This past weekend, the United States of America celebrated Independence Day. As is my family custom, my wife, the kids, the dog and I spent the weekend with my wife’s parents in northeastern Ohio. Since my wife and I have been married, I’ve spent many holidays with my in-laws, and I generally can’t complain. But something has happened the past several years on Independence Day weekend that has made me extremely uncomfortable. I went to church with them.
For those of you who don’t know me, I am indeed a Christian, so it’s not the act of going to church that bothered me. Nor is it the church itself, which is a tiny Baptist congregation which is as friendly as they come. The problem is that, on Independence Day weekend, I can’t tell if we’re worshipping Yahweh God or the United States.
When I scanned the church bulletin this morning, I immediately noticed something peculiar. During what is ostensibly worship time, we were schedule to sing - get this - My Country ‘Tis of Thee, America The Beautiful, God of Our Fathers, and The Star Spangled Banner. How in the world the church might consider these to be praise songs is absolutely beyond me. Sure, they all mention God in a line or two, and God of Our Father’s does indeed ask for God’s guidance. But so do many popular secular songs, and you don’t see any churches using them for worship. As the congregation began to sing (I obstained, except for God of Our Fathers), I wondered how many Americans have confused Christianity and Patriotism.
First, let me, in the loosest of terms, define Christiantiy and Patriotism. Patriotism is the act of standing up for and being proud of one’s country and those who make it and have made it great. Christianity is the act of following the teachings and leading of Christ. The two are very, very different. One can be a patriot and not a Christian or a Christian and not a patriot. But many people, it seems, do not think so.
The first clue that someone may be confused is when they go on and on about the United States being a Christian nation blessed by God. I’m sure I’ll catch some flak by saying this, but first, we’re not a Christian nation, and second, God doesn’t bless nations in the first place. What, you say? Didn’t God bless the nation of Israel? Yes and no. When God blessed the “nation of Israel” for all time, what he actually did was bless the descedents of Abraham. So was the nation of Israel blessed? Yes, but only because they were all essentially family. America has no such connection. Are individual American Christians blessed by God? Of course. But every year, a smaller and smaller percentage of the population of America call themselves Christians. And I fully believe that, of those who claim to be Christians, a large sum really are not followers of Christ. So what does this mean? It means that standing up for America has absolutely nothing to do with standing up for God.
Having not been everywhere, I can’t definitively say that the United States is the best place on earth to live. But if I were a betting man, I’d put money on it. Many of our founders were Christians, and thus our system of justice and laws is largely based on Biblical principles. As an American, I sometimes take for granted the freedom and peace that many around the world pray for every day. We have a standard of living that is unequaled around the world. And yes, America does have a large population of Christians. So indeed, I do love this country. But what I won’t do is worship it.
I have no problem with patriots, or with singing songs about America. In fact, many of our most patriotic songs speak to the Founders’ faith in God. But most of them have a similar theme: they ask that God bless us. And I think that is completely backwards. If, as Christians, we also want to be patriots, we need to pray not that God would bless us where we are today, but that we – as a nation – would change course and follow God, which has inherent blessing.
So was my weekend a wash? Not hardly. Even the church service itself turned out okay, as the pastor has a pretty good grasp on practical Christianity and tells it as it is. And I nearly always enjoy hearing him speak. But I do wonder if there will come a day when the average American Christian is really just a patriot. It happened to Israel. Jewish folks today stand up for their home country of Israel like few others. But those who practice Judaism and truly worship Yahweh God are but a small percentage of those who call themselves Jewish. Which is why I’m going to endeavor each Independence Day from this year forward, to pray not that God bless our country. Instead, I plan to pray that He remind us all who we are to be worshipping in the first place. And that would be a blessing."