As you might have realized, I write a lot about the relationship of patriotism and Christianity (see here, here, here, and here). For one of my readers the “straw that broke the camel’s back” was a post entitled “The Idolatry of Patriotism” (a summary of the issue at hand that I thought was very helpful). This particular reader (who will remain anonymous) has been continually angered by my thoughts on nationalism, patriotism, and politics. I, personally, feel that my opinions on these issues are centered on the gospel of Jesus and need to be heard. There are so many causes to which we can align ourselves; I want my supreme focus to be on the gospel of Jesus Christ.
All this to be said, a few years ago my aforementioned disgruntled reader wrote me a message entitled “My Swan Song” that said:
“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another,… a decent respect for the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation” (Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776).
Therefore: It has long been a policy of mine that I will not have any magazines or similar materials enter my home that I find contrary to my core value system, as a Christian. I am now going to apply that same rule to the only [sic] FB material that frequently not only comes into my home, but places itself on my computer desktop.
You and those who share your views are in my prayers.
Your Brother in Christ Jesus…
I felt this was worth sharing with others because it illustrates how misplaced priorities can make allies seem like enemies and vice versa.
1. Notice that this note quotes the Declaration of Independence rather than the Bible.
2. It is Biblically allowable and culturally helpful to familiarize yourself with things that are “contrary [to your] core value system.” By interacting with positions that are thoughtful, though contrary to your own, you will solidify your beliefs and articulate them in a pluralistic society. The Ostrich approach is not the Biblical approach.
3. The gospel and the gospel alone should be the dividing line for Christians. My views on nationalism and patriotism are wholly consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ according to the Scriptures.
4. While I appreciate the sentiment of brotherhood alluded to in the closing it appears that this “brother” sees me as more dangerous than his political allies. I think it is important to remember that the gospel which binds us is infinitely more important than the politics that might separate us.
5. Finally, it is important that we are willing to submit all of our opinions, philosophies, and beliefs to the Lordship of Christ and the teaching of the Bible. While I may be off on my analysis of history I am trying to critically evaluate the role of nationalism in the life of a Christ follower. In addition, I do not want naïvety or dishonesty to characterize my appraisal of the historical data. I am not free to make history say what I want it to say.
I hope this is helpful for those of us who continue to truthfully and lovingly discuss meaningful issues regarding what it means to be a follower of Christ. Though it is a struggle, I must always be willing to examine my life and beliefs in light of the Scriptures rather than try and mold the Scriptures to support my political and historical opinions.
Glenn Beck is a regular topic of discussion on this blog (see here and here). My reservations about Beck are numerous (both political, ideological, historical, and theological). Recently, Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally has gained much attention. Some have lauded Beck for showing courage to stand for America’s “founding values” and others have cautioned evangelicals to be careful with whom they partner (at this point the essay by Russell Moore is genuinely helpful). Not only has Moore weighed in but Doug Wilson and Scot McKnight have offered some commentary on the situation.
One denominational side note that I found disappointing was the alliance of Richard Land (president of SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission) with Beck as part of his multi-faith “black-robed regiment.”
Outside of Moore, Robert Parham has proven to be the most helpful. He not only provides insightful commentary about the dangers of civil religion and generic, theistic alliances, he does so with ample quotations from the actual event in question (“Restoring Honor” on August 28, 2010).
Fox News host Glenn Beck muddled biblical references with fragments of America history, recreating a pottage of civil religion that says America has a divine destiny and claiming that a national revival is beginning…
Beck said, “We can disagree on politics. We can disagree on so much. These men and women don’t agree on fundamentals. They don’t agree on everything that every church teaches. What they do agree on is that God is the answer.
It is insightful to note that the definitions of god provided by these various clerics are so broad that god is probably not even a sufficiently meaningful category. Whose God?
No amount of Bible reading, sermons masquerading as prayers and Christian hymns can cover up Beck’s civil religion that slides back and forth between the Bible and nationalism, between authentic faith and patriotic religion.
He treats the “American scripture”—such as the Gettysburg Address—as if it bears the same revelatory weight as Christian Scripture.
