The Failure to Be a Patriotic American Is a Sin?

The Failure to Be a Patriotic American Is a Sin? July 9, 2014

That’s what Bryan Fischer at the American Family Association is teaching. The other day on his radio program, he said that if you’re not a “patriotic American” you’re sinning against God.

Not even making that up. Here’s the clip:

But is it true? Is failing to be a “patriotic American” a sin?

Of course not.

Patriotism is a devotion, affection, and loyalty to one’s country– and there’s nothing in scripture that says an absence of that would be a sin. In fact, I think the stronger case could be made that devotion and loyalty to one’s country could be a potential stumbling block that could cause one to miss what God is doing in the world.

Are there patriotic Christians? Of course. Are there Christians who are not patriotic? Yup. However, neither the presence nor absence of patriotism in and of itself is sinful. However, both extremes could be sinful under certain circumstances.

For example, a lack of patriotism could be sinful if what you’re really saying is that such a person is completely lacking gratefulness toward God for the things that they have, for their life, etc. In this case it wouldn’t be the absence of patriotism that was sin, but the lack of a thankful heart that was sinful. However, just because someone isn’t wearing flag underwear to work on flag day (or fill in the blank to describe what you think patriotism looks like), doesn’t mean that such a person is ungrateful to God. There is nothing that requires gratitude to look like patriotism– they are two different things and not inseparable.

Conversely, patriotism could easily become sinful if such a devotion and affection for country took the place of devotion and affection for the culture that Christ came to bring. A key example would be killing enemies, (something Jesus expressly forbid), hoarding resources and not freely sharing with immigrants (something we see being close to God’s heart), or any other behavior that pushes back against the Kingdom principles taught by Jesus.  In this case, patriotism would become sinful if such patriotism led one to support, advocate or pursue things (such as violence and greed) which stand opposed to the ways of Jesus.

One of the other potential dangers of patriotism is how it causes us to view “the other”.

Last night I posted the following image to my Facebook timeline, and was really quite surprised at how some people described the two women. The post turned out to be way more controversial than I had anticipated– I had thought the average person would find both examples to be over the top and something to be avoided, but I was wrong on that. I was reminded at how patriotism can really influence how we judge whichever person we see as the “other”:

The one on the left? Some described her as a principled woman willing to die to stand up for herself and protect her family. The woman on the right? Just a terrorist trying to kill innocent people.

This is precisely the way that patriotism taken too far, absorbed too deeply, can become sin– or at a minimum, a stumbling block. Taken too far, patriotism can cause us to completely alter the way we view the “other” and lead to sinful judging. We become good, they become bad. When we do X it’s justified, when they do X, it must be stopped.

Unfettered patriotism causes other people become terrorists– their motives are assumed to be evil. Ourselves? We judge ourselves instead to be noble and justified.

Vulnerable children become “illegal invaders” who are here to destroy our country, while we judge our own history of coming to an already occupied land as being somehow different. Patriotism can lead to judging in these ways– and that’s bad news for those who wish to follow Jesus.

Taken too far, or allowed to take precedence over the ways of Jesus, unchecked patriotism can really poison our thinking.

Following Jesus causes us to see the divine image of God in the “other”. He leads us to refrain from judging the “other”. He heads us to serve “the other”. Patriotism taken to far however, has the complete opposite effect. For this reason, we should hold our level of patriotism with extreme care– keeping our hearts thankful without becoming people who can’t see “the other” the way God may see them.

So is it a sin to lack patriotism? Absolutely not. In fact, for some of us, removing patriotism from our lives has really freed us to pursue God’s will here on earth as it is in heaven, without the distraction that patriotism can become.

We must always be thankful. We must always appreciate what we have. However, there’s nothing sinful about not being patriotic. In fact, Christian leaders would do well to caution people about the stumbling block that unchecked patriotism can become.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Meredith Indermaur

    Wondering if you’ve ever read Greg Boyd’s “The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church.” So much of what you’ve so eloquently stated here is echoed in his book. If you’ve not read it, I highly recommend it.

  • Timothy Weston

    The picture you have with the two women is very spine-chilling. I made a description of that picture (and altered some details) yesterday morning on my Facebook status and the one reply was: “The Muslim does not believe in individual freedom for everyone, and I seriously doubt the claim of a forced Christian theocracy where conversion is done by force like the Muslim terrorist.” I posted the picture later in the day and there has been no reply or likes on it.

    This year, I have been making it a point to divest myself of the fundamentalism and the nationalism of my own Christian practice. I told four people from my church about my misgivings of the patriotic service and why I am staying away: Two agreed with me and another one replied “I never thought of it that way.” On Sunday, I went to another church and the only patriotic elements of the service were the communion hymn (“America the Beautiful”) and the organ postlude (Aaron Coplands “Variations on ‘America'”). The remainder of the service was Fourth Sunday of Pentecost hymns, liturgy, and sermon.

    Over the past couple of years, I have been thinking that American Christianity has become too much America. People who grew up in the evangelical movement have it etched into their minds about America being a Christian nation blessed by God. Thank you for writing this series on challenging the nationalism that has hijacked the Christian religion.

