I’ll Just Admit It… Why I’m Not a Patriot

I’ll Just Admit It… Why I’m Not a Patriot March 5, 2012

*The following is a guest post from Erin Thomas.  Check out her blog!

“For the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things, there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22,23).

The last four words of this passage — there is no law — are the most striking to me. Usually, the sermons we hear about the fruit of the Spirit is that it is never illegal. The fruit is so amazingly transcendent and yet imminent in our transformed beings that no law can bar actions flowing from them.

However, I would like to add another perspective. Against such things, there is no legal system. We often pride ourselves in our democratic order in Canada, in our freedom of speech, our freedom to congregate, our freedom of the press, and all those other things that sometimes attach to spiritual fruit. While being grateful for these things is by no means wrong, we stray a bit too far and begin thank God that we do not live under oppression or under regimes that would terrorize our faith. How could such fruit grow under violence and terror?

I don’t know. Ask Paul while he encouraged believers under Nero’s fiery thumb.

Take a good look at those outcomes of the Spirit’s fruit again: against such things, there is no law. No law. There is no democracy, no dictatorship, no monarchy, no military regime, or fascist or communist rule that can bar the workings of the Holy Spirit. People living under the threat of military violence can experience and express peace and patience and love just as much, if not more so, than those of us living under political peace and democracy.

Do we stop standing against injustice? By no means! Yet it’s important to remember that it is not our country’s legislative governance that brings about spiritual fruit. This will grow no matter what country you end up in.

Furthermore, after hearing stories of oppressed peoples within Canada — First Nations, Metis, Inuit, immigrant groups — and their sadness in declaring that July 01 is indeed NOT a day of independence nor a day when Canada became a nation, I am finding it harder and harder to celebrate this day as “Canada’s”. In similar fashion, many in the United States are beginning to understand that July 04 is not exactly everyone’s Independence Day.

So if the fruit of the Spirit knows no illegality nor favoured legal system, I must ask the question:

Where are our allegiances?

Claiborne writes it well in his article when he speaks of celebrating interdependence, rather than the over-consumed independence which has brought much pain and suffering. In his words:

“As an American, and especially as a Christian, I am convinced that a love for our own people is not a bad thing, but love doesn’t stop at borders. Love is infinitely boundless and all about holy trespassing and offensive friendships.”

Powerful punch.

Yet is one I would rather embrace than a flag.

Common Prayer – A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals records such love in action. In their devotional liturgy for July 04 — America’s Independence Day — Claiborne, Wilson-Hartgrove, and Okonoro write:

“Wanting to celebrate the reign of God rather than Independence Day, the Church of the Sojourners in San Francisco, CA, have declared July 04 the Celebration of Yaweh’s Kingship. Debbie Gish explains, ‘By choosing this day to celebrate Yaweh’s kingship, we are symbolically and concretely declaring our ultimate allegiance. It may appear to be a statement against the United States, but in fact it is a statement for the kingdom of God.”

I’ve been called unpatriotic… ungrateful… unbiblical, and worse. No matter. My allegiance is squarely placed on the Creator… the Sustainer… the Saviour. He is the One who appoints all leaders to their places and tears down prideful regimes at His will. Yes, I love Canada but I will not blot out the bloodshed and violence that came to bring about the birth of a nation. And when Canada falls — for it will as all nations do at some point in time — allegiance to the Eternal God of the universe will stand.

Love knows no boundaries or borders… and I stand with Him.

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  • I don’t see why it has to be either/or.   I am an American Patriot. I am a follower of Jesus. I am thankful that God allowed me to be born here. I’m thankful that my nation has done some great things for the world, and I am sorry that my nation has some deplorable actions on its record, too. And I can say the same about my kids. I still love them, despite their sins, and I am proud to be their dad when they shine.
    To love one’s country does not exclude them from following Jesus, and it certainly does not mean they cannot acknowledge its flaws.

    • Ana

      I agree, James.

      There is a healthy, reasonable level of patriotism that one can have for their country.  Many countries have moments in their past that warrant celebration and pride.

