First Baptist Church of Dallas held its’ annual “Freedom Sunday” this week. Basically, it’s a star spangled Sunday morning celebration of the United States of America, its’ military, and our nation’s alleged “Christian heritage” featuring flags, the pledge of allegiance, the national anthem, patriotic hymns, congregational singing, and preaching.
I am a very grateful American. I know what a blessing and privilege it is to be born into a country where we enjoy freedoms that the citizens of China, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia can only dream of. I’m not here to America bash at all.
Also, it’s important to note that I do not judge the individuals involved in these type of services.
What’s the Problem?
The annual patriotic themed worship celebration at FBC Dallas crosses some lines that I am unable to reconcile with a life committed to following Jesus of Nazareth. Hundreds of other churches around the country hold these types of patriotic worship gatherings every year around the 4th of July.
First of all, converting a Christian worship service into a patriotic rally is idolatry. National flags and anthems simply have no place in Christian worship. If Jesus is the Savior of the whole world then those who call themselves Christians (literally, “little Christs”) have no business promoting one nation over another. As people of The Way, we are for everyone, everywhere. Period.
Secondly, “Freedom Sunday” has a clear political agenda to restore “conservative family values” to a place of prominence and power in our nation. When Donald Trump was president, this annual service celebrated the fact that a “man of God” held the highest office in the land. Former Vice President Mike Pence was even the keynote speaker for their 2019 event.
This year’s event was designed to communicate a desperate national need to return to more conservative leadership. The fact that President Joe Biden (who has issues of his own) has attended more church services in five months than Donald Trump did during his entire four years in the White House is irrelevant because what many on the Christian right want is someone who will say what they want to hear more than actually demonstrate a personal commitment to Jesus of Nazareth.
Endorsement of War
Finally, one of the aims of “Freedom Sunday” is to honor members of the United States military. Let me be clear: every member of the United States military is a beloved child of God, created in God’s image, worthy of dignity and respect. But so is every other human on earth. The Way of Jesus teaches us to honor the value of every person. Jesus Himself refused to kill another human even to the point of sacrificing His own life on behalf of the very people who murdered Him.
There is not a nation on earth that fires bullets or drops bombs with the blessing of God. As followers of Jesus, we are for all people everywhere-without exception. We don’t have the right to choose any one nation over another because Jesus is the Savior of the whole world and all of the people in it.
The Bottom Line
A life of following Jesus of Nazareth and nationalism cannot co-exist. The Way of Jesus stands in stark opposition to the empires of the earth that use military might to force others to conform to their will. Empires use guns, planes, and bombs to accomplish what Jesus taught can only be achieved through love and humility. As citizens of the Kingdom of God, we don’t celebrate the empires of man that work in opposition to the causes of the Kingdom.
Resources for Further Reflection
I spoke with Pastor Brian Zahnd about the dangers of nationalism earlier this year on The Messy Spirituality Podcast. You can listen to that episode here.
Brian’s books “Farewell to Mars” and “Postcards from Babylon” cover this subject much better than I could in one column. I also highly recommend Keith Giles‘ excellent book, “Jesus Untangled” and Greg Boyd’s “The Myth of a Christian Nation“.
Mark Twain wrote a powerful piece entitled “The War Prayer” which illustrates well the contradiction between Christianity and endorsements of war. Here’s a more modern interpretation via Youtube.