There’s a sound of discontent among Christians this week. Oh, come on – we’re ALWAYS discontent about something. So what is it this time? This time it’s because of First Baptist Church in Dallas. They held a “Celebrate Freedom Rally” during 4th of July weekend.
And during this 2-hour glut fest of raw patriotism and nationalism, the choir unveiled a new anthem called “Make America Great Again.” That’s really not what has people so upset – churches do patriotic services ALL THE TIME. I think what really got people’s knickers in a twist was how fast the song was copyrighted and listed on CCLI (Christian Copyright Licensing International), the organization that “provides information and resources for churches and copyright owners around the world, relating to copyrights of Christian worship songs” (THEIR WORDS, NOT MINE).
Their launch screen is all about worship!
Worship planning starts here? Really? But “Make America Great Again” is not about God.
Like, not at all. It’s only about the country and restoring its greatness and glory.
In a word, it’s idolatry. Any time you elevate something and worship it as equal to or in place of God you’re committing idolatry. Sure, it wasn’t a “worship service.” Well, it was, just not a worship service where God was the object of worship. Evangelicals have a bad habit of conflating patriotism and faith. Loving America does NOT make us better Christians. Loving God does NOT mean we’re going to love America (otherwise, Christians all over the world in foreign countries are in for a WORLD of disappointment when they reach heaven).
America has become our Golden Calf.
And, sadly, this is not new. A quick search for the word “America” on CCLI and I have a results list of 192 songs.
Really? This is supposed to be our worship archive, guys! The Bible is pretty clear that our worship belongs to God and God alone. He got pretty ticked with that whole calf in the wilderness incident. And if this idolatry has become the norm for Evangelicalism, then I am ready to call American Evangelicalism a dead religion. I’m done with it and all of the garbage that comes with it.
Jesus transcends nations. His worship demands WE transcend nations. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be patriotic. I’m saying we’ve lost the ability to see the line between patriotism and idolatry.
I make no secret of the fact that I am a big fan of television and movies. Often times after a tv show has been running for a while it will save production costs and time and commit a whole episode to clips from previous episodes – it’s called a clip show.
Today is my day. I hit 100 posts on my blog and I wanted to take some time to look back over the last 4+ months of writing. In that time I’ve had nearly 8,000 views and over 200 likes (thank you all for reading and liking).
Rather than highlight the most popular posts, though, I wanted to share my person Top 10 – the posts that I liked the most even if they weren’t the most popular to readers (although many were). So without further ado, here is my list:
My Kids Don’t Know They’re Black ~ In this post I talk about race relations from the standpoint of my kids. I find that there are a lot of ignorant people out there who say and think stupid things, especially when it comes to race. This was the first post where I literally felt compelled to write. It kept me up thinking about it – I couldn’t sleep until I sat down and hammered it out.
Reflections on Racism from a Mixed-Race Couple ~ Here my wife and I look at racism from our own perspectives. As much as I know her I’m always reminded that her take on racism comes from a very different place than mine. I loved writing this post because I got to co-write it with my wife. I keep trying to get her to write more, but no success yet.
Christian Beer…I Mean Liberty ~ Christian freedom is one of the most misunderstood and hotly debated issues in the church. What are we allowed to do? What are we not allowed to do?
Patriotism vs. Faith ~ We often confuse the two. It’s a personal pet peeve that many Christians equate patriotism with Christianity. You can be one without the other.
THAT OFFENDS ME! ~ Another pet peeve – people who try to manipulate other’s behavior through mishandling the Bible. Just because something offends you doesn’t mean the other person must stop doing it.
Forced Gay: Punishment for Religious Dissent ~ Oooh, this one got me into some tense conversations. It seems that my own view of Gay Marriage was not clear. I had people question me as to why I was going against the Bible (I wasn’t, but people get hot-headed over sensitive issues).
Leave Your Bible on Your Shelf ~ A personal favorite of mine, this was a post where I was responding to another blogger. It doesn’t matter whether your Bible is leather-bound or on your smart phone – it’s still Scripture.
Shirt Sleeves ~ I love my son. Tremendously. I can’t even think about him without warming over on the inside. He’s my little dude. I love writing about him, too.
Jesus Loves Dinosaurs ~ This was just a fun post to write (and the idea of Jesus hugging a dinosaur always makes me smile).
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.
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!
Thumping 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.