What is important to Beck is belief in God—God generically—not a specific understanding of God revealed in the Biblical witness, but God who appears in nature and from which one draws universal truths.
Not surprisingly, Beck only uses the Bible to point toward the idea of a God-generic…
I have seen a lot of discussion about Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28 (we’ll save the debate over the appropriateness of such an event at the Lincoln Memorial on such a significant date for another time).
One of my good friends mentioned how moving it was to see thousands of people singing Amazing Grace. I could tell she was shocked when I responded with caution and skepticism rather than whole-hearted affirmation.
The more I have examined this event the more I am convinced that it is nothing more than an ecumenical, atheological, universalitic form of the often seen idolatry of patriotism. While some well-intentioned evangelicals may have been involved in this event, Beck presented nothing more than a moralistic, patriotic call to everything but the Biblical gospel. I heard no mention of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus or the call of Christians to love their enemies and sacrifice their preferences for the sake of the gospel. It is no surprise that Beck, a self-identified Mormon, would miss the mark on the gospel.
For many undiscerning evangelicals Beck’s morality, Biblical references, and theistic language is enough to convince them He is on God’s team. Unfortunately, as his Mormon theology and alliance with clerics of various faiths demonstrates Beck is not a believer in the Trinitarian articulation of the Christian God. One can support Beck’s politics but be very wary when he begins using theistic language about “returning America to God.” Whose God?
The best and most well-reasoned response I have read is by Dr. Russell Moore. Everyone should read his measured response (some lengthy excerpts are included below):
Rather than cultivating a Christian vision of justice and the common good (which would have, by necessity, been nuanced enough to put us sometimes at odds with our political allies), we’ve relied on populist God-and-country sloganeering and outrage-generating talking heads. We’ve tolerated heresy and buffoonery in our leadership as long as with it there is sufficient political “conservatism” and a sufficient commercial venue to sell our books and products.
Too often, and for too long, American “Christianity” has been a political agenda in search of a gospel useful enough to accommodate it. There is a liberation theology of the Left, and there is a liberation theology of the Right, and both are at heart mammon worship. The liberation theology of the Left often wants a Barabbas, to fight off the oppressors as though our ultimate problem were the reign of Rome and not the reign of death. The liberation theology of the Right wants a golden calf, to represent religion and to remind us of all the economic security we had in Egypt. Both want a Caesar or a Pharaoh, not a Messiah…
Mormonism and Mammonism are contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. They offer another Lord Jesus than the One offered in the Scriptures and Christian tradition, and another way to approach him. An embrace of these tragic new vehicles for the old Gnostic heresy is unloving to our Mormon friends and secularist neighbors, and to the rest of the watching world. Any “revival” that is possible without the Lord Jesus Christ is a “revival” of a different kind of spirit than the Spirit of Christ (1 John 4:1-3)…
It’s sad to see so many Christians confusing Mormon politics or American nationalism with the gospel of Jesus Christ. But, don’t get me wrong, I’m not pessimistic. Jesus will build his church, and he will build it on the gospel. He doesn’t need American Christianity to do it. Vibrant, loving, orthodox Christianity will flourish, perhaps among the poor of Haiti or the persecuted of Sudan or the outlawed of China, but it will flourish.
And there will be a new generation, in America and elsewhere, who will be ready for a gospel that is more than just Fox News at prayer.
I just read an article by Gregory Boyd in the most recent issue of Relevant Magazine. I think this is one of the most well-written and concise treatments of the issues of nationalism and Christianity. Of course, Boyd would be no stranger to this topic as the author of Myth of a Christian Nation. I recommend everyone read what he has to say in preparation for this July 4 holiday.
Below are some cogent excerpts from the article:
The danger of idolatrous patriotism is not just about how we compromise our love for enemies. If we become too invested in our nation, we can forget our real citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 1:27) and our job is to live as ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20)…
I appreciate that America recognizes my rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” but there is nothing distinctly Kingdom about these rights. They’re nowhere to be found in the Bible. To the contrary, as a follower of Jesus I’m called to surrender my rights to life, liberty and happiness, and instead submit to the will of God. These rights are noble on a political level, but they can get in the way of my call to seek first the Kingdom. I’m grateful America extends these rights to people, for most countries throughout history have not. But my sole allegiance is to the heavenly Kingdom that calls me to surrender my rights. If I get too concerned with an earthly country that frees me to pursue my rights, my healthy patriotism becomes idolatrous. I’ve put my country’s ideals before God.