  • Mike Rayson

    As an Australian, I’m completely screwed!!! :-) You just can’t make this stuff up!!!

  • Kerry Thomas

    I have never made it a secret that I am a gun owner. I own firearms that would probably scare most of the readers to death on this blog….I also consider myself a Christian.
    That said, I never would allow myself to be holding a Bible and an assault rifle at the same time. Just because I am Christian doesn’t mean Jesus is the reason behind the Second Amendment.
    This whole associate Jesus and gun ownership as one in the same, makes me, well, ill…..Jesus didn’t come to earth so we could own guns, or get rich or have free speech….

  • otrotierra

    How horrendous it will be when Bryan Fischer & the American Family Association learn that Jesus failed to be a Patriotic American and therefore sinned against God.

    Looks like Bryan Fischer’s god needs to meet Jesus.

  • CroneEver

    The thing about blending politics and religion is that you end up with exactly what Jesus faced: Rome, where the emperor was a god, and any one who was not patriotic (i.e., opposed Rome) was crucified as a matter of course, and Judea, where the Pharisees and Sadduccees controlled everything, and any one who was not truly religious (i.e., argued back) was either stoned to death or turned over to the local Roman authorities for crucifixion.

  • Ruaidrí Ó Domhnaill

    What? You mean Jesus wasn’t born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania???

    Say it isn’t so!!!

  • The Homeschool Apostate

    Christianity in America has turned ‘Murica into an essential component of the religion. American exceptionalism, fiscal conservatism, the military, and guns are just a few examples of its golden calves. This infusion is just one of many reasons why I left Christianity well before I straight up left religion all together.

  • Lamont Cranston

    Jesus wasn’t a patriotic American, so he must have been a sinner. Thanks, Bryan!

  • Lamont Cranston

    I should read all the comments first.

  • Ron McPherson

    Ben,

    I enjoy your blog because it forces me to think outside the norms of what I used to blindly accept. And I mostly agree with your thoughts here. But as a point of clarification, do you feel it is wrong in every circumstance to go to war? Not trying to put words in your mouth, but some things you have written have caused me to wonder. Thanks

  • Alan Christensen

    As are the 95% of people in the world who don’t live here!

  • In Romans Paul acknowledges (doesn’t endorse) that the government exists and has a right to do what it feels best for it’s citizens. However, we do know that Jesus lived and taught nonviolent enemy love, and drew some very hard lines on the issue (see Matthew 5). So the best way to answer the question– really the only part I know for certain– is that Jesus does not want his followers participating in it, ever, since it would require one to kill enemies instead of love enemies.

    The government still has a right to do it, but I believe Jesus asked us to opt out of the entire system and live as exiles of a different kingdom.

  • Ron McPherson

    Thanks much for the explanation. I enjoy your writings

  • Tami Terry Martin

    “I never thought of it that way.”

    “I never thought.”

    It seems that happens a lot and look where it gets us. I realized a bit late that the service at my church was going to be a big ol’ “Celebrate America” service. We slipped out during the pastoral prayer so as not to disturb others.

    But how, honestly, do you think our Christian brothers and sisters in Mexico would take “God Bless America?”

    How can I pledge allegiance to two kingdoms? And how is it that so very many American Christians don’t even think about that?

  • Timothy Weston

    At one time, the church was the centerpiece of a town. All of the events happened there. Industrialization and a burgeoning middle class gave rise to various fraternal orders in the early 20th century. It was in the 1950s that Christianity was being hijacked by American nationalism in the name of fighting the “godless” Soviets. It was then that we went from “E pluribus unum” to “In God we trust.” It was also the time where “Under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance against the wishes of the Pledge author’s daughter.
    The generation was raised on a patriotism that was in school and crept into church where it has been allowed to remain to the point where they were thought of as inseparable.

  • Paul Julian Gould

    It’s why I’ve chosen in many venues to refer exclusively to that particular very vocal phenomenon of American Evangelical Protestantism…

    It’s rather by itself, with variations on expression, but there are a lot of issues incorporated in that path… jingoistic patriotism, and rigid authoritarian religiosity that focus only on the symbology, while ignoring or minimizing that which is symbolized. Easier to swallow than that which requires a bit more chewing.

  • Paul Julian Gould

    Nah… think he’d consider you in the club… just up in the balcony instead of the front pews… /*smile*/

  • I appreciated your comment. All too many people confuse ideologies and their “Christianity”. While I strongly believe that one’s faith and understanding of scriptural teaching should affect their ideology, too often it is the other way around and ideology seems to take precedent over things Godly.

  • Well said. I recently watched a video series by Charles Colson called “The Body” and he made the point that when partisan politics got brought into the evangelical Christian church, the church pretty much lost its way.

  • Well said. A very good point about allegiance to two kingdoms, especially when one seems to reject most tenants of the Christian faith.

