How Patriotism Became A Bad Word

Dr. Jon Roebuck, Executive Director

Things have gotten a little weird lately.  Whenever we bring up the topic of “God & Country,” I have to wince a little.  Being a “patriotic American” carries so much more baggage these days than it did when I was young.  Let me explain.  My love for this nation has never dimmed.  I am as committed to the well-being of America as I have ever been.  America is still the land of opportunity and freedom.  But let us not be naïve and deny that there are real, substantive issues that need to be addressed.  We can’t wrap ourselves in the flag and pretend that we live in some type of euphoric state where everyone shares in the prosperity of the land and that all are treated with equality and fairness.

First, a word about God and country.  For many years, patriotic, conservative Christians have been weaving a national narrative using the threads of religion and patriotism in a way that has led to a new branding of faith known as “Nationalism.”  We have so joined together the ideas of God and country that we often forget the order of those words and pledge allegiance to both as though they are inextricably intertwined, and somehow equally important.  We sometimes forget in our patriotic zeal that our commitment is first and foremost to a Kingdom not of this world.  We were placed on the planet to bring Him glory and to represent Him well in thought, attitude, and action.  Whenever we fill our sanctuaries with American flags and sing songs that pledge to make America great again, we have lost sight of the true object of our worship.  If we want America to be a “Christian nation,” then first and foremost, it will require that those of us who claim the Christian faith actually live the demands of the Gospel.  Our citizenship will have to reflect attributes like civility, respect, and authentic love for our neighbors… ALL of our neighbors, even those whose ethnicity, religious belief, sexuality, and politics don’t reflect our particular version of righteousness.  And by the way… if this nation does someday reflect the love, grace, forgiveness, and morality of our Lord, it will be a first.  We will not be returning to an earlier day when America was Christian in thought and attitude.  We will be leaning into a dream that has not yet been realized in our history.  Liberty and justice for all is an inclusive ideal and pursuit.  Until we all feel included, accepted, protected, and free, then our motto is still a dream and not a reality.

When I was young, growing up in the deep south, the Fourth of July was really something special.  Communities gathered in ways that no other holiday would allow.  There were city-wide picnics, parades, concerts and firework shows.  People laughed and prayed and celebrated the noble characteristics of our land.  For at least that single day, lines of division drawn by race, economics, and political party were all erased.  We were Americans and proud of the ideals that held us together.  We could wave the flag and sing patriotic songs without ever once blurring the lines of God and country, or drawing lines that excluded the immigrants, the minorities, or the poor.  We were all Americans.  But somewhere along the way we have altered the definition of patriotism.  We wave the flag with a prejudiced view of race, religion, and politics.  We act as though this is OUR America, not to be shared with anyone who doesn’t share every single value we hold.  We have become more divisive, more bigoted, more exclusionary, and dare I say, even more fearful of each other.  We live with injustice and do nothing about it.  We live in violence and think that more guns is the answer.  We live in fear of people who look different from ourselves and never extend a hand of friendship.  We live with prosperity but forget to gladly share with those who have so little.

Maybe the problem with America is not “those people.”  Maybe it’s us.  May God forgive our skewed version of patriotism and help us to truly carve out a nation where everyone is valued, welcomed, needed, and treated fairly.