      I don’t want to overstep by speaking for the author, but it is my impression that she is referring more to a nationalistic mindset that trumps faith AND interconnectedness with others. It is when this occurs, that a unhealthy patriotism is born- one that has excused war, racism, hate etc…

      It was particularly interesting to read this post today.  I have a tattoo that I got 3 days ago and i’m in that “itchy healing” phase.  It’s a simple outline of free-floating continents on my forearm. Circling it are the words, “As a woman I have no country”.

      This is the first line of a Virginia Woolf quote, ” As a woman I have no country.  as a woman my country is the whole world”.

      A small part of my worried that some might assume I am denouncing the U.S and all it has afforded me.  Hardly.  It is simply a visual reminder of my global community.  I feel connected and responsible for my brothers and sisters- in every country.

      • Ana, great comment. To clarify: the reason I used that phrase about being a patriot is because the tweet which led me to this post, today specifically said “Why I’m Not a Patriot”. The tweeter was none other than Kurt.

      • Erin

        Truthfully, I was referring more to patriotism having become a demanded state of being rather than a choice. Could you perhaps shed some more insight for me as to how that looks for you in the States? I know I can speak from a Canadian perspective and how this shakes down up here, and I can be an outsider looking in to the States, but other insights are always great to have. However I really do struggle with creeds that begin with: “I pledge allegiance to the flag…”

    • Mike Ward

      I agree with James, and I have trouble knowing how to respond to posts like Erin’s. I appreciate the oportunity to try to understand someone else’s point of view, but in the end I just don’t get it.

      • Erin

        It was a difficult post to write, to be sure. Is there something more specific that is bothersome? 

        • Mike Ward

          Hi Erin, thanks for the reply.

          Honestly, “bother” is too strong a word. I’ve seen other post about this same sort of thing elsewhere that really did bother me a lot because they were just dripping with anti-Americanism, but I don’t sense any anti-Canadianism here. The fact that it was difficult for you to write, reenforces my impression that you are NOT motivated be any sort of hatred of your government nor mine.

          But I don’t understand why Christianity and patriotism have to be assumed to be in tension. I love the US. I love a lot of things. I love my parents who Jesus told me to hate. Loving something doesn’t mean holding it up above God.

          As for your question, “Where are our allegiances?” My allegiance is with Christ. But I also have an allegiance to the US. The easy rebuttal to that is that “no one can serve to masters”, but that is an oversimplification. All of us have secondary allegiances, if not to our country to other things.

          • Erin

            Thanks. It’s true I’m not motivated by hatred but I am certainly concerned. Perhaps you can shed some light on the American perspective(s), because I’ve certainly seen/heard/experienced this creeping into Canadian theology: our westernized ideals, accomplishments, powers and beliefs have become the supposed gardens from which the fruit of the Spirit flow. When countries take glory for the Spirit’s fruit, love of country becomes difficult and the tension increases, especially in light of blatant corruption and inequality and oppression within our own borders.

          • Mike Ward

            I think it’s really hard to describe the American perspectives because the temptation is to narrow it down to a few when in fact their are a lot. I suspect that our perspectives are a lot like Canadian perspectives. Anything anyone down here believes is likely believed by someone up there and vice verse. The proportions may vary a little, but that is it.

            Anyway, even though I’m a patriot and therefore don’t see patriotism as bad per se, I agree it can have a negative imfluence on the Church. So can a lot of other isms.

    • Erin

      It’s not a love of country I’m referring to here. It’s a hyper-nationalism that both Canada and the States appear to be espousing to more and more. Yes, anyone from any nation can love their country. However when the country begins to demand more allegiance from us and it moves into Christ’s place, I have serious concerns. No country has God’s place. Furthermore, I really did want to highlight that we often view spiritual fruit through an North American mindset where it can only flourish in places where our gov’ts are supposedly models of civility, decency and human rights. How often have we been proven wrong over that one? It’s this superimposing of patriotic hubris onto Scripture that clouds our ability to see that Scripture through the eyes of others.

      • Well, again, I was, more than anything else, springboarding my comment from the headline that is at the top of this page: “Why I Am  Not A Patriot.” 

