I don’t want to be anti-American. There are good things about living in the United States, some of which are privileges that don’t exist in many other nations. Yet I struggle with the patriotism that is celebrated and expected of me if I am to be a “good” American. I struggle not because I don’t like the United States or because I’m trying to be anti-American but because I believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I believe that it is God and God alone who “has set us free from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Col 1.13). Though there are many great things about the American story, it is still a story in contestation with the redemptive story of God. That makes the American story a different “good news” (gospel) than that of Jesus Christ.
Of course, we don’t typically think about the American story in this manner. If we did, I believe as Christians we would face a much more pressing choice between which story (gospel) we want to honor, believe in, and live for. But it is what it is and the fact that the gospel of Jesus Christ has been quarantined into a privatized sphere of life called religion that increasingly has nothing to do with the rest of the American life (economics, politics, morality, etc…) tells us just how successful the American story has been in contestation with the story of God.
But can’t the two stories be compatible? I wish it were so but I struggle to see how this is possible. The story of God is the one told in and throughout scripture. It tells the story of God who is creating a new humanity, a new nation, the church (cf. Eph 2.15ff; 1 Pet 1.9) which is founded upon Jesus Christ and therefore is neither identified nor divided by any nation, tribe, religion, or ethnicity. Thus to combine the story of God with the story of any nation, tribe, religion, or ethnic heritage is syncretistic (the melding of two or more set of beliefs and ways of life). Further more, to collapse the two stories into one is still to create a different story than the one which is told by scripture, the story of God which we have been made a part of. Just imagine trying to collapse the story of America and Russia into one story. It would still be a story but would it really be the American story, or the Russian story?
The truth is, it seems that just as we can only serve one master so also can we only live one story. I would never burn a flag, wish ill upon the United States (or any other nation for that matter), or be intentionally disrespectful of the nation’s civil and military servants. But I’m trying to live for the story of God because it’s the one story I believe holds true freedom, our redemption in Christ and I increasingly find it difficult to simultaneously live out the story of God and the story of America.
And so I struggle. I struggle when I hear patriotic songs and I struggle when I watch patriotic festivities. I struggle because they tell a different story than the story I am trying to tell in my life–the story of God–and claim glory which belongs to God and God alone.
To be fair in the pursuit of truth and gospel, I am linking to a very well written post by Tim Spivey titled “Patriotism and the Christian” stating why Christians can be Patriotic. You can view that post here.