America, Jesus, Freedom: Patriotism & the Christian
“America, Jesus, freedom!”
These words are heard at the very beginning of the new Will Ferrell comedy, The Campaign. Ferrell plays a Republican congressman in the fictional 14th district of North Carolina. When asked by his campaign manager exactly what this slogan means, he admits that he has no idea, but the people sure love it when he says it.
While The Campaign is, of course, a fictional Hollywood comedy, it is meant to be a satirical take on the actual state of the current political theater in the United States. When viewed in this light, I believe the movie actually brings out a lot of important points, like this idea of American patriotism- or more accurately, American nationalism- and its connection to American Christianity.
From the 2009 publishing of “The American Patriot’s Bible” (yes, it really exists…) to the constant barrage of pseudo-Christian messages from our political candidates, and the endless argument over whether or not the founding fathers of our nation were evangelical Christians in the way that we would define that today, it is obvious that there is a relationship between patriotism and Christianity in the U.S.
I believe that we have to be extremely careful about making connections between our feelings towards the country that we live in and our faith as followers of Jesus Christ. We must guard against allowing our faith to become wrapped up in patriotism, and vice-versa, against wrapping our patriotism in the Christian faith.
One of the most striking- and unsettling- personal experiences I have had that displayed the unhealthy connection between patriotism and Christianity occurred during a church service on the weekend of the 4th of July a couple years ago. At the time, my husband and I were attending a large church that had a very “seeker-friendly” emphasis, and they held special weekend services every few months that were specifically aimed at drawing in new people. They often scheduled these services to occur on holiday weekends, like this Independence Day-themed service.
When the curtains came up, we saw that the entire stage was decked out in a patriotic theme, with several American flags and other red, white and blue décor. “America the Beautiful” was sung as the final “worship” song, before a video was shown that highlighted the military and leadership achievements of the service’s special guest, a former military officer who was a Christian. Then, an enormous American flag back drop was rolled out on stage as the guest speaker and one of the pastors came out to begin the interview. Admittedly, it was at this point that my husband and I stood up and left the service.
I want to emphasize that I certainly do not believe it is wrong to thank God for our nation, or even to be proud to live in America. The United States is, in many ways, a special and unique country that allows us freedoms that are entirely unavailable in many, many countries around the world. However, our allegiance to our faith must always be infinitely stronger that our allegiance to anything else, including the nation we live in.
Recently, some friends and I got into a discussion about outsourcing and its effect on jobs in America. One of my friends brought up a very compelling point: why is it that we, as Americans, seem to have a problem with people in other countries having jobs? Why do we believe that only Americans “deserve” to have jobs? While my own primary concern with outsourcing jobs is the human rights violations that occur in many of the nations that we outsource jobs to, I recognize that most Americans are less concerned with that and more concerned with jobs being lost here in the States. This is certainly a complex issue in and of itself, but it’s important to recognize this element of nationalism- a sense that “my nation is better than yours” permeates American thinking.
This attitude is strikingly different than the one we see in the New Testament. In Colossians 3:11, Paul writes, “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” Christianity is a faith that levels the playing field for all. As American Christians, we must remember this truth and be sure we are living it out in every area of our lives- from the church to the public square.