Love Your Nation And Its Flag As You Love Yourself

Trump and his followers are more concerned

From a post by Adam Ericksen with the title “Mike Pence Is a Devout Christian, but He’s Not Following Christ,” on the Patheos blog Teaching Nonviolent Atonement:

The Trump administration is uncomfortable with the truth about racism, so they attempt to change the narrative. In doing so, they completely miss the point of the protests. If they really wanted the unity they so often speak about, they would listen to the protests and work for an end to racial injustice.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders recently stated that the Trump administration “will always be for protection and celebration of the flag and the national anthem.” Trump and his followers are more concerned about protecting and celebrating the flag than they are about protecting and celebrating their fellow human beings.

As a devout Christian, Pence knows that the Bible has a word for that: Idolatry. Pence has placed the American flag above the American people. As a Christian, Pence knows that Jesus didn’t say that you should love your flag or even your nation. He said you should love your neighbor as yourself. That is the will of the Father. In order to love his black neighbors, Pence needs to listen to their protests and work for justice on their behalf.

That would be the Christian, and the American, thing to do.

Click through to read the rest of the post. The issue is such a crucial one, that I thought it not only worthwhile but important to take some part of the blog post and turn them into a meme. The point is not a new one, and so for more on the topic, let me recommend the treatment of idolatry and nationalism in Paul Tillich’s classic book, Dynamics of Faith. If you’ve never read it, it is one of those books which, however dated it may sound in places on occasion, as far as its main points and substance are concerned, offers a message that needs to be heard now more than ever, and could have been written directly in response to what is happening in the United States in the present day. Because the driving issue here is American civil religion, which hasn’t changed fundamentally over the past half a century, despite critiques like Tillich’s.

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  • Phil Ledgerwood

    It’s a great article that I agree with. When it comes to this issue in specific, I’m just very discouraged about whether or not the people who need to contemplate the points made are even able to do so. In American evangelical Christianity, the fusion between being a Christ follower and a conservative patriot is almost total. To such eyes and ears, you might as well write an article about how being a Christ follower means you shouldn’t follow Christ.

    • John MacDonald

      I find it interesting that Jesus had such a strong social ethic/morality message while, at the same time, being an apocalyptic prophet who thought the world was about to end. Maybe Jesus thought something needed to happen socially in order to be a catalyst for bringing the end of the world about (perhaps nullifying the corrupt, Roman loving temple cult).

      • John MacDonald

        Maybe Mark’s impetus for writing his gospel was that the temple had been destroyed, and so he thought the world really was about to end just as Jesus predicted.

      • Phil Ledgerwood

        I don’t think Jesus believed the world was about to end. I think he believed a destructive judgement was imminent for Israel, and the way to come safely through that was to repent of their sins and embrace faithfulness, which meant loving their neighbor as themselves, etc.

        • John MacDonald

          The “end of times” interpretation would seem to fit in with what Paul says, calling Jesus the “first fruits” (1 Cor 15:23) of the general resurrection of souls at the end of days.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            I thought we were talking about what Jesus believed.

          • John MacDonald

            Jesus taught the wiping away of the current state of affairs was imminent. As Dr. Ehrman says, we find Jesus preaching about the destruction of all things in a future intervention of God, when he will replace the evil workings of this world with his own, glorious kingdom, in all three of our earliest Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) (though it is softened in Luke) and in all their sources (Mark, Q, M, and L). Jesus was wrong, but that’s another story.

          • John MacDonald

            It’s reminiscent of what Socrates says in Plato’s “Republic:” Socrates addresses the question of how philosophy can come to play an important role in existing cities (497e). Those with philosophical natures need to practice philosophy all their lives, especially when they are older (498a-c). The only way to make sure that philosophy is properly appreciated and does not meet hostility is to wipe an existing city clean and begin it anew (501a).

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            I agree he thought the wiping away of the current state of affairs was imminent, but what you said was he thought the end of the world was imminent. Those are different things, unless by “world” you mean “current state of affairs,” in which case I would agree.

            I also think Ehrman’s characterization is probably more otherworldly than the gospels warrant.

          • John MacDonald

            I agree with you. Sorry, my biblical phraseology is still in its infancy. I rely on Dr. McGrath more than most here to right my “apprentice ship” when I get off course – one of the problems of being a newbie when it comes to biblical hermeneutics!

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            All the good ones are always newbies when it comes to biblical hermeneutics. I could stand to adopt more of that attitude.

