th of July. I skip these services along with the one when David Gibbs II comes to “preach”. There are some things I will NOT sit through and all of the above drive me up the wall.

    I always find it amazing that born again believers have no issue with joining the military and going to say Iraq to murder people. Fundamentalist churches are famous for quoting Malachi chapter 3 to demand tithing when that was written to Israel. Then they turn around and blatantly ignore the Old testament command to only go to war if you ARE ATTACKED OR ENVADED, also given to Israel. WE have these events to honor the returning murders who chose to obey their commander N Chief over the Word of God. Perhaps it’s out of ignorance but I find it incredible. I also was shocked to hear a pastor claim that ” killing in war is NOT murder because you are obeying your boss”. Well that is the Nuremberg defense NOT scripture.

    The church should be promoting peace and propagating the gospel not having services where we worship our country and military. Military force should be a last resort and for legitimate biblically supportable reasons. God and God alone is worthy of our adulation, and should be the singular focus of our worship services.

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  15. I just spent a lot of wasted time yesterday going back and forth with a woman on facebook who had posted a meme reading “One Nation Under God or bite my ass and leave.” I pointed out that this country also belongs to our atheist citizens. This led to her posting incorrectly that the founding fathers only wanted to protect the freedom of religious beliefs but not the freedom to disbelieve in God. My responses then led to her denouncing me as an atheist and when I clarified she questioned my faith. She asked why I wasn’t sharing the Gospel like she does and I suggested she might be more effective if she didn’t tell nonbelievers to bite her and leave the country. She finally said she was done with me and deleted the thread.

    There is a quote from the 1930s which says that when fascism comes to America it will be carrying the flag and wrapped in a cross. I think it is dangerous to mix Christianity and patriotism because it leads to an uncritical support of any actions the government might take instead of democratically using our voices and our votes. I don’t even think I understand patriotism. I am an American; of course my loyalties are with this country and I am proud of our country when we do the right thing. However, I am ashamed when we do the wrong thing (allowing slavery, mistreatment of native Americans, dangerous medical testing on mentally challenged children in the fifties, etc.).

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  16. Shannon,

    Last Sunday in church, the Sunday before Canada Day, all four verses of O Canada were sung. There was no flag, no mention of the upcoming day, or anything else. Just singing the national anthem was fine with me.

    I remember singing “O Canada” in church once, and I didn’t mind. In fact, I first learned of the extra verses when I saw them written in a pocket NT that I got from the Gideons. Go figure.

    Learning of the other three verse was a pleasant surprise to me. The fourth verse is an explicit prayer to God, but for some reason I don’t mind it in my anthem. Perhaps because it asks for protection, but not at the expense of any other nation. It also seems to look forward to God’s Kingdom. I wonder, though, how non-Christian Canadians feel about it.

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  17. I heard yesterday that the military is not sending honor guards to church services for 4th of July…at least not to the mega-church I used to attend, which was politically conservative but not highly vocal. Is this a trend?

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  18. My thoughts:

    1. The question of the appropriateness of combining patriotism with worship is largely moot to those of us who have walked away from organized church in order that our allegiance might be given to only Jesus.

    2. I am thankful that I am a citizen of the United States.

    3. I see no problem if those who still attend church services wish to express gratitude to God for having seen fit to permit us to live where we do, but only so long as such expressions of gratitude are of a sort that would be appropriate in other nations.

    5. When thanksgiving becomes a rally, I am troubled. Patriotic rallies are a form of worship, and Jesus is not the object.

    6. On the question of rallies, I am really, really having to struggle to avoid committing an instance of Godwin’s law. Oh, what the heck. Patriotic rallies in church differ from the Nuremberg rallies only as to degree, not as to substance.

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  19. Marsha,
    Did this person explain how, “One Nation Under God or bite my ass and leave.” was spreading the Gospel or loving in any way?.

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  20. She didn’t, Brenda, she accused me of putting words in her mouth that she never said but that was an exact quote of the meme she posted.

    Normally I don’t bother engaging with people who believe differently than I do, but this was a fellow Christian. This is why I am so grateful that we have a separation of Church and State. If we had a State religion of Christianity, what are the odds that it would be what I believe as opposed to a woman who would cheerfully exile all the agnostics and atheists? Or would a patriarchal Christian come to power and repeal women’s right to vote? Or the former state legislator who wrote a book arguing for the return of OT laws and the right of parents to kill unruly children? The more I read here and at Wartburg Watch, the more I see the wisdom of the founding fathers.

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  21. I met my wife on a military base. I do not hate this country.

    But I used to go to a mega (same metro as John Piper, but bigger than Bethlehem Baptist and more prominent in that city) that had a huge sanctuary and they’d really blow the patriotic theme out, sometimes nationally prominent officers in dress uniform would give the message, leading off the service there’d be videos of military jets making a “fly over” of our service on the big screen with the sound system just pounding, they actually set off real fireworks inside the sanctuary, up above (fire marshal must have been a member is the only thing I can think). By the way, Greg Boyd, from the same metro, went ballistic over this and wrote a scathing article about it.

