Team Hill Airmen carry flag bundles during a flag-placing detail, Utah Veterans Memorial Cemetery, Bluffdale, Utah, Nov. 10, 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)
Been watching Christians debate about the practice of honoring veterans. My thoughts have evolved over the years. Here are a few things as I currently see them:
I have to start with the fact that I view myself as a citizen of heaven, almost exclusively. I hold U.S. citizenship, would like to add Argentine citizenship to that, and view both of those as a formality. My true citizenship is in heaven.
I believe that the church is a new community made up of people from every nation, tribe, and tongue. To celebrate any one of those exclusively undermines that fact. (The 80 or so people I worshiped with on Sunday came from the United States, from Japan, from Germany, from Argentina, from Mexico, from Peru, from Ecuador, from South Korea, and possibly other countries. What unites us is our standing within the kingdom of God.)
I don’t trust the nations of this world. I see the celebration of country and the military as part of an ongoing recruitment process, not just to participate in the military, but to support the self-interests of the nation in general.
I don’t trust politicians. While many speak of the how the military protects freedoms, I think politicians have used the military for many other tasks, including taking away the freedoms of others.
I feel that many people in society deserve as much praise as veterans do. Veterans get these honors because it fits national interests, not because they are more deserving than school teachers, doctors, first responders, etc.
It is possible to express patriotism without lapsing into idolatry; it’s also common for nationalism to become worship of country. In my mind, it’s better to keep such celebrations separate from Christian worship because of that. Outsiders won’t always recognize the difference between the two.
I respect the intentions of those who have chosen to work in the military. Many do so out of a sense of service and sacrifice. They truly want to help others. We should honor that.
The church should be supportive of our communities and respectful toward the institutions in those communities.
Many veterans need the support of the church as they deal with issues stemming from their military careers. (For example: “In 2014, Veterans accounted for 18% of all deaths from suicide among U.S. adults, while Veterans constituted 8.5% of the US population.” Veteran’s Administration) By showing them that we respect who they are and see value in their service, we open doors to ministering to these hurting people.
I’d prefer that our churches avoid celebrating patriotic days during our worship assemblies. But I’d also like to see us have times to honor service: service by military members and veterans, service by first responders, service by medical workers, service by educators, and other types of service.
One of the major things that Jesus did was to redefine how humanity sees itself. When he came, people were largely seen on the basis of their nationality, their place of origin or that of their ancestors. This was doubly true for the Jews for their national identity coincided with their religious identity.
Jesus came and redefined all that:
“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:16–17)
“Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Colossians 3:11)
No one has a shortcut to God. There aren’t certain standards for becoming a Christian for Africans or for Buddhists or for French Canadians. We all come to God the same way:
“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26–28)
When Christians still see differences and talk of differences, we’re showing that we have far to go in becoming like Christ. When it comes to evangelism, we see all people the same. When it comes to fellowship, we recognize that a Christian in Iran or China is more our brother than is the non-Christian who lives next door to us.
My fellow countrymen are all those who are citizens of the Kingdom of God, no matter their race, color, or language.
Got involved in another discussion about citizenship, this time centering around the Pledge of Allegiance. (I’ve written a number of articles about my views on saying the Pledge) That led me to think more about how citizenship and nationalism affect our politics.
At some level, citizenship is a given. Our modern world pretty much obliges us to be a citizen of some country. The spiritual truth is that we are citizens of heaven and foreigners in every nation of this world. Our difficult task is to reconcile the pragmatic realities with the spiritual ones.
Nationalism is feeling loyal and proud of your country. Ethnocentrism is the belief that your people are inherently better than all others. This may be tied to a race or a tribe or a nation. This belief leads us to judge all other countries in terms of our own. It often goes hand and hand with nationalism, though not necessarily so.
How do these things affect our politics? When making political decisions, people typically want what is best for their nation, even if this comes at the expense of other nations. If we as Christians recognize that our nation is the Kingdom of God, we will make one kind of decisions. If we view the United States as our nation, we will make different ones. That’s one reason that I think it’s vital we understand where we are from and where we are going (using the language of John 13:3).
As Christians, we seek the good of all people, not just those of the country we hold citizenship in. We pledge ourselves to actively work for the good of all nations, not just the United States. We place the good of all men above our personal good and above the good of the country we live in.
We should be fervently nationalistic about the Kingdom of God. We should give whole-hearted allegiance to that great nation. We should make it clear that our patriotism is for our true patria, not the place of our birth nor the land where we now live.
And our political decisions should reflect those realities.
I was fortunate this past Sunday to still be in Orlando at the Equip Conference and to be able to worship with the Spanish-speaking brethren there. Even though it was July 3, worship stayed focused on God and not on country.
I’ve argued that our Latino brothers have much to teach us about what it is to live as aliens in this world. Many non-Latinos understand it as well, but I think living in a culture that remains vibrant because of immigrants helps these brothers grasp what it is to be part of a colony of foreigners.
May we remember that we are foreigners. May we remember that we are ambassadors. Even around patriotic holidays.
We’ve all got favorite passages, right? One of mine is Hebrews 11:13-16, where it says:
“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (Hebrews 11:13–16)
In doing some research the other day, I saw something interesting. The word which ESV translates as “homeland” in verse 14 is the Greek word patris. Aside from this passage in Hebrews, it’s only used in the gospel stories which refer to the passage about a prophet being without honor is in his own place.
It’s interesting to me that this word is often used to refer to hometown (like in the gospels), and the Hebrews writer describes the patris they are seeking as a city that God is preparing. The feeling seems to be that of a place to belong, a place to be identified with. That’s what we’re looking for, what we don’t really have on this earth.
I’ve said it before: I’m very patriotic… for the patris that God is preparing for me. No other loyalty can rival that.