        I do agree that nationalism is a negative thing, but I also note that a lot of folks these days who profess to be anti-patriotic tend to make blanket accusations against many patriotic people that, in large part, don’t apply to the majority. Among those are: (1) equating love for one’s country with nationalism or fascism; (2) equating patriotism with “my nation is more favored by God than all others”; (3) equating patriotism with refusal to acknowledge my nation’s faults.
        Not saying this post is full of such blanket accusations, but it reminds me of some similar posts that do engage in such things.

        • Erin

          Could we both be talking of reactions of “patriots” and “anti-patriots”? While I see your point that some people trying to rid themselves of hyper-nationalism could go to extremes to paint others of different mindsets in a dark cast. However, speaking from personal experience and the experiences of marginalized groups around me I interact with everyday, the opposite is also true. If we do not agree that Canada is the best country in the world, shout out the “truth north strong and free”, support local, national & foreign policy, or somehow be lacking in areas pertaining to patriotism, we too are blacklisted. There is no room for dissent which, in a democracy, is supposedly a given. 

          • Erin, if someone blacklists you for that, then shame on them. I join you in declaring such actions are not godly. (Ironically, they are also anti-patriotic, as they seek to stamp out free speech.)

          • Erin

            I guess perhaps the post initially was a commentary on the truth that our countries don’t create the fruit of the Spirit. The Spirit creates and nurtures His own fruit. When our mindsets stand to take away that glory, we are in danger of creating a democratic idolatry, no?

          • No doubt.

          • Mike Ward

            Erin, move to the States. No one will complain if you don’t think Canada is the best country in the world. 🙂

          • Erin

            Hmmm… tempting, but while I would say carrying grudges is never a good thing, I think we as a country are still nursing a big hurt when you scooped up Gretzky all those years ago. Just saying’… 🙂

          • Marla Abe

             It is my impression after visits around the world that USAmericans are hyper-patriotic. I have not saluted the flag or pledged allegiance since I was in 6th grade and I get glares for that.  It is “our country, right or wrong.”  We fail to recognize that any brother or sister in Christ of any nationality is more important and more related to us than someone of our same nationality.  The tribe, or country, before our brothers and sisters is what allowed the genocide in Rwanda, which was carried out by Christians against fellow church members.  This is the great danger of patriotism.

      • Matteo

        Erin I agree and feel the same way. I honor and pray for those who serve this country (USA). I personally feel pledging allegiance to this nation when though God is sovereign over it, does unChristian things. This leaves me to ponder larger issues of evil, etc., but to keep it simple I must discern Christ’s words in my action over the constitution or American foreign policy to guide my thoughts and ultimately my vote while I have it. I have to take a more pacifist stance personally for how I understand Jesus, for example, and don’t judge others who take a different view.

        • Erin

          So true, Matteo. I, too, am a pacifist. Yet I do acknowledge that it is an imperfect life, just as “just-war” theories are. Yet it reinforces that even within our developed world systems there is violence, corruption and oppression. Neither the US or Canada offer freedom or peace for all people on all levels. Our codes espousing as such then can create false impressions or place marginalized peoples into corners where they declare the freedom of the west when it is not true for them. When referring then specifically to the Galatians passage, I see God’s transcendence of “imminent fruit” in all people regardless of nationality, creed or allegiance. Our ‘free’ countries do not develop this fruit. The Spirit does. And glory must be placed where glory is due. And it is not towards political structures.

          • Matteo

            I can’t abide by the just war theory. I dont others who do even if reluctantly. If not resisting evil means that I die well so be it. The evil perpetuated through history which calls for protective or retaliatory violence is endemic of our sin, corruption, and depravity. We can justify it but will still have to stand in judgment for our action even our failure to act – God’s saving grace aside. We are still mired by the flesh. We can create scenarios of what we would do if… and we would all end up sinning. I know I would. For me this makes me realize how much more precious His blood is and j can only hope to find comfort in Him washing my tears and be safe in His arms some day – if I don’t damn myself.

          • Mike Ward

            It’s one thing to prefer to die than to resist evil, but what about when by not resisting evil others die?

            In a situation where violence can save lives are you sure violence is wrong? What if lives can be saved by non-lethal violence? Is it still better to no resist.

            Even attacking someone with your bare hands is an act of violence even if the person you are attacking runs away before you can grab him.

            It was reported that the school shooter in Ohio stopped shooting and fled because a football coached rushed him. Was that coach wrong? Should he have just stood there while kids were murdered?