    The church was generally–believe it or not–a solid, loving church that exalted Jesus and the years I was there never saw any of the abuses that are commonly cited on this forum and that I later encountered in three different churches. But I never could quite get around that Go USA service. Stopped attending the 4th service. I know they meant well, this church would hold a few huge amazing events a year that would draw in people who perhaps were nominal in their faith, then many times they’d come back and hear the real gospel, but meaning well and doing well are two different things, and I think they were wrong.

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  22. This is an interesting question. I suppose for me the answer would depend on whether the patriotism was reflective of Dominionism in a sort of “claiming America for God” way, or anti-dominionism in celebration of the priesthood of the believer and soul competency and as such the authoritarian church-state rule was being opposed. Because the first one is vile and repulsive.

    And then there is one question of why it isn’t done that is of concern. Is it because the leaders (because it will always be the leaders here) are opposed to celebrating the freedoms of conscience defended by our founding fathers? I never do lose sight of the fact that Piper (for example) hates 4th of July celebrations.

    That said, I can’t recall any time when I have ever been in a church service that was solely or even predominantly patriotic in nature. All such have only just touched on civil things. Like Veterans’ Day when all service men are asked to stand and the congregation applauds, and that’s the end of it. And today one there was one brief mention of being American during the early announcements. I do think I would seriously mistrust any service that was largely or solely patriotic because I don’t know how that can be done apart from a general Dominionist leaning. That would raise flags with no white and blue in them, if you catch my drift.

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  23. Serving Kids In Japan said, “In fact, I first learned of the extra verses when I saw them written in a pocket NT that I got from the Gideons.”

    Same here! I was 13 years old at the time and made a point of memorizing them, except the second verse which we sometimes sang in school assembly.

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  24. Marsha,
    Isn’t the state form of religion, what our ancestors were trying to get away from? I’m afraid many of the things you question could very well be in the future, if the Lord doesn’t come again first. It is truly sad when a ‘c’hristian behaves that way. It surely doesn’t make others see that following Christ is the way to go.

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  25. This is an interesting cultural question. I’ve never heard of any black churches having patriotic services. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, I’m just not aware of it and I’ve attended black churches all my life. Members who are active military or veterans are recognized periodically throughout the year.

    I surmise the absence of these services from black churches is a result America’s complicated history with black people. I have a very distinct memory of going to an Assemblies of God Church (white church) for their 4th of July service as a child. The choir sang a medley of songs including I Wish I Was In Dixie. My mother was so appalled. She could not believe the Minister of Music would pick a medley that included that song. I think patriotic services tend to be misguided because they prop up the US as God’s country above everywhere else and that is not biblical. It can also go down the wrong road of positive revisionist history or worse, reminiscing about Dixie.

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  26. Was Jesus a patriot and concerned with nationalism? Did he recite flag pledges, sing national anthems, and celebrate Independence day with a beer and brat? And if indeed, Jesus was a patriot of His own country, would He have humbly submitted Himself to His Father, our Father, in offering up His blood sacrifice on that cross for me, a sinner, so desperately in need of a Savior?

    To combine patriotism with the Gospel of our LORD Jesus, the Christ, is nothing but pure and adulterated idolatry in believing a lie of sorts.

    Sorry for the harsh words here, but having sat through years of patriotic Memorial Day and 4th of July ‘church’ services, and outright worshiping man and what he has done with absolutely no praise, honor, or glory humbly shown to the King of Kings, Who lives on the throne forever amongst those who believe they are believers is simply astounding to me. No where in our Scriptures does our Father command us to worship man, a nation, a flag, a pledge or an oath, or a patriotic movement.

    Man, in his infinite non wisdom, has placed our Savior and LORD over all creation, into little god’s of our own understanding that we label as Republican/Democrat, conservative/liberal, patriotic/tea party, prosperity/health/wealth, and

    red, white and blue in the form of stripes and stars. And I only wonder, if Jesus were walking this land we call America in our day and age, just who among us would begin casting the first crucifying cries, the first flogging whips, the first striking blows against God in the flesh, the Son of Man, the Son of God, as He followed not the ways of a land called America? Would the patriotic of this nation be the first to crucify Jesus all over again for His lack of patriotism? Was not Daniel thrown into the lions’ den for not patriotically serving the nation into which he was enslaved too?

    Politics and fourth of July celebrations in the 501c. 3 churches here in America, where the flag is proudly displayed next to the blood stained cross of our Savior, will never ever save one soul from eternal destruction, for in the pages of the gospel-less Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, is no where to be found the Name of Jesus nor the teachings of His Holy Scriptures.

    In studying the Scriptures for myself in allowing His Spirit to do a work in me, instead of following man’s teaching, Praise our Mighty LORD, it has been precious and humbling to learn that my citizenship, my true identity and my true citizenship is not of this world, not of this nation, and not of this little parcel of land that I farm to earn an earthly income to pay my bills,

    my true citizenship is in heaven with Jesus, Who will return at the sound of the trumpet sound as the things of this would will pass away. We are called to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, not patriotic disciples of men.

