But our citizenship is in heaven. |Philippians 3:20|
As it’s the fourth of July, I thought I’d write about a topic that is very relevant to this holiday: patriotism. I know some people find this controversial, particularly in a country that is known for its extreme patriotism. But I just want to talk a little bit about my experiences and really take a look at patriotism in relation to the Bible.
I have what you would call a liminal identity. That basically just means that I occupy a weird in-between place, that I’m not completely one thing or another when it comes to my cultural identity. I have an English mum and an American (and half Canadian) dad, and I’m a dual citizen. I was born in England and lived there until I was ten, and then I moved to America and have lived here ever since.
As you can imagine, I’ve often felt culturally confused. I certainly don’t fit in with most aspects of American society. I still don’t feel very American at all, and I wouldn’t really say America is my true home. However, England doesn’t feel quite like home anymore either. I haven’t been back for years, and there are many aspects of English culture that I am probably completely out of touch with. Plus, living in America for over half my life has shaped my identity in ways that make me different than people who have spent their entire lives in England.
Because of this, I’m not patriotic in the same way many other people would be. If I had to choose, I would definitely say I’m more loyal to England. Yet I’m not overly patriotic about England either. There are aspects of the culture that I absolutely adore, but I also know there are other awesome countries out there that are better than England in certain ways (like Denmark for instance; that sounds like such an awesome country). I’ve traveled enough to know that there are lots of wonderful places in the world, and I think it’s kind of arrogant and narrow-minded for anyone to act as if their country is the only place to be.
Although I’m pretty culturally objective now, I used to be extremely patriotic about England. It was when I became a Christian that I stopped the idolatry of patriotism. I used to make my English heritage my whole identity. I was terrified of losing my English accent because I thought that if that went away, my whole identity would crumble. I still haven’t lost my accent, but I no longer think the fact that I’m English determines my whole identity. Reading scripture has given me a real peace about my confused cultural identity, and I no longer try to find security and meaning in a location or in my cultural heritage.
The Bible verses that really spoke to me and changed my view of patriotism were the ones that spoke about how this earth isn’t our true home. 1 Peter in particular addresses how we should view the world we live in:
Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. |1 Peter 1:17|
Peter’s words are startling to people who go to Christianity as a way to find comfort and “prosperity” in this life. When it comes to it, many Christians are far too at home in this world. It’s not wrong to love places, but we should be focused on eternity rather than imperfect locations in a fallen world. It’s interesting how Peter talks about this concept in relation to sin:
Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. |1 Peter 2:11|
Peter spoke as if we are to treat this world as if it’s not really our home. That’s probably because when we become too immersed in and conformed to our culture, we inevitably start thinking in worldly terms and picking up aspects of our culture and society that aren’t biblical. When we focus on fleeting things rather than eternal things, we become incapable of living in the way that God calls us to live.
As Christians, the most important aspect of our identities should be the fact that we’re followers of Jesus, not our cultural heritage. We should have more in common with foreign Christians than we do with non-Christians from the same country as us. When Paul was explaining to the gentiles in the church of Ephesus how they were no longer a separate people from the Jews, he said,
…you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of His household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. |Ephesians 2:19-20|
If two Christians are Spirit-filled and believe in the same Christ, they should have the most important things in common despite any cultural differences. In Philippians 3:20, Paul said that we’re citizens of heaven. So that citizenship trumps any other citizenship. How much clearer could he be about who our true allegiance should be to? It’s not like our earthly citizenship is completely irrelevant, but it’s not eternal.
There is nothing wrong with loving your country. A healthy amount of patriotism can be a good thing. But it is way too easy to make an idol out of a nation and to be more loyal to your country than to God. We should be loyal to Jesus before we’re ever loyal to a country.
So many people in America act as if the flag is sacred. They have as much reverence for the pledge of allegiance as they do the Lord’s prayer, and that’s pretty messed up. The fact that so many people get as upset as they do over football players kneeling in protest during the national anthem is kind of concerning.
If you study the characteristics of fascism, one of the most blatant ones is extreme patriotism. The Nazis were insanely patriotic. They made their nation their god. We need to be careful that we don’t fall into the same twisted mindset that says we should treat our flag or our nation as sacred.
America is not the new Israel, nor is any other country. Countries are just countries, and we should love them in a healthy way. There is no perfect country, as we live in a fallen world. Every country has its issues and its ugly histories, and we should objectively acknowledge those of our own countries.
There are many people who will create a religion and theology that serves their patriotic agenda and call it Christianity. They claim that they want their country to serve God, but in reality they’ve created a fictitious god that serves their country. They’ve created a white, republican Jesus that doesn’t resemble the Jesus of the Bible at all. Because if you claim that your country is chosen and blessed by God, it’s easy to justify terrible things done in the name of your country.
During the 2016 election, I discovered this really good article about C. S. Lewis’s views on patriotism in his book The Four Loves. In the book, Lewis talks about how patriotism can become a really unhealthy and twisted thing if we don’t keep it under control. When speaking of the love of one’s country, he says, “…we all know now that this love becomes a demon when it becomes a god.” He states that patriotism can be a good thing and that we shouldn’t totally demonize love of country, but he also says that, “When this love becomes demoniac it will of course produce wicked acts.”
We should never be so patriotic that we’re incapable of seeing our country’s faults and that we deny our history in order to attempt to maintain a squeaky clean picture of our nation. We should never be so patriotic that we act as if we’re superior to every other nation.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been completely happy in any place. I’ve spent time in several different countries and have lived in two, and without God, I feel restless in most places. Every place has its own issues and shortcomings. No culture is perfect. People aren’t perfect, and there are broken people in every society. Governments certainly aren’t perfect, as we know all too well.
So love the things about your country that are worth loving, but be honest about its faults too. Don’t put your hope in something so transient. And let us never use God to further political agendas based on patriotism. God cannot be used to justify our idolatry.
Kingdoms rise and fall, and they have done so since the dawn of time. World powers come and go. We should never put our hope in broken political systems or imperfect cultures. The only Kingdom we should rely on is the one that is not of this world (John 18:36). We should love what’s good about our countries and objectively acknowledge what isn’t. And we should always remember which citizenship is truly the most important.