Patriotism and Discipleship

I love my country, but I love people more. I love my country, but I love the world more. I love my country, but I love the God revealed in Jesus Christ more. I have never understood how those professing a faith in Jesus constrict their love to national borders or promote a narrow political agenda. Many Christians see nothing wrong with the slogan “God and country.” However, such a slogan inevitably degenerates into a “my country and God” mentality where “God” becomes a national idol defined by national interests and agendas cherished by political groups within that nation. Sometimes, God even becomes a “buck private” in the military who serves greedy and jingoistic goals: “God is on our side!”

I’ve noticed that virtually all American politicians end their speeches with the phrase, “God bless the United States of America.” When I hear such required parochialism, I wonder how much more the United States needs to be “blessed.” We comprise 4% of the world’s population and possess 29.4 % of the world’s wealth. In other words, we already have six times the wealth we should have if the world’s goods were shared compassionately and fairly. But even with that obscene possession, we have created a society in which one percent of the population owns 42.5 % of the nation’s wealth. So, who are these politicians asking God to bless? I long to hear a brave politician with integrity and compassion end a speech saying, “God bless the world,” but I know that in our culture, that is a pipe dream. 

The best of Christian theology maintains that God’s love is unconditional and indiscriminate. All authentic Christian theology evolves from the assumption that, in the words of First John, “God is love” (First John 4:16). Jesus was asked by an expert in Jewish law and religion what the scribe must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus’ response was, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:25-27). His answer assumes that the love of God and the love of others are inseparable. John reiterated this “commandment” when he wrote: “If any one says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother or sister, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother or sisters whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother and sister also” (First John 4:20-21). Of course, we all want to know exactly who our neighbor and our brother and sister are. Whom must we love, and whom can we choose not to love? We are always looking for loopholes. But Jesus clearly taught in the Sermon on the Mount that his followers are “to love their enemies” (Matthew 5:43-48). If we are commanded to love our enemies, I think we could then assume that our love must be like God’s love. We must love unconditionally and indiscriminately. Such love places definite limits on one’s love of country, especially when that parochial love inflicts pain, oppression, and death on others. 

Jesus also said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). Everything Jesus said and did was in reference to the Kingdom of God. All New Testament scholars agree that Jesus’ message was the Kingdom of God. He maintained that in him God was becoming King in this world. But the kind of kingship Jesus believed God possessed was nothing like the kingship of this world. It was characterized by love, compassion, service, humility, peace, and especially justice. (“Righteousness” in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Jewish faith was a synonym for “justice.”) The best definition of justice I’ve ever read comes from Cornel West: “Justice is what love looks like in public.” Justice is driven by compassionate love and seeks to right wrongs and to provide fairness and equality. Walter Brueggemann defines justice as “deciding what belongs to whom and returning it to them.” Of course, “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1) which means that everything belongs to God. God gives us the things of this earth (on loan?) to be shared out of a sense of compassion, fairness, and community. But in our never-ending search for loopholes, we seek to limit such justice to those who deserve it (which, of course, conveniently are all those who are like us or those to whom we can safely show pity but never true compassion). But an authentic understanding and following of the gospel will not allow for such limitations. The gospel is, “For God so loved the world.” That comprehensive love includes everyone in the world. We are not allowed to leave out anyone or any group in our pursuit of justice (which is what love looks like in public). 

Parochial Christianity in any form is a distortion and insidious version of the Christian faith. In fact, it is a denial of that faith. What I can’t understand is why so many Christians in the United States do not recognize such heresy. So, yes, I love my country. But my love of God and all those God loves exceeds any love of country exponentially. My love must be that big if I have experienced the world in the heart of God. 

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