Patriotism and the Church

by Richard on June 26, 2007

Randy wonders about displays of patriotism in worship and asks whether this is a uniquely American phenomenon.

Five years ago I was in Florida on a pulpit exchange at this time of year and had to conduct a ‘4th of July’ service. On my blog I wrote

This has been the most difficult Sunday so far, being the day when the church plays its part in Independence Day celebrations. My plan had been essentially to ignore it, but the court ruling about the ‘Pledge of Allegiance’ rather scuppered my scheme. I felt I would have been failing in my duty if I had not addressed the issue as best I could. What I said amounted to a question: If you believe the US is a nation “under God”, as the “Pledge of Allegiance” says, what do you think that means? Some commentators have claimed that the words carry no religious content, but if that’s true then it really isn’t worth getting worked up about. I tried to suggest that the words of the pledge are only of significance if they are a pledge for the national life to be lived in such a way as to reflect the grace and compassion of God. I’m not sure how it was received - I know that a passing remark about gun control and the 2nd Amendment raised some eyebrows - but I did what I felt I could.I’m really not comfortable singing the National Anthem in church. It felt no easier here than it does on the (very) rare occasions that it happens at home.

Nothing that has happened since then convinces me that patriotism, however piously it may be expressed, and worship should be mixed.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1

dh 06.26.07 at 2:51 pm

I see no problem as long as the focus is that God should be worshiped over everything else. If the message is clear that Christ is above all then I see no problem. Even Scripture says “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord’s.” The church is just drawing attention to the fact and heart of this Scripture.

2

Larry B 06.26.07 at 3:08 pm

Of course you don’t see a reason to change. Your have certain presuppositions about patriotism that you aren’t being forthwith about (at least not in this post) so it’s difficult to conduct a reasonable discussion about it.

Understandably so, in that if I understand the Church of Englands history, the close ties between the church and government did lead to some awful situations and, again if my history education is correct, the England churches repression is at least partially responsible for the initial establishment of America.

Interestingly though, a few blog posts earlier, you have no problem with the church encouraging participation in the political process by urging it’s members to vote for initiatives that benefit the poor, yet you don’t wish for the church to display any form of patriotism for the same government that you believe can be used to fulfill the command to care for the poor in a communal manner.

I’m sure you’ll tell me these two are somehow different, but this is why I have such a hard time understanding liberal/progressive thought becuase there seems to be so many nuanced positions to wade through.

3

dh 06.26.07 at 3:30 pm

Larry B, were you referring to me in the first paragraph? If so, it seems we in later paragraphs are in agreement. So I’m a little confused with this reply. However, other than the first paragraph, I really liked your response.

4

Kim 06.26.07 at 4:50 pm

Christ and nation, faith and patriotism, discipleship and citizenship - it sounds innocent enough, even pious, righteous. But tack on this “and” - or any “and” - and the next thing you know the tail of the latter is wagging the dog of the former.

Check out history: it is the original sin of states that they inevitably arrogate to themselves divine predicates; appropriate myths of election, martyrdom, mission, and destiny; and proclaim alternative soteriologies which seduce us into thinking we can be free in spirit as long as we are willing to sacrfice our bodies on Caesar’s altar.

I’m not saying that there is no place for love of country (critically exercised of course): there is - it’s what Bonhoeffer would class as a natural but penultimate virtue. But it has no place in the ultimacy of Christ and his church. The eucharist transcends borders. Flags in sanctuaries are nothing short of desecration. Soil soils.

5

dh 06.26.07 at 5:25 pm

Kim, I see your point. However, I believe those who are like myself with regard to patriotism are misunderstood. It really isn’t a different “soteriology”. I agree in the extreme it can lead to that. However, anything in the extreme is bad. To label like you say ALL of the areas of patriotism seems to downgrade something that is actually good.

We all should look to our nations to be under God. Why else Scripture would say “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” This seems to show a promise to those nations whose God is the Lord.

Here is something that is somewhat off topic but talks about the promise of blessing for nations which support Israel. It is from probably my favorite minister Jack Hayford. I hope you all might be interested in this pdf:

http://daytopray.com/uploads/3343.pdf

6

dh 06.26.07 at 5:29 pm

Kim, I don’t want to give the impression that I disagree with you totally because I do believe there can be a tendency for some to do what you are saying. However, I don’t believe a kind of “blanket statement of wrong” can be given for this in light of what I said here, Scripture and the like.

7

John 06.26.07 at 5:40 pm

Richard, it must have been especially difficult for you since it would have been celebrating independence from your own homeland.

There is no place for the Pledge of Allegiance in the any Christian church, any more than there is a place for Baal next to the cross. Only one God should be worshipped in church, and that God is not an American citizen.

8

Beth 06.26.07 at 7:35 pm

At my Church at home, in Wales, they occasionally sing the English national anthem. I refuse even to stand for it. But it makes me intensely uncomfortable to be forced into making such a display of national belief in a religious context.

What do we mean when we say that we love our country? I believe that there is a whole range of things expressed there - love, for example, of a particular ideology (democracy, monarchy, republicanism, communism, socialism, secularism), or social ideal (free schooling, free healthcare, freedom of speech and of religion). It also includes more physical things - a love of the familiar, the things that make us homesick when we’re away, like Marmite or Tetley’s tea, a love of the landscape, of the particular sounds of our home nation. Finally, there is the sense of exclusion that helps us to define our patriotism - a sense of the unheimlich, the unfamiliar, which makes us uncomfortable or unhappy or afraid. We love our country because it doesn’t challenge us with our own difference.

Love of country, therefore, has elements that are consonant with faith and elements that hamper faith. To make a pledge of allegiance to any country in a religious context is problematised by the fact that no country is entirely good or entirely in communion with our religious beliefs. To take my own country, for example: expressing allegiance to the UK would not only mean that I supported democracy, freedom of speech, and the production of excellent tea and cucumber sandwiches, but also that I supported war, infringements of human rights, and the return of Take That. Some of these things would fit in with my Christian beliefs, some would not, some are totally irrelevant to it. For this reason, I would be very careful of ever expressing patriotism, and certainly would never do so in a religious context.

9

Larry B 06.27.07 at 3:03 am

(BTW DH, the first post was directed at Richard’s post - I think our posts crossed because I didn’t see yours when I submitted mine).

10

Eugene McKinnon 06.27.07 at 4:11 am

In Canada many Presbyterian Churches sing O Canada for the Canada Day weekend. However I refuse to take part in such activities. I believe that the Church is about the Kingdom of God and that Kingdom crosses boundaries and ethnic groups. Therefore I would not permit Pledges of Allegiance etc at Church events. I love Canada and our national anthem and I would gladly sing it at a Canada Day event or when we win gold medals in the Olympics, but not in church.

Eugene

11

Tim 06.27.07 at 10:02 pm

I’m not a fan of putting Patriotism in the church and was a bit weirded out by the presence of God Save the Queen in the back of Hymns and Psalms.

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