As we all pause to appreciate our military veterans today, I’ve been thinking about the meaning of patriotism. It’s been disturbing for me to watch the battle for control of the definition of patriotism devolve into a wrestling match between white Christian, nationalist Trump supporters and the rest of the country. Obviously, I generalized things a bit in that last sentence, but there is a lot more truth in it than I wish there were. Conservative Christians seem to think they own the patent on patriotism. They seem unable to separate Old Glory from the Old Rugged Cross. I’ve got news for you, conservative Christian friend, those two icons are unrelated, despite what you continue to insist. Jesus Christ is not an American. America is not, nor was it ever, a Christian nation. America is a nation with a majority of citizens who identify themselves as Christians, but our government has NOTHING to do with Christianity. It was designed especially to avoid any alliance with any religion whatsoever. I can say that over and over until my dying breath and millions of conservative Christians will refuse to believe it. It’s willful ignorance in its purest form. So, your Christian faith has nothing to do with patriotism. You can claim it does all you want, but what you are talking about isn’t patriotism it’s nationalism–a concept which is antithetical to Christianity. Then is it possible to be Christian and patriotic? Certainly it is, but that requires one to understand what patriotism is and is not.
Patriotism requires the understanding that our nation was designed to offer freedom for all, equal protection under the law for all, and mutual inclusiveness. Today, we honor all those who’ve served in the military to protect those freedoms and guess what…those people we honor today weren’t all white conservative Christians, far from it. Our military has always been a diverse mixture of people of all colors, creeds, religions, genders, sexual orientations, and political beliefs. It was that way from day one and it’s even more true today. So to insist upon defining patriotism as blind nationalism and support for an incompetent tyrant just because he says he is supportive of the fundamentalist conservative Christian platform (notice I said “he says,” don’t kid yourself, Donald Trump doesn’t give a tinker’s damn about conservative Christians beyond the votes he needs from them) is complete lunacy. This should be an easy concept for you to understand, Conservative Christian, after all, can’t you remember just a few years back when you wouldn’t tolerate or support anything to do with the Obama administration? Were you not patriots for those 8 years or did you just get your patriot membership card in 2016?
Patriotism is having a sincere love for your country and wanting it to be the best it can be. To be a patriot in America means that you want this country to live up to what it says in our most hallowed founding documents. Being a patriot means that you are willing to stand up for, and even die for, the rights of other citizens you may disagree with–or some of the very people that many conservative Christians are working as hard as they can to marginalize. Being a patriot means wanting to make the path to citizenship for asylum-seeking refugees much easier, not locking children up and separating them from their families for months and months. Being a patriot means letting go of personal opinions and prejudices and happily allowing people born with different sexual preferences than our own the same rights to happiness as anyone else. Being a patriot means understanding that women are the owners of their own bodies and that, even though we may mourn the loss of a potential life, we don’t try to deny her the choice to do what’s best for her body and her life. Being a patriot means that when we see high profile professional athletes risking their popularity and their livelihoods by respectfully kneeling during a national anthem to bring awareness to a cause that has traumatized their communities, we shed a tear for their cause, respect their bravery, and honor their right to protest rather than demanding the “sons of a bitches” be fired. Being a patriot means we honor and respect hundreds of thousands of public school teachers who are currently rallying together to demand that their government do more to help them serve and protect our children in school. Being a patriot means being selfless enough to put aside personal convictions in order to bring others to the table of freedom.
If you go back and re-read that last paragraph, if you’re like me, you can probably imagine Jesus Christ as a modern American citizen. I don’t believe Jesus would be a patriot under the definition that is currently being used by so many conservative Christians. But I certainly do believe that Jesus would be a patriot through and through under the parameters used in the paragraph above.
So, on this Veterans’ Day, let’s reflect on the true meaning of what it means to be a patriot. Sadly, America has never lived up to what it is supposed to be. Today, lets’ honor all those who’ve given so much of themselves to help keep the hope alive that one day we can be as great a country as we are supposed to be.