Between the outrageous actions of legislators, controversial supreme court decisions and the upcoming presidential election, every day the news is bombarded with stories and opinions that do not coincide with biblical convictions. This seems to leave many Christians in the United States despairing, disillusioned and detached. While they certainly have legitimate troubles, I’m concerned when I see my fellow Americans retreating from interest in the public sphere because they are so bothered by “the way this country is headed.”
Regardless of the perceived state of politics, there is much to celebrate this Fourth of July. This celebration must not only be nostalgic remembrance of the past, but also hopeful vision for the future. God does not call his followers to detachment. Without the proper amount of patriotism, these distraught individuals may be missing out on the restoration happening in their community, nation and world.
Nothing can alter the fact that the Constitution of the United States finds its origin in the Christian view of the Individual. In fact the whole of the classical liberal tradition can be traced back to transformation of thought that Jesus and his followers began. This essentially Christian spirit of individual liberty and dignity that the founders wove into the fabric of our nation is far from dead.
As Warren Smith and John Stonestreet discuss in their book “Restoring All Things,” the activities and institutions that operate between the individual and the government continue to be at work just as Alexis de Tocqueville observed in the 1830’s. It is in this “middle” that America’s churches, nonprofits and community organizations have labored to bring dignity and prosperity to citizens for hundreds of years. All too often we take for granted the ability that our Constitution and founding spirit has given us to worship, assemble and participate in almost anything we choose. Tocqueville accurately predicted that American’s love of private life and physical gratifications would eventually lead to their detachment from the public sphere, and the eventual derogation of this “middle.” The soft-despotism he warns against begins when Americans regard their government as a “powerful stranger” which should either create for them a comfortable life or leave them alone all together. Like our Founders, Tocqueville saw that a sense of patriotism and active political involvement, along with the guarantee of religious freedom granted in the first amendment, was crucial to the continued success of individual responsibility and prosperity that was distinct to American democracy.
Today, it is easy to retreat from this patriotism. Having a patriotic spirit for a nation that purposefully disregards the Christian thought on which it was founded is not an easy thing. Yet Christians should know better than anyone that love is often inconvenient and frustrating. What if God does not only desire for us to love our neighbor like Jesus, but to also love our nation as Christ would (Luke 19, Luke 13:31-35)? The bible often shows us that it is a godly thing to love the place that you are from.
An important distinction must be made between nationalism and patriotism though. As Christians we are called to find our identity in Christ; nationalism demands the allegiance and devotion we have already given to the Lord. In the end, God’s people will come together to eternally worship him, regardless of tribe or tongue. This tells us that nationalism, and distorted patriotism, is not God honoring. Being patriotic is not blindly worshiping America’s strength, interventionism or success (in fact this is idolatry). Patriotism is also not passively accepting the continued degradation of morals or the government encroachment on individual life; it does not inaccurately believe that there is nothing we can do. Patriotism loves the freedom and democracy that allows American citizens to bring restoration to their communities and world. Patriotism as a believer is accepting that this country will continue to get it wrong, yet staying actively involved in public affairs anyway. The belief that God has ultimately overcome the brokenness of the world should enable people of faith to balance this commitment and judgment in a healthy way.
There are good sentiments in our political and social culture that are worth praising and protecting. The love of liberty, distrust of centralized power and commitment to religious principles deserve promoting, and plenty of men and women stand up for these convictions every day. Do not let your despair for the culture of our country to lead to detachment from its political future.
God, in his unending grace, chose broken people to complete his mission, why believe that he cannot use a broken nation to do the same?