Freedom, Idolatry, and Dual Citizenship

I hate going to church on the 4th of July.

One year, a pastor linked Paul's idea of freedom in Christ from Galatians with religious pluralism, claiming that all religions are really the same and that Jesus freed us up to worship however we like.  I think that was when my hatred of 4th of July church started.

The next year, we sang "God Bless America" while a 60 foot American flag rose on the altar (actually covering the cross).  Something felt wrong.

Almost every year, former and current military are asked to stand, sometimes called out branch by branch.  America's soldiers, we're told, are actually fighting to make Sunday morning church possible.  That's what all our wars have been about, we're told.  But I don't buy that.  Not anymore.

We need clearer conversation about the meaning of freedom.  We need a heart-check around the idolatrous edge of patriotism.  We need to think deeply about what it means if we find ourselves as Christians and Americans.

I hate going to church on the 4th of July, I think, because it stirs up all of these questions to which I don't have answers.  What is freedom?  What does healthy patriotism look like?  What does it mean to be both a Christian and an American?

These are questions to be pounded out in community.  A good Small Group would really help, I think.  Courageous Small Group leaders, yeah, that would help too.
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I'd love to love going to church on the 4th of July.  Maybe next year?

3 comments:

  1. I come from a triple citizenship situation, as it were: Swiss, US, and heavenly. I feel uncomfortable in several US churches even when it's not July 4th: the flag even being there rubs me the wrong way, especially when (as in at least one church I've been to) it's closer to the altar than the flag of the cross.

    This may be cultural: it would never do to have a Swiss flag flying inside one of our state churches (but we fly them everywhere else), so it's an odd thing that in the separation-of-church-and-state USA flags fly in the sanctuary. But beyond that, the flag in the sanctuary speaks symbolic volumes. It proclaims a much tighter connection than is legally or factually there. Why do we do that? Do we want to sanctify our patriotism? Do we want to act as though our churches are officially endorsed? I'm not sure I understand it, nor am I sure I understand all the reasons that flag bugs me. But it does.

    How would we react if an immigrant community flew the Cuban/Mexican/Russian/Armenian/Abkhazian flag in their church? What would it mean to us? And why would most of us be bothered if our church had a Boston Celtics or UF Gators pennant next to the altar? Why, if at all, does our country's flag belong there more?

    Like you, I have more questions than answers.

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  2. Robert H.12:42 PM

    Steve,
    I relish this opportunity to express my mutual dislike for the 4th of July holiday (I was tempted to do so on facebook or twitter, but there was just too much joyful patriotism on display, and I wasn't in the mood to rain on everyone else's fireworks or get into an argument in an inadequate venue).

    I visited a church yesterday that prefaced their worship service by showing YouTube clips of what looked like mid-20th-century American propaganda, with images of US soldiers and warplanes. During that time, instead of preparing my heart to worship God, I found myself plotting to walk out during a recitation of the pledge of allegiance and remove the prominently-displayed US flag from the lobby (a la Jesus with the temple moneychangers). Fortunately for everybody, there was no pledge recitation, and I was able to sit through the service and take communion rejoicing in the reality that we are all forgiven and reconciled, despite our various idolatries against the King.

    To me, the only appropriate way to display an American flag in a church is alongside and among the flags of other nations as a symbol of God's love for all peoples. Yes, it's appropriate to love the USA, because these are the people and states among which we live by God's grace. And yes, we can thankful for the good freedoms we enjoy that many other nations do not. But I think our churches make an idolatrous error when we credit those freedoms to the US military or thank God for "our armed forces."

    I wish that churches could be a place where we could really dialogue about what kind of patriotism is appropriate for faithful Christians. I think you're right that we need some courageous small group leaders to help us enter into conversation.

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  3. dude, i can't even start to talk about the service i attended on sunday...it was put together by a member of my family and it was so full of America-worship that I'm not sure there was any room for God in there anywhere.

    I think that there's a large portion of our population (particularly the boomers and older) for whom linking God and the USA is a tremendous source of (false) comfort.

    Somebody needs to tell 'em...but I'm not sure it's going to be me--at least not for the situation I was in this past Sunday!

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