Christians and July 4th: Celebrate with Kingdom Lenses – Not Americanized Ones

© 2009 Alessandro Valli, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

For the past several years I have publicly discussed why I tend to avoid associating myself with Independence Day. For a few years in a row I posted what was called my “annual unpopular post.” It all began in 2009 (when I hardly blogged), with a post titled: An “unpopular” 4th of July Post… Why this is Not a Day to Celebrate [later re-blogged and nuanced the following year: here].

As you can imagine, the reaction to such a stance in a country like ours has been diverse. Numerous times I’ve been told things like: “If you don’t like America, then why don’t you move out of the country or something!?”

In these instances, it becomes even more clear how much the story of Christianity has been prostituted to the story of Empire. That may come across as harsh, but I honestly do not intend to be harsh. And in all honesty, controversy is not my favorite pasttime, as I don’t love conflict. I am saddened that I’ve lost friends over this conviction. Yet, the more I read the Scriptures and get to know the Christ of the Scriptures, the more I’m compelled to speak the truth in love.

At the same time, I think there is much about this country to celebrate. For instance, I think American culture is something to take pride in. We have a unique bond as Americans. I love American people! I love living in America – in case that isn’t clear. But, I love something even more–or should I say, I love Someone even more. The way of Jesus invites us to name the good in culture while simultaneously living countercultural lives.

So, on this Fourth of July (like every other day), I want to celebrate the good and wear kingdom “lenses” at the same time. I suppose that I don’t actually celebrate what most people celebrate on Independence Day (as I see this day as no more significant than any other day – it isn’t a Christian holiday). You won’t find me saluting flags or wearing its colors, but on July 4th – like every other day of the year – Kingdom people in America have things to celebrate.

On the Fourth of July (and every other day), Kingdom people celebrate…

  • The beauty of living in the United States of America while counting the unchristian and violent costs of such a privilege. Our American story started with European conquerers stealing this land from its native caretakers–and continuing in this pattern through alleviating our white guilt by subjugating the great native tribes to ghetto-like reservations. And speaking of  “ghettos,” let’s not forget that we did similar acts of evil with the wonderful Africans that were brought to this land against their will.
  • The gift of freedom, while recognizing that this ultimate gift comes not from a sword, tank, machine gun, or fighter pilot – but from an executed revolutionary named Jesus who in his essence subverted the tendencies of nationalism. Even if America didn’t exist our freedom in Christ would remain. Just ask the Martyrs of old.
  • The countless stories of refugees who found a home in this land, now free from oppression but often subjugated to racism.
  • The historically marginalized Christian voices who spoke against taking up arms to fight for “Independence.” One of the heroes of faith in this country, is a man by the name of John Wesley, who said the following (see this blog):

 Look into America… see that Negro, fainting under the load, bleeding under the lash! He is a slave. And is there ‘no difference’ between him and his master? Yes; the one is screaming ‘Murder! Slavery!’ the other silently bleeds and dies! ‘But wherein then consists the difference between liberty and slavery?’ Herein: You and I, and the English in general, go where we will, and enjoy the fruits of our labours: This is liberty. The Negro does not: This is slavery. Is not then all this outcry about liberty and slavery mere rant, and playing upon words?

  • The beautiful fireworks in the sky and a great excuse for grilling up veggie burgers (if you are me!) with friends and loved ones, while realizing that the bombs bursting in air during the War for Independence, blew up under the disguise of a”Just War.” As I have demonstrated in previous articles, this war didn’t qualify under the theological categories for a classical just war. In fact, it could be argued that most wars America has participated in doest not fit in these categories – with the rare exceptions such as finally involving ourselves (and I mean *finally*) with liberating the Jewish folks in concentration camps. You can read all about why the Revolutionary War didn’t fit the classical criteria for a “just war” by reading: Just Jesus & Unjust July 4th: Why I don’t Celebrate Independence Day. I mean, should Puerto Rico rebel against us since they legitimately can chant “no taxation without representation?” Just sayin’ ;-)
  • The wonderful people in America who believe that we all should be free to worship God in our own way! At the same time, the unfortunate truth is that we have a history of using God as a prop for justifying bloodshed and inequality. Many people equate “freedom to worship” with the worship of a specific version of the Christian God.
  • The potential good that comes from a system where everyone can legally vote (nuanced, to be sure). At the same time, those of us who follow a different King, namely Jesus, are invited to spend each day of our lives the routing through how we live – not merely once every two years at a ballot box [this comment is, of course, inspired by Jesus for President]. 
  • The great people in our country who follow Jesus as Americans while recognizing that God’s kingdom is one that transcends borders. Many of us sojourn in America and have US Passports, but we ultimately refuse to pledge allegiance to any flag. We give ourselves to a Slaughtered Lamb whose banner isn’t marred by violence, but is lifted high through love. This love goes out to our sisters and brothers throughout the globe: Europeans, Palestinians, Canadians, Peruvians, Iraqis, Israelis, Africans, Asians, Mexicans, Afghanis, and to the ends of the earth! 