Despite the fact that He lived in an age when plenty of political and nationalist issues were being hotly debated, Jesus never displayed the slightest interest in such matters. He didn’t come to bring us a “new and improved” version of the Kingdom of the world. He came to inaugurate a Kingdom that is “not of this world.” It’s a Kingdom that is no more Israeli than it is Palestinian; no more American than it is Iraqi; and no more socialist than it is democratic. Instead, it’s a Kingdom that encompasses people from every nation and political persuasion, for it puts on display the “one new humanity” Jesus died to create (Eph. 2:15). In this Kingdom, Paul declares, there is no longer any Jew or Greek (Gal. 3:27-29). In our Kingdom, all national, tribal, ethnic, gender, social and economic distinctions are insignificant.
So over the Fourth of July weekend – and all year – be appreciative of your country. Be patriotic. But make sure your patriotism pales in comparison to your sacrifice, commitment and allegiance to the Kingdom of God.
I recently received an e-mail from Randy Forbes, one of my Congressional representatives, updating me on his work to “affirm America’s Judeo-Christian heritage.” I have written in the past on the meaninglessness of the term “Judeo-Christian.” While I respect Randy Forbes as a man of principals and godly character, I think he is clearly wrong on the issue of America’s heritage and future.
America was never a “Christian nation… united in some evangelical consensus. Church membership at the time of the American Revolution was no more than six percent of the population” (C. Douglas Weaver, In Search of the New Testament Church: The Baptist Story).
Here is an excerpt from Forbes’ e-mail newsletter.
Last May, I spoke on the floor of the House of Representatives affirming America’s Judeo-Christian heritage and its importance in shaping our government. My statement came in response to President Barack Obama’s April 6 speech in Turkey where he said, “And I’ve said before that one of the great strengths of the United States is — although as I mentioned, we have a very large Christian population, we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation.” Currently, my video has been viewed over 3 million times, proving America’s religious heritage continues to be a heightened point of debate in our society.
In this particular instance, President Obama is correct. America is neither Christian, Jewish, or Muslim. If it was we would be subject to the laws and dictates of that religion. America is not and was not ever a theocracy.
While Forbes promises “to protect the freedoms of religious expression in public life” I am afraid he is more concerned with protecting Christian freedoms than the freedoms of other religious persons. We must never forget the mistakes that have been justified by the myth of America as God’s “chosen nation” (e.g., Native Americans, etc.). I am, of course, wary of the idea that Forbes or any other person can discern the absolute intent of the Founding Fathers or that the “religious values” of the “Founding Fathers” are worth fighting for. It is clear from history that America is not God’s “chosen nation” and that the most important things to protect our are freedoms.
At the time of the American Revolution many Baptists’, for instance, were being jailed and persecuted for there particular brand of religious beliefs (i.e., voluntary association, baptism by immersion, priesthood of believers, etc.). Many Baptists felt that religious uniformity and collusion of church and state had produced the “shocking monster of [a] Christian nation” (Weaver). This sort of language might seem inflammatory to the modern Christian, but it was central to the beliefs of many at the time of the Revolution.
As a Christian it is important for me to distinguish my nation from my heavenly citizenship; my duty is to proclaim the gospel in all of life. All of the political parties and movements in America have proven to be unsuccessful in producing genuine gospel change in the lives and hearts of the American people. In fact, the collaboration of churches with political movements have produced disinterested “disciples” with mixed motivations.
Do I think that the gospel is the only hope for every person? Absolutely. However, knowing how politicians and power-brokers use religion as a means to dominance, I am careful to separate religious affiliation and law. Further, based on abuses of the past, it is essential that all people of all religions have the same acceptance and protection under the law.