Thursday, July 11, 2013

@ the Intersection of Faith and Politics: Toward a Healthy Patriotism

Hope your recent 4th of July celebration was a blast, filled with family, food and fun, as it should be. I also hope as well you took time to acknowledge God's blessings on you, yours and on our nation. Independence Day should be a time to consider what God, in his sovereignty, mercy and grace, has bestowed upon us as a nation - life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness! A healthy sense of patriotism is not wrong for a Christ-follower but needs to first recognize the Providence and provision of God, just as John Adams informed us at the signing of the Declaration of Independence:
"It ought to be commemorated, as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized With pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward, forevermore."
Patriotism is defined as the "love of country and willingness to sacrifice for it." Should we not love our country and have a willingness to sacrifice for the common good, as recognition of God's "deliverance"? Of course. Does that mean we look past the challenges, problems and even sins of our nation? Of course not. Our nation is not perfect, often far from it with gross issues of injustice in our history and even today. A patriotic spirit should not look past the injustices done, to only embrace the good. Neither should we bemoan our God given blessings and see only the negative, as some seem prone to do today.

What got me thinking about this issue of patriotism was this recent article by CNN entitled,"Mourn on the Fourth of July: Inside the Christian anti-patriot movement. 

Instead of a celebration of the Fourth of July, a Mennonite group had a picnic but their primary purpose was calling attention to all the faults of America. They prayed, “We thank you, O God, for the good things we enjoy in our lives, but lament that our abundance has brought destitution to sisters and brothers throughout the Earth.” Certainly in a free nation, where the 1st Amendment is still in effect, that is their God-given right. But it seems this group sadly missed the point of Independence Day and offered nothing more than a Red Herring up to God in a prayer.

A Red Herring is an informal logical fallacy. The red herring is a seemingly plausible, though ultimately irrelevant diversionary tactic. It fails on the basis that it leads to a false conclusion. In the case of these Mennonite's, the error is that our abundance is bought at the expenses of others leaving our "sisters and brothers throughout the Earth” in destitution. This is based further on an underlying faulty premise called a zero-sum game.

In a zero-sum game, there can only be winners and losers, and the winners win at the expense of the losers. In our geopolitical realities this is a false premise. History demonstrates our nation did not begin to experience national prosperity, really only from the 1940's on, at the expense of other poor nations. Our nation prospered due to a national work ethic founded on a theological view of work as good and based solidly on a Christian worldview, endowed by our Creator and understood by our Founders and for generations thereafter.

Our Declaration says “all men are created equal” and while that needed some clarity over proceeding generations, history records that no nation has done a better job of bringing about a place where such equality is available to all. That is not just true for our own people but also many peoples of our world who call the USA home.  On the basis that all men are created equal, not just Americans, we should also seek to improve the lives of all others citizens of the earth. America does a finer job in that regard, being a compassionate people than any other nation, as imperfect as it may be.

In our globalized interconnected world, it is easy to look through an ideological prism and see that today there are many poor on earth, about 1/2 of the world's population live in poverty. To fault our nation's prosperity however for this global state of poverty is not at all well reasoned. It is simply an emotional response to what is beamed into our TV sets. Poverty however is not a lack of material goods, as Corbett and Fikkert discuss in "When Helping Hurst."  Rather it is an attitude, based on broken relationships, of the impoverished.

When you begin to study global poverty what you find is that most extreme poverty (living on less than $1 per day) is found in the least Christian areas of the world - the 10/40 Window.

The right answer here then should be fairly obvious, especially for those who are called to living sent today. We must advance the Gospel of the Kingdom into all the regions of the world where it has yet to take root. As the Apostle Paul understood, "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." (2 Cor. 3:17). Liberty never comes from a redistribution of wealth but rather from the only one who has the power to transform lives as well as nations.

If we are lamenting anything, perhaps it should be that after nearly 2000 years such freedom as is found only in Christ is still not experienced by much of the world today. But as we do so, we can give thanks to Providence that our nation has been used as the greatest missionary force in history, the greatest advances of the Gospel flow from our nation - even today. Much more is needed.

This is not to excuse the historical failures of our nation: from Native-American oppression, slavery and civil rights, women's rights, wars of choice, and other issues of injustice.We do have much to repent of and we must learn from our history how to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly before our God. We must stand against global corruption and advocate for the "least of these."

America also has been a beacon of hope to the world, inviting immigrants to come and experience her liberties. America has led in the arts, sciences, healthcare, education, and commerce, making life better for the masses, although there are problems in each of those areas because of the sins of man. America has provided the best standard of living for the most, although not all our citizens enjoy the same level of prosperity. While America is not perfect, to bemoan her achievements and be "anti-patriotic" is a rejection of the facts concerning her place in the history of "nations,"  an insult to the blessings of God and shows a lack of understanding about what true patriotism is.

As patriotism is the love of country and a willingness to sacrifice, we need to work toward a healthy ideal where love and sacrifice are paramount. From my vantage point, I see many American Christians willing to do so. Love and sacrifice are two ideals we know as Christ followers we should live out. We must however avoid any Americanization of our faith that mixes nationalism - an exaggerated or fanatical devotion to political ideology - with a knowledge of the saving work of God in an unhealthy syncretism. Our love of country becomes an issue when it exerts itself above obedience to our most holy faith.

What a healthy patriotism should call us to is a Biblical definition of love that seeks the benefit of the other in our society. Our love is not for an idea but for the individual. Our patriotism needs to be expressed in a willingness to sacrifice for "one another," for our neighbors in our community, for the welfare of all people. A right view of patriotism puts our personal interests behind that of our people. We don't pledge allegiance to a symbol (the flag) but to what that symbol represents - "We the People."

In the mournful article I linked to above, Mark Van Steenwyk the group's leader is quoted as saying that "Jesus’ identification with the poor, love of enemies, and refusal to take power are incompatible with the entire political and economic system” of the United States. He's entitled to that perspective but what Mark doesn't seem to understand is that in fact "We the People" are the government. The reason that our "political and economic system" is failing is because we lack a healthy patriotism of love and sacrifice - two areas Jesus calls to lead in and live out.

Instead of being anti-patriotic, isn't it time for Christians to love effectively, sacrifice abundantly, and pray effectually for the revival of our nation. That's true patriotism! Let freedom in Christ reign! 

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