So, let’s celebrate together on July 4th, but let’s do so with Kingdom lenses on. Enjoy the lights in the sky and the wonderful food. Enjoy the wonderful people of America. But, for those who follow Jesus, how can we subvert tendencies like the idolatry of flag pledges with humility? This, and many other questions that this day raises, will need to be handled with generous love towards those who disagree with us, while not compromising our true Kingdom allegiance.

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  • Camino1

    Just a thought: I think the term “kingdom” is all but useless when connecting with people who haven’t been around any kingdoms. I love your content. A title like “Celebrate with Global, or Universal Lenses” is an easier sell in cybermedia.

  • Dan Martin

    Great perspective, Kurt. Will share on FB momentarily. I will still enjoy fireworks on the 4th, but I like to think my love of such things come in part from being created in the image of one who started it off with a big bang … ;{)

    • Kurt Willems

      haha… a big bang indeed!

  • Lonnie King

    Good stuff, Kurt, and a conviction I’ve grown to share with you. I like @dwmtractor:disqus will enjoy some fireworks, though, and even have a star-spangled t-shirt I’ll bring out for it’s annual airing. But I liken that to wearing a “Happy Birthday Hunter” shirt on my kid’s birthday. Just part of the celebration…

    I made a similar comment on Ben Corey’s similar blog post, but I think that Christians should live in this, or any other, country as respectful resident aliens. We respect the laws, culture, customs and traditions, but we’re not so tied to them that we lose the perspective of where our allegiance and citizenship lies.

    • Kurt Willems

      Thanks @disqus_UVbdJ6PzI8:disqus! I resonate with everything you said… well, except I personally avoid anything involving the flag or national anthem… hahah. Even so, you bring the right attitude with your approach! Thanks for the comment!!!!

  • BrotherRog

    Amen, we’re called to live in pax Christi, not in pax Americana.

  • Lori Welch Matthews

    although I agree with the original premise (we are of a kingdom of god and not an earthly kingdom), I cannot agree with a post that exhibits the subtle propaganda in this article. sorry. there is nothing to be ashamed about this country if someone actually reads an honest to goodness history book. we are the good guys. I refuse to be ashamed of her.

    I am a child of god – a princess to a king. I also thank god every day that I was born in this country and my great great grandparents crossed an ocean (from Ireland) to seek out her shores. America is an idea – the first of its kind. that our rights are FROM god and inalienable. that government is obligated to those rights. that was new (and still pretty much is). the idea of America is alive and well. you cannot destroy an idea.

    that flag waves because someone died fighting for your right to not wave it. the flag also waves for those who died for our right to worship as we please. we are still free because people believed in these inalienable rights so much that they gave their lives for them.

    god, family, country is the order at our house. I cry at the passion story. I also cry during the national anthem. why – because these two things I hold dear. one is my eternal life and my true home and one is my earthly home to which I am privileged.

    sorry – I will not be ashamed of my love for my country – just as I am not ashamed of my love of Christ. I recognize that even though the country will someday dissolve into something unrecognizable to my grandchildren, god will still be in heaven. I will simply tell stories of a great republic and an IDEA – an idea that will some day spark another revolution. the idea that we are children of god and thus have freedoms.

    • Dan Martin

      If you truly believe “we are the good guys” you have read a heavily filtered version of history.

      • Kurt Willems
        • Lori Welch Matthews

          maybe you should ask yourself why you hate the place you call home? and why are you still here? btw – if you take a look around and bemoan what is wrong with this country, you should look in the mirror.

          • Dan Martin

            I’m just guessing, but I’m betting you have used the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin” in the past. It applies here. I do love this country … in fact I love it too much to tolerate papering over or denying its many faults. “My country right or wrong … when right, to be kept right, and when wrong, to be put right.”

      • Lori Welch Matthews

        and your version of history has been fed through a lens of deceit for one purpose – to shame you

        • Kurt Willems

          Just ask the Native Americans or the African Americans. Our US roots are glorious! [tongue firmly in cheek]. A great book on this issue is called “Myth of a Christian Nation” by Greg Boyd. May even find some common ground there.

