The Problem with Patriotism

The Poetry of Patriotism

When I was in elementary school, we had to memorize poetry. A couple of those poems have floated back into my brain recently. The centennial of the beginning of WWI brought back:

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the skies

The lark, still bravely singing, flies.

An inspiring  NPR interview with the author of “Our Declaration” ( and anticipation of “A Capital Fourth” on PBS brought back these lines:

Breathes there a man with soul so dead

Who never to himself has said,

This is my own, my native land!

All of which is to say that a healthy patriotism is a good thing, particularly when it includes ruthless honesty about the ways in which we have both fulfilled and failed to fulfill the ideals that gave birth to our nation.

The Problem with Patriotism

For biblically-rooted, Christ-centered disciples, the problem with patriotism is when it gets tangled up with worship; when we drift into placing a higher priority on our citizenship in our nation than we place on our citizenship in the Kingdom of God; when we are more focused on our “national interest” than we are on the Sermon on the Mount; when we lift the flag in front of the cross.

Our daughter in the television communications business reminds me that what we see takes priority over what we hear. Visual symbols really matter.

On my way to and from our home, I pass a church with a flag pole by its entrance. A large American flag waves at the top of the pole. Beneath it is a Christian flag that is about the size of the blue field in the American one.

The position and the proportion of the flags are the problem.  The visual symbol declares that even for deeply committed Christians, being an American takes priority over being a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Their sign announces a “Patriotic Service” for this Sunday.  It makes me wonder what part of  “You shall have no other gods before me” they don’t they understand.

So, celebrate Independence Day!  Read the Declaration and give thanks for still unfinished vision it holds. Enjoy the fireworks! Watch for the canons during the playing of  “The 1812 Overture.” Stomp your feet to “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”

But don’t forget who you are.  You are a disciple of Jesus Christ.  You are a citizen of the Kingdom of God.


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10 thoughts on “The Problem with Patriotism

  1. So well said, as usual, Jim. I hope retirement is being good to you!

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. AMEN to that!!!

  3. On Independence Day, I often think about this piece from one of my favorite newsmen and commentators, Paul Harvey. Originally produced in 1976. JJJ

    In our nation’s Declaration of Independence, have you noticed that there is a significant declaration of “dependence” also? Because one without the other won’t work. So our text for today is taken from the next to last sentences in our Nation’s Declaration of Independence. Understand that I am no preacher, the pulpit is a responsibility infinitely higher than anything to which I would aspire, but I am an historian and inevitably our professions overlap.

    Our nation’s 4th of July celebrations have tended to focus on the word “freedom.” And yet even as our nation’s founders offered their lives and their fortunes to win for our fledgling nation freedom from British rule, in that same document, they sought the blessing and guidance of the Almighty. They appealed “to the supreme judge of the world for the rectitude of our institutions.” Rectitude–that’s God’s standard of integrity and honesty.

    Our founders proclaim themselves free to do whatever they want? No hardly. No they proclaimed themselves free to do what they ought. There’s a distinct difference. They prayed, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth.” They bound themselves to God’s will. That’s when, in an instant as historical time is measured, our little 6% of this planet’s population began to accumulate more than half of this world’s good things–collecting on God’s written promise that believing on certain things and behaving ourselves all else would be added, and so it was.

    It was only recent generations of Americans mouthing platitudes about freedom that obscured the very meaning of America. And now all over the bleak, black, bloody front page it’s apparent that self-government without self-discipline won’t work. And you can say that another way that capitalism without God is no better than communism. The Third Reich was a classic example of capitalism without God. The land which had produced Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms, ended up producing Auschwitz and Dachau and Buchenwald. Self-government without self-discipline won’t work.

    And today once free Americans have to be searched before boarding an airliner, not because there is a dictator in Washington, but because there are a handful of irresponsible ingrates running around loose. Because some who are free don’t deserve to be–none of can be. Again, not because there is tyranny in government, but because there is anarchy in the un-buttoned brains of a handful of looney-birds. And it’s down that road of thumbing our noses at rightness and wrongness–it’s down that road that whole nations go from regulation, to regimentation, then to tyranny. Self-government without self-discipline won’t work.

    Much more important than our nation’s declaration of independence from foreign domination is our declaration of dependence on divine providence and sacred honor. You ignore the guidance system that was built into our republic, and we are like any unguided missile–inevitably destined to self-destruct.

  4. Jim,

    What a great 4th of July message! Thank you so much!

    I hope you are enjoying your retirement. We cannot thank you enough for your great leadership at HPUMC for 22 years! I am glad we were able to share the last 6 with you. I wish we had returned sooner.

    All best wishes to you and Marsha.

    Love in Christ.

    Tom and Andrea

  5. Jean Wurdeman July 4, 2014 — 3:06 pm

    Well said – thank you for that message today. May we all remember to put Jesus first and strive to live a life of grace. May you have a blessed and joyful Independence Day weekend.

  6. Jim, you may enjoy reading Ann Voskamp’s post today about heavenly patriotism: It reminded me of the “This is my Song” hymn.

  7. Judy Sullivan July 5, 2014 — 7:12 pm

    This piece reminds me of an incident on one of the much loved Loretta Young Show. I don’t remember the context of the story at all, but the remarks in one scene have stayed with me ever since.

    Loretta Young’s character says, in response to the question :”who are you?,” I am first a child of God, then I am a wife and then I am a mother, then a friend the world would be much better off. If we could all answer honestly with the same response,.

    Just wanted to note that we have very much enjoyed your sermons on those occasions when we were in Tampa visiting our daughter and son-in-law, Vicky and Adam Kijanski.

  8. i vividly remember being in Mutare, Zimbabwe in September 1993. We were part of a team from South Africa for The Walk to Emmaus to Zimbabwe.
    It was the “time between” in the history of South Africa, a time with no new national anthem and no new national flag as the transition was made to a democratic united country.
    That first night in Zimbabwe before the weekend event, as the people all sang their anthem with real energy and gusto, i wept inwardly at my ” living, intestate” situation. i felt profoundly and completely lost, rudderless, without a home, without roots………………without a country as a reference point.
    Today i sing our national anthem (which is originally a hymn written by a Methodist) with pride, and am known to fly our beautiful flag when we engage in “international sporting warfare”…………….
    So it goes

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