I opened the latest issue of a nearby church's newsletter today. On the cover was a picture of a large American flag with this poem, written by an unknown author:
O flag of our Union,Where to begin . . . First, let me say, once again, that I love my country. I thank God that I was born in what I believe is the best country on earth. I am grateful for the sacrifices that men and women have made throughout our nation's history to ensure our freedom. I celebrate Memorial Day and Independence Day along with my fellow patriots. Whenever our family gathers, we pray for our fellow Americans who are separated from their loved ones because their military service has them posted in some far off land - something my Navy-veteran father modeled for his children.
To you we'll be true,
To you red and white stripes,
And your stars on the blue;
The emblem of freedom,
The symbol of right,
We children salute you
O flag fair and bright!
Having said that, can we as the church recognize that Christ's Kingdom is not of this world? Can we understand that it is not the US flag that is the symbol of freedom, but the cross? Can we at least admit that a flag is not the "symbol of right"; that our nation has been wrong occasionally.
Are we more right than other countries? Certainly. Is our ideal of freedom based on a government "of the people, by the people and for the people," the gold-standard of political freedom throughout the world? I believe it is. But, as the Church, we need to recognize that, when we proclaim freedom we need to focus - not on the freedom we have as Americans - but on the freedom we have in Christ!
We who are Christ-followers live in two worlds. We are Americans, yes, but we are Christians first, and blending the two is walking up to the line of idolatry. Proclaiming on the cover of one's church's premier publication that "we'll be true" to the flag is leaning over the line so far that I one is in danger of tumbling over.
Like many believers I know, I struggle with the tension that results in being faithful to Christ and loyal to my nation. I'll be the first to admit that I don't always balance that tension quite right. Indeed, I often find my thoughts and feelings on the subject ebbing and flowing. Having said that, I remain aware that, if I allow the church to simply reflect the patriotism of our flag-waving culture, I am in danger of, as Greg Boyd puts it in his book The Myth of a Christian Nation, reducing the cross to "the pole upon which a national flag waves."
PS - I welcome your thoughts and comments. I'd rather we at least dialog before my link is exiled to cyber-Siberia.