          KURT WILLEMS

          • Lori Welch Matthews

            we fought an entire war between the states to free slaves – one of the few countries to do so when slavery was (and still is) accepted throughout the world. did you forget? so the united states is to be blamed for the conquistadors (Indians)? do you have any idea that if we followed the same conquering mentality as was prevalent prior to our existence that we would own ALL of mexico, Germany, japan and Iraq? what did we do? we gave them back…what other country storms the beaches of Normandy and only asks for a place in france to bury their dead? I am sorry that you are shameful of your country. you should kneel down every day and thank god that you can post such drivel online without persecution but the irony escapes you.

          • Dan Martin

            Lori, your history is severely limited. When the US war between the states was fought, England had already outlawed slavery in all its remaining colonies (1833) and in fact America was somewhat of a pariah among the English for still holding to slavery.

            And you can’t pinpoint all the maltreatment of Indians on the conquistadors, who only landed in the West. While some of our founding ancestors — William Penn and Roger Williams to name two — had promoted peaceful relations with the Indians in the American northeast, it was other european Americans who broke those treaties and committed horrible violence against them. It was “Christian” American settlers who preached that their followers should drive out the heathen from before them while quoting language from Joshua.

            As for that conquering mentality you claim we don’t have, have you ever heard the term “Manifest Destiny?” Look it up.

    • Maxximiliann

      Followers of Jesus Christ are obligated before God to be wholly devoted to him and his Kingdom, the Theocracy. Their prayers should be for God’s Kingdom, not for the United States of America or any other nation for that matter. (Matt. 6:10, 33) In the light of what Jesus Christ disclosed as to the identity of the invisible ruler of the world (John 12:31; 14:30) how could a person who is devoted to God’s Kingdom favor one side or the other in a conflict between factions of the world? Had not Jesus said of his followers: “They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world”? (John 17:16)

      The neutrality of the early Christians in relation to the political and military affairs of the world is an established fact of history. It was in harmony with Jesus’ refusal to be made a king by the crowds (John 6:15) and with his statement to Pilate that his kingdom was no part of the world. (John 18:36)

      Justin Martyr, of the second century C.E., in his “Dialogue With Trypho, a Jew” (CX): “We who were filled with war, and mutual slaughter, and every wickedness, have each through the whole earth changed our warlike weapons, – our swords into ploughshares, and our spears into implements of tillage.” (The Ante-Nicene Father, Vol. I. p. 254)

      In his treatise “The Chaplet, or De Corona” (XI), when discussing “whether warfare is proper at all for Christians,” Tertullian (c. 200 C.E.) used the scriptures to show the unlawfulness of a military life itself, concluding, “I banish from us the military life.” (The Ante-Nicene Father, 1957, Vol. III. pp. 99,100)

      The Rise of Christianity, by E. W. Barnes (p. 333) says: “A careful review of all the information available goes to show that, until the time of Marcus Aurelius [121-180 C. E], no Christian became a soldier, and no soldier, after becoming a Christian, remained in military service.”

      The Early Church and the World by C. J. Cadoux (pp. 275, 276) says: “It will be seen presently that the evidence for the existence of a single Christian soldier between 60 and about 165 A.D. is exceedingly slight; . . . up to the reign of Marcus Aurelius at least, no Christian would become a soldier after his baptism.”

      A Short History of Rome, by G. Ferrero and C. Barbagallo (p. 382) says: “In the second century, Christianity . . . had affirmed the incompatibility of military service with Christianity.”

      Our World Through the Ages, by N. Platt and M. J. Drummond (p. 125) says: “The behavior of the Christians was very different from that of the Romans. . . . Since Christ had preached peace, they refused to become soldiers.”

      The New World’s Foundations in the Old, by R. and W. M. West ( p. 131) says: “The first Christians thought it was wrong to fight, and would not serve in the army even when the Empire needed soldiers.”

      “Persecution of the Christians in Gaul, A.D. 177,” by F. P. G. Guizot, in the book The Great Events by Famous Historians (edited by R. Johnson, 1905, Vol. III, p. 246) says: “The Christians . . . shrank from public office and military service.”

      Finally, the famous historian Edward Gibbon wrote in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Vol. I, p. 416): “While they [the Christians] inculcated the maxims of passive obedience, they refused to take any active part in the civil administration or the military defence of the empire. . . . It was impossible that the Christians, without renouncing a more sacred duty, could assume the character of soldiers, of magistrates, or of princes.”

