The Virtue of Patriotism
In recent decades the concept of patriotism has come under sharp attack, and this attack always seems to be the loudest during the annual celebration of Independence Day. Some have decried the holiday as just another excuse for Republicans to wrap themselves in the flag, overeat, and extol the many sins of the white, male capitalist. They seem to feel that America’s birthday is the perfect opportunity to point to all her flaws and decry her many national sins. In short, for this crowd the 4th of July has become National Chauvinist, Racist, Bigot Remembrance Day. As followers of Christ, however, this narrow-minded approach should not be the extent of our reflections on our nation.
America’s past is certainly marked by sin and failure, and the following remarks should in no way be taken as an excuse for her many atrocities. But rather than dwell on the many mistakes that have marked our past, let us spend just a few moments reflecting on the virtue of patriotism. I realize that labeling patriotism a virtue may make many of my liberal friends shudder, so let me begin by stating what I am not saying. I am not saying that we should hold an idolatrous affinity towards our nation. I am not saying that we should sweep our national sins under the rug. And I am certainly not saying that we should elevate our country to the point that we think God loves us more than Christians from other nations. I am, however, saying that there is no reason we should be told to instinctively adopt the anti-American attitude that many neo-anabaptist have encouraged us to do.
As followers of Christ we are called to naturally adopt an attitude of love over hate. This certainly applies to our neighbor, but one can make an argument that this principle applies to the national level as well. All things being equal, love for one’s nation is a much more godly stance than hatred for the homeland. And herein lies the problem for many liberals. They assume that love for the poor and oppressed must require a hatred for their historic oppressors. But as the prophet Jeremiah told Israel while in exile in Babylon, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jer. 29:7). All Christians are in exile in our fallen world, but America is certainly not Babylon. If the Israelites were told to pray for and care for Babylon how much more can we do the same in our nation?
Patriotism should be the default stance of every believer because of the centrality of love, but it should also be our position because of pragmatism. I have no problem saying that I have a deeper love for my neighbors who live across the street than I do for those who live across town. In the same way, I love the state I live in more than a state a thousand miles away. I also love the United States more than a country in a different hemisphere. Loving your neighbor (Luke 10:25-37) can be seen as a series of concentric circles. The innermost circle is our family, just larger than that is another circle of our neighbors, followed by our city, our state, our nation, and finally, our world. We should have a deeper love for those who have been placed inside the circle closest to us. Which is why I love my neighbors more than those across town, Coloradans more than Californians, and Americans more than Germans.
This is not to say that those outside of our concentric circles do not deserve our love. I also love Californians and Germans, but I recognize that God has placed them in a circle further away from my current position. This is where the distinction between patriotism and nationalism that many have pointed to comes in. Patriotism should be seen as a love for one’s country. Nationalism, however, is an elevation of one’s country to the detriment of all other nations. Clearly nationalism violates the love principle that we have been working with. Patriotism is a principle that all Christians can adopt, regardless of the nation they are from. Mexicans should be patriotic about Mexico, Canadians for Canada, and Americans for the United States. This love, however, should never be to the detriment of other nations, just as my love for my neighbor should not lead to harm for those on the other side of town.
This 4th of July I encourage you to enjoy the many blessings being an American affords you. We would never attend a birthday party for a friend and bring a list of all his faults and failures, neither should we feel the need to do so on this national holiday. We should always hold our nation to a higher standard and point her towards a deeper understanding of justice and truth, but what’s wrong with taking one day a year off from that mission to celebrate the many good things about our country?