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  27. The message that I heard at worship service yesterday was about anger, both good and bad anger. If we are not angry about abuse, why not? We are not sinning by supporting the oppressed and being angry at what is happening. The bad anger that is causing abuse, is sin. Not retaliating is good.

    This was the first time in the 5 years of attending this church that this was addressed. For that, I say Amen and Hallelujah!! About time!! Not one word was said about Independence Day or patriotism. There were no red, white and blue ties. For that, I also say Amen and Hallelujah!! All of the words that were said about glorifying the King of Kings in our actions, Amen and Hallelujah!! We ended the service with the Lord’s Table and remembering what Jesus did for all who would believe in Him.

    Katy, Amen to every word and very humbling. What would I do if Jesus were to walk in this country today? Without his saving grace and mercy, I would be among those who shouted, “Crucify Him”. This fact is something that I do not think about often enough. Thank you for that reminder.

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  28. I’m grateful for what the U.S. Constitution stands for, but have come to the position that having the flag in the auditorium/sanctuary and such is pretty much idolatry. Haven’t said the Pledge of Allegiance for decades–except with some seriously modified words.

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  29. Truth Detector,
    Funny how you should mention Greg Boyd. I just started his series, “The Cross and the Sword.” Wow, so good. Apparently, his church lost LOTS of people after this series. That actually made me want to listen to it all the more.

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  30. Brenda,

    You have this way, a gentle, kind and peacemaker spirit about you that ministers to my soul, for one. May our LORD continue to bless you and protect you as He leads you to minister to others for His sake. I so love this about you.

    And you touched upon a very important truth that moves my soul….Jesus taught me and is still teaching me more about His mercy and His grace every day through the pages of His Word, of which my former alma mater, the Republican party, never did nor ever could. Sidebar: I was a staunch Democrat before I turned over to the Republican party, and now bow to neither political force for they are headed in the same direction, choosing different ways and methods to get there.

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  31. Wow, I’m so relieved to read that I’m NOT the ONLY one that doesn’t pledge the flag. Allegiance to Almighty GOD & the United States are mutually exclusive.

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  32. “6. On the question of rallies, I am really, really having to struggle to avoid committing an instance of Godwin’s law. Oh, what the heck. Patriotic rallies in church differ from the Nuremberg rallies only as to degree, not as to substance.”

    Thank you for saying this. It was the first image that popped into my head.

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  33. Interesting question. I take it that this is a peculiar phenomenon among churches in America. Would like to know if Christians from other countries ever experienced the same thing, whether in the past or more recently. Someone earlier had mentioned they were from Canada (me too!) and the closest display of patriotism at a church service was singing the Canadian national anthem (most likely done on the Sunday nearest to Canada Day, July 1st). Same case for me. I don’t have a problem with it since the anthem contains references and direct appeals to God/Ruler Supreme. My church has also used its special Canada Day service as a time to express thanksgiving to the Lord for the freedoms we have as citizens and to pray for the nation as a whole as well as for its leaders in each level of government (ALL of them…not just the ones we like or voted for). A single national flag may be present but definitely not positioned at the front on/near/by the altar, pulpit or the wooden cross. On November 11th, we also observe a minute or two of silence in honour of the fallen soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice to secure the freedoms we now enjoy. That’s pretty much it.

    Honour. Thanksgiving. Love. Prayer. I don’t see any conflict of interest between those qualities and glorifying Christ. National pride rooted in humility is a beautiful thing. Where I would get uncomfortable is when patriotism slides into political, military or jingoistic fervor. People are often divided along sectarian lines and their loyalty is tested against the barometer of “patriotic values”–so, you’re either with us or against us. It leads to boastfulness which places pride solely on human achievement (read: workaholism), special status or in material things such as money, military force/weaponry, property, etc.–that is idolatrous. It can breed an “us-versus-them” mentality, arrogance, exclusion, excessive pomp and unhealthy competitiveness. NONE OF THAT HAS ANY PLACE IN THE CHURCH.

    I’ve noticed that for many people, they cannot separate “American” from “Christian”; the words have become interchangeable. Anyone who is different is regarded with suspicion…maybe with open hostility. The idea that America alone has a divinely appointed destiny, thus positioned to receive God’s special favour above all other nations on earth is VERY prevalent. “WE are the best. WE are set apart for greatness. WE define liberty, WE are justified in whatever we do”…it looks and sounds off-putting. It imples that only one nation has any significant worth. In Proverbs 14:34, it says “Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a disgrace (a reproach) to any people”. This applies across the board. ANY nation and ANY people can be found righteous or unrighteous. One would hope that this would keep us in check regarding our alignment to God’s standards rather than relying on our nation’s false perception of its own “goodness”.

    There really needs to be a separation between church and state. Loving one’s nation is fine; worshipping the nation state is not.

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