      Their stand was also in harmony with one of the features Jesus declared would serve to clearly identify his true followers, the profound love they would show one another. (John 13:34, 35) This love was to be exhibited without regard to race or nationality, since God is not partial. (Acts 10:34, 35) It was even to be shown toward those that hated them. (Mat. 5:44, 45) This was to be a serious matter, for the apostle John later wrote that if someone claimed to love God, yet hated his spiritual brother, he was a liar. (1 John 4:20) Most religions today preach love, yet Jesus showed that actions were more important than words, saying that no matter what a person claimed you would recognize him by the “fruits” he bore. (Matthew 7:13 – 23) So, how do religions today measure up?

      According to Catholic theologian Hans Küng: “There is no disputing that in negative, destructive terms [religions] have made and still make an enormous contribution. So much struggle, bloody conflicts, indeed ‘religious wars’ are to be held to their account; . . . and this also goes for the two world wars.”

      Other observers have made similar comments: “The innermost reason for inhuman savagery is religious.” (National Review) “The chief motivation for war is no longer greed but religion.” (Toronto Star) “The Holocaust ‘was all done by baptized Christians.’”—The Tampa Tribune.

      Many may be unaware of the backing given to Fascist dictators such as Franco and Mussolini by the Catholic Church during World War Two, or the fact that it even concluded a concordat with the Nazis in 1933. At that time Cardinal Faulhaber wrote to Hitler: “This handshake with the Papacy . . . is a feat of immeasurable blessing . . . May God preserve the Reich Chancellor [Hitler].”

      This religious involvement has continued. In 1980, Delmar Smyth, professor of administration at Toronto’s York University, told the Ethics Commission of the Baptist World Congress held in Toronto, Canada: “We in the Baptist tradition are addicted to war.” He then pointed out that Jesus’ early disciples “believed he taught and practised non-violence . . . Early Christian writers condemned war. They branded killing in war as murder.”

      As the late Harry Emerson Fosdick, who is considered to be one of the most influential Protestant clergymen in American history, once admitted: “Our Western history has been one war after another. We have bred men for war, trained men for war; we have glorified war; we have made warriors our heroes and even in our churches we have put the battle flags . . . With one corner of our mouth we have praised the Prince of Peace and with the other we have glorified war.”

      This involvement is not decreasing. In 1983, when the WCC (World Council of Churches) assembled in Vancouver, Canada, Philip Potter, its general secretary, told them to “stay political.” Most religions have done this, making themselves a part of the world.

  • Kristen Rosser

    Does our hypocrisy in denying the liberty to others that we sought for ourselves, negate the worthiness of seeking liberty? Also, isn’t the answer to the Puerto Rico question that we should either give them representation or autonomy– not to deny that representation should be a prerequisite for taxation?

    • Kristen Rosser

      Thinking about this some more… I recently finished watching the British documentary series The Monarchy. I’m a US citizen myself, but something stood out to me. Throughout English history, and especially since Magna Carta, the way the English have defined themselves as English is by having a voice in Parliament. So the question before the colonies was whether English people in an English colony were to be treated as English or not. And if they were not, what loyalty did they then owe to the country that had denied them? In that case, the colonies’ acknowledged leaders were, in fact, the legitimate ones to declare independence. Once declared, the question was whether the tyrannizing power was going to let them go without a fight or not. The question of whether it was a “just war” then becomes much more a matter of interpretation than the cut-and-dried answers of your earlier post would show.

      It’s a terrible thing that they defined only themselves as real “people.” But that doesn’t negate their position.

      • Dan Martin

        Not to suggest that the British were blameless, but “the shot heard round the world” was fired by colonists, not redcoats.

        • Kristen Rosser

          True– but I don’t think that matters much in the long run. That shot was literally the trigger of a war that was about to start. If someone hadn’t pulled it then, someone else would have pulled it later.

  • Duane Bauman

    I am probably older then most here in the comment column . The older I live and as I ponder on Christ and his teachings and study the Old Testament story of God’s covenant with Israel and the story and beliefs of my anabaptist fore bearers I become convinced that our forefathers were correct in refusing to participate in Government and also vote. We cannot serve two masters, partisanship can become an idol robbing us of our passions for our Saviour, thwarting the Holy Spirit. I weep and pray for America, not for past sins but for it’s idolatry and pray that the faith I see in the very poorest among the masses will bring conviction and repentance to the majority. Shalom