Wednesday, June 02, 2010

A Memorial Day Reflection on Christian Patriotism

Although it has been two days since Memorial Day, I thought I would share some thoughts I had while celebrating that holiday this year, especially since there have been some recently who have questioned my patriotism due to my stance on the American Revolution. For, as regular readers of this blog already know, back in February I wrote an article entitled The American Revolution: Was it Biblical? in which I concluded that it was not Biblical and that Christians should not have taken part in it. Unfortunately, some Christians seem to think that such a view somehow makes me less patriotic than I should be. So today I would just like to state something of my own view of patriotism as one who is both a Christian and an American citizen.

I will begin by briefly explaining my understanding of the word patriotism and then deal with my understanding of what it means to be a Christian patriot. I understand the word patriotism basically to mean "love of country and willingness to sacrifice for it" (see here, for example). And, given this understanding, I would say that I am indeed a patriot with respect to two countries, my heavenly country and my earthly country, in that order.

First, because my ultimate loyalty is to the Lord Jesus Christ, it is to His kingdom that I pledge my highest allegiance (Matt. 6:33). Thus I understand that my true citizenship is in Heaven (Phil. 3:20) and that I am really just a pilgrim on this earth who seeks a heavenly country, just as did my forefathers in the faith (Heb. 11:8-16). But I do not think this makes me less of a patriot when I consider my earthly country, for my Savior has taught me to pray to my Heavenly Father every day, "Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matt. 6:10). And His Apostles have similarly taught me to pray for those in political authority over me, as when Paul says, "Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:1-4). Or consider Peter's exhortation:
NKJ 1 Peter 2:11-17 "Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, 2 having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation. 13 Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14 or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men -- 16 as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. 17 Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king."
So as a sojourner and pilgrim on this earth I am to be a good citizen who prays for and submits to those in authority for the sake of the Gospel and the glory of God. And this makes me a better citizen of my earthly country, not a worse one. Indeed, it means that I should be willing to show the love of Christ to and for my country, even to the point of sacrifice for the good of my country.

Second, then, I pledge my allegiance to my earthly country under God and gladly serve my country as I am able and insofar as it does not conflict with my primary allegiance to God. This is why, when the Lord saved me while I was serving in the United States Navy, I saw no conflict between that service and my devotion to Him. It is why, had my health and the situation in my ministry allowed it, I would already have been in Afghanistan or Iraq (as an Army or Navy Reserve Chaplain, something I still hope to do, Lord willing). It is also why I gladly maintain my membership in the Veterans of Foreign Wars, an organization that honors our veterans and seeks to do all it can to see to it that they are well taken care of. Indeed, I am glad that the National Commander of the VFW posted an article this week on The Meaning of Memorial Day, in which he reminded us:
As America’s older war veterans fast disappear from society’s landscape, there are fewer and fewer standard-bearers left to carry the torch of remembrance. Such traditions will live on only if there is a vibrant movement to which that torch can be passed.

Now, more than in past years, the enduring relevance of Memorial Day should be clearly evident. With two wars under way, the public has no excuse not to remember.

This much is owed to the more than 5,400 Americans who have died thus far in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Why is it, I wonder, that – in my experience at least – so many Christians today like to talk of their love of country, and perhaps question the patriotism of someone like myself, when they could apparently care less about the price that has been paid, and continues to be paid, by so many of our service men? These men gave what Lincoln called their "last full measure of devotion" for their country, and I suspect that, if more Christians had as much devotion for the Lord, they would be far better citizens than they are. I hope they would join me in seeking to be the kind of citizen and patriot that Jesus would have us be, one who, because he loves the Lord first, is also able to love his country in a self-sacrificing way.

For a related article by Jeff Johnson, see Giving Uncle Sam His Due.

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