Yikes! Sunday is the Fourth of July! What does your church do? My personal preference is to ignore secular holidays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Fourth of July, during worship. It is just too easy to shift our focus from God (What is the chief end of man?) to the glorification of parenting or the nation. Now, parenting and our nation are certainly worthy of celebration, but they should not be the focus of worship.
So Sunday may be an awkward day for some of us. Actually that is a good thing. The Christian life, done well, is full of awkward moments. Christians are called to live with a different set of priorities. Perhaps periodically we should spend some time thinking about the odd and awkward relationship that people of faith have with their nation.
There are, of course, a whole range of responses possible and Christians have tried them all. We can separate ourselves from civic and political culture. We can try to live solely within a Christian community and avoid the secular world. There are many ways to do this, from a variety of groups that separate themselves from the dominate culture to using things like the Christian Yellow Pages to shape our interactions.
At the other end of the spectrum are those who conflate nation with faith. Here we don’t separate our faith from our patriotism. America and the kingdom of God are closely aligned. In its extreme form there is little distinction between Christianity and the state.
There are Christians who think faith is solely a private thing and that we should keep religious beliefs out of our political life. There are Christians who think our faith should fully inform our political life.
Some of us have thought about the relationship between faith and patriotism and are unsure what to do. Some of us have thought about the relationship between faith and patriotism and know exactly what to do. Some of us haven’t given the topic any sustained thought. We simply go along with the dominate cultures flow.
As humans, we like to have the various parts of our lives mesh well together. We don’t like it when there is tension between parts of our lives. The lure of a close and compatible relationship between faith and nation is a powerful one.
But I think Christians are called to recognize the relationship between faith and patriotism to be a prickly and difficult one. Yes, scripture tells us to pray for the welfare of the nation and its leaders. At the same time, the consistent message of the gospels is “Jesus is Lord” , not Caesar, not the state, not anything or anyone else. That’s tough. As John Calvin noted, our minds are factories of idols.
Because Jesus is Lord, it seems to me that our faith should inform our politics and our patriotism. But, and this is a large caution, politics and patriotism are shot through with power. And the lure of power is, well, powerful. And power is not what Christians are called to be about. We are called to be a weak people in a powerful world.
I don’t know how you work this out. I do hope you struggle with it from time to time. So here’s to a little holiday discomfort. Amid the parades and picnics and fireworks of this weekend, I hope you take some time to think about faith and patriotism, and feel a little out of place for a while this weekend.
For all you history buffs:
The story of the Confessing Church in Germany, German Christians, and the Theological Declaration of Barmen is a sad example of the ways we can get the relationship between faith and patriotism wrong. For more on the Theological Declaration of Barmen, see this sermon, and this Wikipedia article. For the document itself, see here. My point is not to draw parallels between German then and the US today. Depending on your theology and politics, you may or may not find parallels here. But I bring this to your attention as an example, a cautionary tale, of the seductive power of patriotism, politics and power. This is why it is important for us to think seriously about these things and to live aware of the odd and awkward place Christians are called to live.
At the Presbyterian Bloggers site, you can find my most recent post on science and religion- “Science, Religion, and a Cup of Tea”. You don’t have to be Presbyterian or a blogger to go there…
And don’t forget, you can find Conversation in Faith on Facebook. Do join us!