          •  Excellent. There certainly were a lot of concentration-camp survivors who are thankful that the US was willing to engage in war in Europe in 1941-45.

          • I’m sure they are, but to be fair the US did not fight that war to save the Jews, and most of the people who they owe their highest gratitude were not Americans. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Righteous_among_the_Nations_by_country

          • Marla Abe

            There is an assumption of only two choices here, doing nothing or using violence. There are a LOT of options in between.  The football coach rushed at him to stop him and did not damage him. We have rarely thought about ways to stop evil other than violent means.

          • Mike Ward

            This is specific real world example and not some theoretical. What were the coaches other options? What should he have do other than what he did?

          • Marla Abe

            What the coach did…rush towards him, presumably to disarm him or at least stop him in some way, did not involve shooting at him, or punching him out. The coach could even have intended to put himself between the shooter and other students. He was removing the source of violence, rather than adding to the violence.  

          • Removing the source of violence sometimes has to done by violent means.

            I too oppose violence. I just don’t oppose violence in all cases.

            And I don’t think I actually know anyone who opposes violence in all cases.

            Attacking someone without shooting them is violent.

            Wrestling a  gun away from someone is violent even if you don’t cause bodily harm.

            Locking someone in prison is violent.

            Attacking someone who runs away before you can get your hands on them is violent.

            I know people who oppose some of these things. But I don’t know anyone who opposes all them.

            We should oppose violence, but we should not be absolutists about it.

            And if we are going to advocate absolute non-violence, we need to really advocate absolute non-violence and not redefine violence to only refer to certain forms of violence.

          • Marla Abe

             Thanks, Mike, for this thoughtful response.  We need community to define violence, perhaps.  I think we would both lean towards the minimum amount of harm done.

          • Absolutely, I agree with minimal harm. Actually, I probablly agree with you on more than just that. But space is running short.

          • Marla, As an aside, maybe you noticed that James and I were talking about the holocaust in another part of this thread. People like me sometime use the holocaust as an example of an evil that had to be opposed by violence, but even I know that some of the most moving stories of people opposing the holocaust involved no violence at all. There are so many of them, but I stumbled across one I’d never heard of just the other day: Chiune Sugihara http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiune_Sugihara

          • Marla Abe

            Wow, I had never heard of him. Thanks so much!! Funny how this format  keeps away ongoing dialogue. There were other examples, too, such as what the Dutch people did and I think it was Denmark that had a no harm to humans approach as well.

  • This is a fantastic post. Thank you for sharing.

  • Bob Freeman

    I am a patriot. However,  I do not always agree with the actions of my government but yet I support it and would defend it from outside attack.  Although I believe myself to be a patriot, I am also very much a child of God and therefore I view all other men and women as brothers and sisters.  This was not always the case as something happened when I turned to Christ in 1978.  My perspective changed completely. No longer did I have the “us against them” worldview ” but now it was “us (globally) against evil, pain, suffering and sin””.  Jesus changed the way I viewed the world. Now, I was able to see all men and women as brothers and sisters and I then saw the world as a small planet filled with people who, like me, needed a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

    • Erin

      Well put, Bob. If I was to put it another way (and correct me if I’m wrong): a Canadian (or American) can embody the fruit of the Spirit BUT it is because that person is a changed creature in Christ first, where the Spirit can continue the process of growing who we are no matter where we live. It is not specifically because we live in the particular societies that we do. I find it interesting when North Americans travel to other parts of the world, especially regions somewhat described as “enemy territory” for all intents & purposes, find themselves are shocked to discovered within locals their character because of Christ, passion for Christ, and contentment in Christ in ways that we’re flummoxed by. It begs the question: have we relied upon democratic structures for so long that materiality has crept into our belief that love, joy, peace, patience, etc. cannot exist without our way of life nurturing it?

  • @49aa253777e36793bf9a1bfecbd84792:disqus , @671e3eae3e90ae08c3a2f1bd39e8dc7d:disqus , @middletree:disqus , I think perhaps an example will illustrate where I resonated with Erin’s comments and responded negatively to the defense of patriotism by Mike & James…and here I confess I’m reading something none of the three of you actually said, into the “patriot” position.  There are many in the United States who tell me that my anti-war, non-military-participation position is morally inconsistent because “the men and women of the armed forces died to give you the freedom to be a pacifist.”

