Image courtesy of Michael Elliott at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Michael Elliott at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’m a patriot. I have taken an oath to protect the United States from enemies both foreign and domestic. I’m a Chaplain. I’ve served as an officer in the United States Army Reserve and now on Active Duty in the Navy. I work with Sailors, Marines, Soldiers and their Families. I’ve performed weddings for service members. I’ve performed funerals for service members. I conduct worship services, preach, and give the Eucharist to Soldiers.

Even though I serve in uniform, I have some funny ideas about God and country. Let me tell you three things I believe are important for Christians to know this 4th of July.

First: I believe that there must be a distinction between patriotism and faith. I believe that there are too many Christians who feel that there is a connection between God and country. Years ago I heard a song whose refrain said:

I believe in God and country – in the good ol’ USA
I believe in God and country – God and country all the way!

I heard it in a church worship service. I take issue with that. Who are supposed to be exalting God, not the nation. When I was a civilian pastor I recognized patriotic holidays and events on Sunday mornings. I’ve even done it in uniform. But when we do so our patriotic element is at the very beginning of the morning and not part of the worship service proper. Once we launch into worship the focus is on God, not the nation.

I caused quite a brouhaha some years back for some patriotic holiday when I told the worship leader that I didn’t want us to be singing any patriotic songs during the service. I had planned a tribute video to service members that we would play before the service but didn’t want anything in worship to be nation-focused. He became quite agitated and told me:

By you telling me we are in a way not allowed to sing patriotic songs on Sunday, following Veteran’s Day is offensive to me. I feel we need to sing ‘God Bless America’ following the offering and pay tribute to our great nation and those that served in our military.”

He was offended because I wanted to focus on Jesus and didn’t want to “pay tribute” to “our great nation.” I found it ironic that he wanted to pay tribute to America right after we took the offering. Jesus saying, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” kept going through my head. Too many churches have lost the distinction between faith and patriotism and blend the two into some weird national cult.

Let me remind you that I am a Chaplain United Stated Armed Forces. I believe in honoring and doing right by our Service Members. But as a Christian I know that my patriotism is not my faith. Should the day ever come when I’m forced to decide between God and country it should be no choice – God wins every time.

Second: America in the 21st Century is not Israel of the Old Testament. It is bad theology and biblical interpretation when we take revelation God gave to Israel and appropriate it to our own society.

Case in point: one of American Christians’ favorite verses to quote is 2 Chronicles 7:13-14 ~

If I close the sky so there is no rain, or if I command the grasshopper to consume the land, or if I send pestilence on My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves, pray and seek My face, and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.

Evangelicals CLAIM that verse, baby! We use it to call America back to prayer. But the thing is – the verse is not about us. It clearly says “My People who are called by My name.” That was Israel, the theocratic nation that received the promised land from God. Land and blessing were part of the original covenant between God and the people. They lost the land after they turned their backs on God. The people were conquered and dispersed to Babylon and other areas.

American is not the land of promise. We are not God’s “chosen people.” There is no promise of restoration of the land if we turn back to God. There is a general principle present about the need to seek God and turn away from evil and pursue righteousness, but the promise in the Old Testament is not our promise.

America will never fulfill that passage of the Bible because it’s not for us. We have never been a theocratic nation. We are a nation founded upon biblical principles, but we are not a Christian nation.

Third: Overemphasizing patriotism and national pride undermines the principle that God is the God of ALL nations. The God of American Christians is the God of French Christians and the God of Russian Christians and the God of Pakistani Christians and…you get the idea. The Bible says that the old distinctions of nationality and ethnic background are null and void in Jesus. We are part of something BIGGER that God is doing WORLDWIDE!

usa-1439915_1920Thumping our chests and proclaiming: “USA, USA, USA!” ignores that our God is the same around the world. It places too great an emphasis on our affiliation with the country and ignores our spiritual connection to the global Church.

Finally: I’m sick and tired of Christians who proclaim: “I’m proud to be an American!” Really? What did you do to achieve it? I didn’t do anything. I happened to be born here, so my citizenship was automatic. There’s nothing to be proud of when you didn’t do anything to get it. I’m proud that I was able to graduate from school. I am proud when my children behave as shining examples out in public (I do try to teach them that). But those are things I work towards. I was fortunate enough to be born in San Diego County. I am THANKFUL that I am a citizen in a nation that allows me to worship God as I please. But proud? Not really. Perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate our terminology.

When it’s all said and done I will celebrate the 4th of July. We will remember the freedoms that we have and the price that was paid so that we might enjoy those freedoms. But keep it in perspective. Our national home is not our faith. America is not any more special than any other nation on earth. It’s not about “God Bless the USA.” It’s about, “God, let your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” Make sure your priorities are right.

God doesn’t want to play second fiddle to the nation – any nation.

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~ Revolutionary Faith