          • John MacDonald

            I remember when I was doing my Master’s thesis in Philosophy on Heidegger. I tried to read every thing from Heidegger I could get my hands on before reading the secondary literature. There is something to be said for coming to a text without a framework of expectations of what you are going to find there. In the case of my thesis, there were nuances in emphasis and themes that were novel to my interpretation of Heidegger that I might have missed if I had been pre-exposed to what “everybody else” thought Heidegger was saying before I read the primary sources for myself.

  • Nick G

    Paul Tillich’s classic book, Dynamics of Faith. If you’ve never read it, it is one of those books which, however dated
    it may sound in places on occasion, as far as its main points and substance are concerned, offers a message that needs to be heard now
    more than ever, and could have been written directly in response to what is happening in the United States in the present day. Because the driving issue here is American civil religion, which hasn’t changed fundamentally over the past half a century, despite critiques
    like Tillich’s.
    [Emphasis added]

    Which might suggest that a different kind of critique is needed.

    • John MacDonald

      I spent most of my university training in Philosophy around professors who were passionate about ethics and argued eloquently about the foundations of ethics in society. None of them, as far as I know, had any important impact whatsoever in shaping the moral compass of society. I think intellectuals often grossly overestimate the kind of impact they can have, much like someone voting in an election who thinks his/her one little vote is going to make a difference. Which is why I don’t bother voting, lol.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Perhaps – it is hard to know, and I suppose it depends what you mean. I definitely don’t think that the failure of people to listen to critiques means that the substance of the criticisms are necessarily off target. People have been told to treat others the way they want to be treated for millennia, and despite the fact that people still do not do that consistently, I think that it is still appropriate advice. The resistance of some to critiques of young-earth creationism might be another example. On the other hand, it may be that, if there is ongoing resistance to correction, perhaps a new approach to how it is offered is called for.

      • John MacDonald

        I think part of it, too, is that moral progress can be exceedingly slow – consider how long it has taken for our North American society to improve its stance on women, Blacks, LGBT, etc. We still have a monstrously long way to go, but we should be at least a little proud of the progress we’ve made. It’s reasonable to suppose, for instance, that women in our North American society will never lose the right to vote.

      • http://infiniteoceanoflightandlove.blogspot.com/ Daniel Wilcox

        The difficulty with the general statement, “treat others the way they want to be treated” is that the way many interpret those words is to exclude national enemies, political opponents, etc. Also, conservative Christians almost always interpret such ethical direction from Jesus as applying ONLY to personal relationships, NOT to national issues.

        One can see this in all of American history (and world history, of course). Back in the 1980’s, one Christian leader claimed that the atom bomb was “God’s gift” to America.

        General Robert E. Lee, a devout Christian, wrote that we ought to follow Jesus’ words to “love your enemies,” and so his soldiers ought not hold any personal ill will against Union soldiers, but his commitment to Christ’s words didn’t keep him from ordering the slaughter.

        Equally committed Christians on the Union side, probably thought similarly.

        Bernard of Clairvaux was known as the preacher of love, but that didn’t stop him from preaching the Second Crusade:-(

        This unethical dysfunction of Christians when it comes to God and nation is seen clearly in historian Phillip Jenkins’ books, The Great War, How World War 1 Became a Religious Crusade and Jesus Wars.

        Also, in Preachers Present Arms by Abrams.

        And, last, one of the greatest ironic examples of this related to American racism is that one of the most famous governors of Texas said when he was running for office, that his only political plan was words of the Golden Rule.
        Yet he was a rabid racist and segregationist!

        • John MacDonald

          It’s not a fault of the golden rule, but a failure to interpret/apply it in the most ethical way possible. From our standpoint, these examples you give serve as “cautionary examples” of how not to interpret “love your enemy and neighbor.”

          • http://infiniteoceanoflightandlove.blogspot.com/ Daniel Wilcox

            I agree. All humans have difficulty with inclusion. Look at the center point of the U.S. at present. Over 80% of Evangelicals (white) went for “America First, America First”!

            Couldn’t they see that such a slogan is extremely selfish?

            That such words and actions are totally contrary to Jesus’ explicit words and the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

          • John MacDonald

            Yes. There’s nothing difficult or convoluted about the foundation of ethics. Even a child knows:
            – You’re being a better friend if you are doing something for someone else instead of doing something for yourself
            -If someone is being mean to you, try being his/her friend
            – If there is a problem with someone you don’t know how to solve, get an adult
            -etc.

  • http://infiniteoceanoflightandlove.blogspot.com/ Daniel Wilcox

    Powerful book! I used to re-read Tillich’s book about every 3-4 years, always was challenged by his lucid points, and usually found something new to think about too, because I was in a new place, and an older age.