Tag Archives: patriotism

Patris and patriotism

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.

Remembering that pesky book edit

lettersI mentioned in a previous post the one major editorial change that was made in our book “Letters From The Lamb.” It was major to me, though it was slight enough that 21st Century Christian didn’t feel the need to point it out before the book was published. Fact is, we never saw the final copy until the book was in print.

I had written, in my poor grammatical style:

“Tolerance and political correctness warp our doctrine, nationalism and patriotism distract us from our true calling.”

I know, it’s a comma splice. But it’s interesting to me that of all the comma splices in the book (I do tend to use those as a stylistic device), this was the only one corrected. The printed copy of the book reads:

“Tolerance and political correctness warp our doctrine, nationalism and patriotism—and distract us from our true calling.”

Yeah, pretty much the opposite of what I would write.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist nor do I think that 21st Century set out to misrepresent my views. I think the copy editor saw a grammatical mistake and fixed it. The logical assumption was that no one could be saying that nationalism and patriotism are dangerous to Christianity, so THAT can’t be the meaning here.

Most people view patriotism as a Christian virtue, one that Paul accidentally forgot to mention as a fruit of the Spirit and the other New Testament writers overlooked as well. Since it’s not in the New Testament, any reference to submitting to authorities can be taken as hidden code: that actually means you should be a flag-waving, patriotic member of your community. Surely that’s how the early Christians read it.

Next time, I’ll remember the semicolon. If I’m going to speak about about something, I need to use proper grammar.

[Note to all future copy editors of what I write: I consistently use the Oxford comma. I would have put a comma after “nationalism” had I intended that as a list. Thank you for your attention.]

Is our citizenship a big deal?

I shared some thoughts on citizenship yesterday. I mentioned that I view this as an extremely important topic, even as some of my fellow Christians see it as a novelty issue, a footnote to be pondered and forgotten. Others, however, see it as a vital topic, even as they take a view opposite my own. The discussion on Facebook centered around a new book and video series, done by a Church of Christ group, focusing on returning America to the principles of the Founding Fathers. In fact, it’s common to find Christian groups teaching on what America needs, how to keep America great, and how to promote the ideals of America around the world.

So is the topic of our citizenship important? I’m convinced more and more that it is. One reason why is the response I get to things like what I wrote yesterday. I’ve seen Christians literally shake with anger after hearing the suggestion that nationalism and patriotism are not Christian values. Loving believers turn hateful when I talk about churches of Christ returning to their pacifistic roots. Refusing to say the pledge or sing the national anthem are reason enough to question one’s spirituality. [As a side note, did you notice that you don’t even have to explain which pledge? “The pledge” is a sacred ritual among us.]

The reactions show me that this is no side issue. This is a heart issue. It touches us deeply. It touches our churches deeply.

That’s why I’m becoming more radical in my stances. There is a very real danger of serving two masters. There is a real danger of syncretism. There is a real danger of idolatry.

And I will flee from such.

Thoughts on citizenship

The question of citizenship has come up again, this time in a group on Facebook. For some, it’s a minor issue. For me, it’s a major one.

The thread quickly spun out of control, in my opinion, and I’ve done my best to refrain from making it longer. The discussion is occurring in a group that seeks to focus on practical ministry issues, not ideological debate.

So I’ll post some random thoughts here. Some I’ve expressed before, some I haven’t.

  • The Bible never says that we should live as good citizens, at least not of any earthly country. I grew up hearing that and believing it to be true. But it’s not there. We are told to live as aliens, strangers and ambassadors… and citizens of heaven. (OK, Philippians 1:27 actually says to live as citizens, but I think the context shows Paul isn’t talking about living as good citizens of Rome)
  • Opposing American exceptionalism isn’t being anti-American. Christians should be pro-America, just like we are pro-England, pro-Afghanistan and pro-Mexico. Our desire should be to treat all nations of this world equally, since we are equally aliens to all and ambassadors to all.
  • Yes, Paul claimed to be a citizen of Rome. I’ve offered ideas on this, but recognize that those who want to grasp at straws will grasp at straws. I’m a citizen of the U.S. by birth. I can’t change that, at least not as far as the world is concerned. When forced to declare citizenship in official situations, I don’t state, “Citizen of heaven.” Yet my heart knows which is true, and I want my life to declare the same.
  • I won’t kill for this country, nor any country. I find especially abhorrent the idea of taking the lives of fellow believers, yet many have told me they would freely do so in the name of country. I can’t picture it.
  • I understand somewhat the idea of country as an extension of family, as merely a larger community we are a part of. Yet I find countries acting as “the powers” described in the New Testament, coming to have a drive for self-preservation that puts them in competition with the Kingdom of God.
  • I won’t pledge allegiance to a flag or a country. I won’t treat national icons as sacred, nor use religious terms in reference to military nor political entities nor their members. If I’m going to err in this matter, let it be on the side of avoiding idolatrous behavior. Let me be accused of too much loyalty to God.
  • I refuse to stand in judgment on those who come to different conclusions. I’ve journeyed long to reach the point where I am; how can I condemn those who stand where I once stood? And I’m quite aware that I am a fallible man who could be wrong in these judgments.
  • I won’t be ashamed of my convictions in this matter. I won’t be apologetic for making the choice to value my heavenly citizenship so highly that I won’t share it with other entities.

Lots of thoughts. Each of those statements could spark a flurry of responses in the original context, so I’ll post my views here. If I can’t stand the heat, I shouldn’t write in The Kitchen.

When does patriotism become idolatrous?

I’m going to interrupt my series on Latin America for a few days. I want to talk about something that has surfaced recently in several arenas that I interact with.

In the comments section on something I posted on Facebook, one friend commented that he knew of no “conservative patriots” that approach their patriotism in an idolatrous way. I found that comment intriguing and have spent much time thinking about it.

I should say that there are some that are openly idolatrous in their worship of country. A good example is Mark Stevens’ article “I spell God with stars and stripes.” But I don’t know if idolatry is always as easily seen as in that case.

Think about when Paul said that greed is idolatry. Or when Jesus said that you can love God or love money, but that you can’t serve both, that you can’t serve two masters. Aren’t they addressing a form of false worship in which the idolater doesn’t even recognize his idolatry? Isn’t it possible to fall into the worship of something without realizing it?

Countries beg to be worshipped. They couch things in religious terms. Battlefields became “hallowed ground.” Deaths become “sacrifice.” To mistreat a flag is to “desecrate it.” Patriotic ceremonies are performed with silence and solemnity; placing your hand over your heart is common. All of this ritual is designed to instill feelings of devotion, to create a religious feel to what is done.

It becomes worse where religion and patriotism are easily mingled. “God and country.” Bibles wrapped in flags, or the text of the Bible included in a book called The Patriot’s Bible. It reaches a point to where many well-meaning Christians will assert that patriotism is a duty of the Christian.

In Peter Leithart’s book Between Babel and the Beast, he writes:

America became an agent not of God’s kingdom but an instrument for the spread of American institutions and American culture, and there was a tendency to see America ‘basking in [God’s] permanent favor.’ … Throughout American history, orthodoxy has been strong enough to check the danger of deifying America itself—check, but not eliminate. But the intellectual structure is in place for Americanists to think those who worship America are offering service to God.

Take some time to read Roger Olson’s review of Leithart’s book. And think about the question: when does patriotism become idolatrous?