  • paganheart

    Also if my high school US history text is correct, the author of the original Pledge of Allegiance was a socialist, or at least had socialist leanings. When I point that out to my fundie acquaintances and family, they tend to look like their heads are about to explode.

  • Paul Julian Gould

    Bellamy was a socialist, and was also a Baptist minister, although some sources refer to him as “defrocked.”

  • James C.

    I wonder what Bryan Fischer would make of JesUSAves tee-shirts ?

    http://www.amazon.com/Mens-Hooded-Sweatshirt-JESUSAVES-NATION/dp/B0081EBZNI

    http://www.cafepress.com/+jesus-saves-usa+t-shirts

    Jesus as the USA ? I hope not.
    The USA as Redeemer, Saviour, Lord & God ? Again, I hope not
    The Lord Jesus America ? Probably only a matter of time.

    It’s only fair to say that the idea of nation-as-Redeemer is not new – but it is genuinely pagan. It’s amusing to think that some of the Fundamentalists who extol and exalt the Great Goddess America are making a god of the nation, just as the Assyrians made their national god Asshur out of the city Asshur. Fischer ought to have mentioned that for the Apostolic Church, their *patria* was in Heaven – not on earth. The cult of the nation receives no support – if anything, the reverse – from the NT. It’s alarming to find state-worship like that which the first Christians faced rearing its head in so-called “Christian America”.

  • gimpi1

    Probably not me. My husband’s gun-collection could arm a small third-world nation’s army, and I have taught firearms-safety and basic marksmanship to other women, before my rheumatoid arthritis made it painful to shoot anything with much of a kick.

    Back in the early 1990s I was even part of sort of ‘performance art’ shooting group, the Ladies Afternoon Sewing Circle and Pistol Club. We’d show up at firing-ranges in floral dresses and picture hats, set up a tea-service on the cleaning-bench, and when we weren’t on the firing-line, work on embroidering our chintz ‘gun cozies’ (i.e. holsters). The whole idea was to make a bit of light-hearted fun of the macho culture that can surround the shooting-sports. Fun times…

  • My husband owns several guns. I won’t touch any of them.

    I also see little use in overt patriotism. I am thankful to live here, in a country that offers me wealth and opportunities far out of reach for most inhabitants of this planet, but gloating about it, and overt displays of national pride, to me seems arrogant.

    But then I’ve always been “different”

  • Stacey (the kids’ Aunt Tasty)

    The video. Criminy.

  • Wesley Brock

    The issue being people inclined to dogmatic doctrines easily fall into the trap of nationalism or patriotism. They make no distinction between their religion and their country and many assume that their country is a result of their religion. It leads to many problems, always has.

  • Sam Lowry

    Benjamin – I have to dog you. It’s apparent you didn’t have any information about the photo of two women you posted. The woman on the left hasn’t killed anyone, but is willing to take a stand to protect her family. The woman on the right has killed innocent people in terrorist attacks. You’ve accused people who know the facts of being judgmental and sinful. Please do some research.

    What caused you to judge the women as you did, independent of the truth? What caused you to judge your readers as you did, independent of the truth?

  • A Blessing to All

    Sam, the point is they are doing the same thing in their own eyes. The woman on the right is also simply willing to take a stand to protect her family…here is the rub. One “prophet” said “he who lives by the sword dies by the sword”. One “prophet” said “blessed are the peacemakers”. One of the ladies pictured is not following what her “prophet” said.

  • The lady on the left has killed many people, including innocent children. The difference is, she has delegated her violence– it is done by her government, by drone warfare, all on her behalf but in a way that she doesn’t have to get her hands dirty. The one on the right just did the work herself.

  • Sam Lowry

    Wow. I was hoping for something rational. This is the first time I’ve seen someone troll their own blog.

  • Sam Lowry

    Eric – If I understand you, you’re saying, only the woman on the right is acting consistently with what she believes. I’m curious which side you take. Would you take part in terrorist acts, or would you refuse to defend your family/loved ones from deadly force? If neither, how do you see your beliefs differing from actions you might take?

  • I posted this consideration to Facebook last night: “What would Jesus think about Concealed Carry? Is it the gun or the intent or desire to use it that is really being concealed?” Think about it.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Don’t these same Evangelicals bitch about how those Romanists were corrupted by politics when Constantine legalized the church?

  • A Blessing to All

    ACTUALLY, Sam what I am saying is both women are doing the same thing in their own eyes. They both feel they are defending their families from deadly force…and although we in the West have made a game of deciding which wars are “just” wars, every war is justifiable to someone.

    One persons “terrorist attack” is another persons “defense from deadly force”.

    What I am saying is, “standing in front of an American flag, holding a gun in one hand, and a Bible in the other, is a blatant disregard of the teaching of Jesus”.

    As for my own actions, I am more and more convinced that “love your enemies” does not come with the “unless they really try to hurt you, and then it is OK to blow their heads off” caveat. Most people assume the options are 1) Shoot ’em 2) Do nothing. I believe, as Benjamin has stated in other posts, there are other options to try to actively defuse a situation without violence.