Patriotism and Church (a.k.a. Hitting Two Sacred Cows With One Stone)

By | July 7, 2011

A year ago I attended an outdoor church service (read about it here). During communion, I noticed that among other “beauty” shots, they put a shot of a nearby American flag on the video screen. I was very disturbed by this. Jesus instituted communion as a time for his followers to collectively remember him. So in my mind, to show an American flag during communion was taking away from Christ and effectively putting the United States up on par with God.

This year on the third of July I went to church. As I approached, the walks were lined with U.S. flags. Inside the sanctuary, there were flags lining the balcony (three sides of the room), and a gigantic flag which nearly covered the entire front wall. Granted it was mostly hidden by the main video screen, but I could still see it. These flags disturbed me so greatly that I couldn’t concentrate on the sermon.

I know most people don’t think anything about it. But one of my strengths is that I often see the significance, meaning or potential consequences of things which the average person doesn’t consider. I hadn’t thought before hand about flags being in church (having a single flag some where on the side of the stage has never bothered me), this was just how I naturally reacted when confronted with the situation. So I had to take some time to reflect on why I felt so strongly.

Unfortunately there are those whom, if you question or criticize anything labeled “Christian” or associated with church, take it as though you are insulting God himself. They act like the label suddenly makes a thing holy an unquestionably good. This is an untenable position. Unfortunately, people do this with the United States as well. This position is actually harmful, because in order to remain healthy and grow, we must be able to identify our weaknesses and shortcomings. I am not anti-American, so the things I’m saying here aren’t to insult our country, despite how some may take it.

One problem I have with the American flag being celebrated in church is that I don’t believe the church should be endorsing the state. The church is God’s witness to the world, and I certainly don’t believe God endorses the U.S. the way we do. We seem to think that we do Christianity better in the U.S.—or at least we have an opportunity to do it better than in the rest of the world, but this is just plain untrue. Christ and his church are not dependent or bound by any government. Rather than endorsing the U.S. carte blanche, the church ought to be standing separate from it, able to critique and inform it.

Jesus said that we can’t serve two masters, so where do our loyalties lie? Are you an American who happens to be Christian or Christian who happens to be an American? It seems as though some people feel that Jesus died for our sins so we can go to heaven, and soldiers died for our country so we can have heaven here. In other words, we put the U.S. and it’s heroes up on par with God. Jesus is our eternal savior and America is our worldly savior. We sing songs and hold celebrations praising our country. Are we worshiping other gods in addition to Christ?

Our attitudes demonstrate how little we understand. What’s really important, worthwhile and valuable: a relationship with God or a comfortable, “secure”, “free” life presently? Is true freedom political? I’m certainly thankful to live in a country where things run better than many other places in the world. And Paul says to gain freedom if we can (1 Corinthians 7:21). But the bible talks about a completely different type of freedom. What freedom is worth dying for, political or spiritual?

I can’t say I have a problem with Christians celebrating the forth of July, being thankful to be an American, or having a U.S. flag flying over their home for example. I don’t think these things are wrong so long as they’re kept in their place and in proper perspective. I realize many people feel very passionate about the U.S. and that what I have written will be very upsetting to read. But I don’t see how I can honestly come to another conclusion. I’m not trying to criticize everyone who doesn’t have a problem with patriotism in church, nor can I discuss every reason that make people thankful to be American. Hopefully if you are a Christian this serves to remind you of your first love.

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