Happy 4th of July!

July 04, 2007

Happy 4th of July! This is one of my favorite holidays as I love fireworks. On days like this, however, it is always good to stop and reflect. Here are three articles that offer some reminders about making sure we do not turn our patriotism into more than it should be by mixing it with our religious beliefs. I am extremely thankful that I was born in America and recognize how blessed I am. I am especially thankful for the freedoms we have in this country. But at the same time it is good to be reminded not to turn those thankful feelings into an assumption that America is God's chosen nation.

Cary McMullen has a column in the The Ledger of Lakeland, Florida entitled "Does 'Old Glory' Belong in Church?" Here are a couple of excerpts:

On Sunday, in anticipation of Independence Day, I'm sure that in many churches the American flag will be paraded down the aisles and placed front and center in celebration of God and country. I certainly am not ashamed of the American flag, but I'm uneasy about putting the symbol of the nation so prominently in a church, or any place of worship. I think it encourages a dangerous idea: that the causes of America are also the causes of God, or worse, that America can be worshiped just like God. Putting the flag in the sanctuary flirts with idolatry.

... Like most of you, I am thankful for the blessings of our country, and I pray they might continue. But I also try to remember that God is not nearly as impressed with us as we are with ourselves.
I do not except that everyone will agree with McMullen (and I am not sure I am willing to take such a strict approach), but he offers a very important and needed word of warning. We must make sure that we do not allow our patriotic feelings to rise to the level of our religious commitments. (By the way, the photo is one I took during the recent annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri. Like many--if not most--Baptist churches, the host church had the American flag out.)

Tom Krattenmaker has a column in the USA Today entitled "Faith shouldn't be red, white and blue." Here are a couple of highlights:

But as the fireworks explode on Independence Day, let's resist an all-too-common tendency these days to drape the American flag around the Christian cross. Let's remember that religion is not patriotism, that patriotism is not religion -- and that when we combine them both with a glorification of American military might, something has gone disturbingly askew.

... Bob Hyatt, now pastor of the upstart Evergreen Community in the Portland area, worked on the staff of a local megachurch in the fevered period immediately after the 9/11 attacks. ... At a pray-for-our-troops rally at the megachurch, he took a turn at the microphone and cited the teachings of Jesus in making the unpopular suggestion that the congregants also pray for Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi people.

... Reflecting on those patriotic services, Hyatt wrote: "We had taken a time that belonged to the worship of God and turned it toward the appreciation of a country, a political system, a flag. We said that we were worshiping God through the singing of those patriotic songs, the saying of the Pledge of Allegiance and the rest, but in fact we were worshiping America."

... May patriots honor the flag on the Fourth of July. And may religious people revel in the beauty of their faiths. But let's remember that being Christian is not a requirement of patriotism. And that patriotism is most assuredly not a requirement of being religious. Let's honor the flag and faith -- by keeping a reverent measure of distance between the two.
He offers some excellent points for us to consider. I consider myself to be both a Christian and patriotic (in that order) but not a patriotic Christian.

And an article in the Indianapolis Star weighed in on this issue with people with different perspectives. Here are a couple of excerpts:

The Rev. Wayne Murray says he searched for the biggest American flag he could find.

The star-spangled banner nearly hides his church from passers-by on the highway.

... "Christianity and patriotism go hand in hand," he said.

But at Allisonville Christian Church, where there's not a flag even in the sanctuary, the Rev. Bob Riester is cautious about excessive patriotism in church.

"Our ultimate loyalty belongs to God," he said. "We need to be very careful not to elevate anything above that."

... "I don't think we can take it too far," Murray said. "I don't think that there are enough people waving the flag."

... Too much patriotism can create an "us-against-them or us-over-them kind of thing," Riester said. "And that is antithetical to the Gospel."
Some of the comments by Murray concern me. I believe we can take our nationalistic pride too far and that there may be times when our nation does not go hand in hand with Christianity. Even if we do not take our approach as far as Riester does, we should inject some of his caution into our perspective.

Well, that is just some food for thought. Happy 4th of July! And enjoy the fireworks!