    There are actually several assumptions in that statement that must be called out.  One is the one I took as thematic in Erin’s original post…the freedom we have to worship unmolested is not synonymous with freedom to believe what we do about God, peace, or anything else.  We could believe those things and be persecuted for them, as many have been before and still are in much of the world.  No one has granted us freedom to worship; they’ve merely agreed not to *try* to stop us.

    Second is the assumption that what our armed forces–both U.S. and Canadian–are fighting for is actually our freedom.  A cautious analysis of the conflicts to which we have applied our militaries reveals that few, if any, of those conflicts had either the express purpose or the actual outcome of any increase in freedom in our respective countries.

    Third, the purpose of a soldier isn’t to die for anything…as George Patton once said, “I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his
    country. He won it by making the other poor, dumb bastard die for his
    country.”  It’s typically Patton-vulgar, but the point is there…the job of the soldier is to kill, and only to die if unavoidable while trying to kill.

    In making of each of these three points, many of my friends, and perhaps Mike and James, will consider me unpatriotic.  I would say, rather, that if these attitudes are exemplars of patriotism, as many North Americans suggest, then we have the moral duty to be unpatriotic.

    •  Dan I would pretty much agree with your entire comment above. I certainly wouldn’t say you are unpatriotic. I would say, however, that many of us defending the word “patriot”, especially myself, wouldn’t think the thoughts you (sort of) attributed to us in your first paragraph.

      The only thing I would take issue with above is that, while it’s true that we haven’t had a war which was defending our nation in several decades, we were right in participating in WWII. Besides the fact that we were attacked, we did play a part in the rescue of millions in German-run concentration camps. It’s not always about defending our country.

      To me, a Patriot is simply someone who loves their country, warts and all. I also love my family, including the brother who went to prison, the cousin who hasn’t found his place in life, and all the others ones who are imperfect.

      What sometimes frustrates me about conversations on this topic is the either/or that creeps in. I love my country. I think we have done a lot of good in the world, by God’s grace. I think we have done some things we shouldn’t, and God’s grace comes into play there, as well. I think the US is a nation worth preserving, worth praying for, and, if we were directly attacked, worth fighting for.

      • And I really appreciate your nuance, @middletree:disqus .

  • Brad

    Kierkegaard writes about judgment day when each person stands before God INDIVIDUALLY and (I’m extrapolating his point here) will not be able to point to what his church did or what his organization did or what his country did, but only what he did or more importantly who he was/is.  Every day is judgment day.  I do believe in the inter-connectedness of all life.  King put it this way:  “Somehow you cannot be all that you are supposed to be if I am not all I am supposed to be, and I cannot be all I’m supposed to be if you are not all you are supposed to be.”  But all I can do is move to become all I am called to be.  I cannot nor do I want to make other me’s!  I can simply hope to influence when God wills to help others become who they are supposed to be.  If I believe strongly my country is unjust I must decide if the Spirit is prompting me to peacefully stand up against injustice in various forms of my actions and words.  This kind of relationship to the fruits of the Spirit takes a lifetime of daily disciplined activity, whether that life be 10, 40, or 80 years on earth.  Gandhi, King, Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi all lived/live daily what they believed/believe and let the chips fall where they may, but first they had to live with themselves and what they “heard” from within what they were supposed to do.  Hardness begets hardness.  Softness begets softness.  Water flows where it flows coming up against obstacles like rocks or debris.  It changes its form yet still has integrity:  it remains water.  It blesses and is blessed, leaving nutrients for life in the areas of the stream it encounters while continuing to flow toward it’s final objective.  In cold or heat it may change its form or state, yet it still remains water.   The Spirit flows through us.  It is water producing fruit planted in our soil.  I cannot “see” or “hear” some others’ perspectives, but I trust that I will adjust and bless and be blessed as I allow the Spirit to move.

  • Aaron

    I’m not a patriot, and proud of it. We owe more to the human race as a whole than we do to any one country. Love of country causes good men to kill other good men, for no other reason than they’re from different places.