What do you do when faith and patriotism collide? Are there limits to patriotism for the Christian? If so, what are they? If not, how is that in line with the first commandment? Can you be a Christian and, say, not sing the national anthem? Or, as a Christian, is there ever a time when civil disobedience is a necessary response to the injustice in the world?
Christians are called to live in the tension of being citizens of two kingdoms. We are to be both aliens and citizens. As Christians, we are to have no other God besides God. So what do you do when your country’s policies or anthem is contradictory to your understanding of faith?
Two religious news stories this week may help us each discern the shape of our highest calling to God above state.
“No” to the National Anthem
A Christian College in Indiana this week changed its mind after a year-long experiment in playing the national anthem, declaring it will no longer do so. Throughout its history, Goshen College never had the anthem played on campus until early spring 2010 because it contradicts core facets of the college’s Christian identity. Instead, college President James Brenneman will now “find an alternative … that fits with sports tradition, that honors country and that resonates with Goshen College’s core values and respects the views of diverse constituencies.” Surprise surprise, not everyone thinks too fondly of this decision. Goshen City Councilman Harland Lantz told Fox News Radio that the decision is “anti-American.” “It really hurts,” he said. “(The national anthem) is the American way…Instead of living here in Goshen, they should go down and live in Cuba or Iran. Then have them come back and see if their attitude has changed.”
As someone who stopped saying the pledge of allegiance the day after my country fired hundreds of missiles into Baghdad 20 years ago this August, I applaud the college’s reversal. The National Anthem with its violent battle imagery, and the Pledge which demands allegiance to something other than my King and Christ’s kingdom, are inappropriate expressions for me as a follower of Jesus.
What do you think? Is Goshen College able to be both Christian and patriotic? Or does Councilman Lantz speak for you in inviting all like-minded folks to take a hike? And if so, isn’t one thing that makes the US great our freedom to be critical of it?
A second story is also helpful in finding the line between faith and patriotism. In North Carolina this week 2 Christians were arrested for protesting state policies that were, from their perspective, contrary to the Christian faith. Mike Morrell tells the story of 2 Christians arrested in North Carolina for shoutin’ down the legislature with scripture. William Barber and David Lamotte were each arrested for their civil disobediance. As the Raleigh News & Observer reported:
The Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina branch of the NAACP, was removed from today’s session of the N.C. House this afternoon by police officers after he and others shouted at legislators from the gallery.
Barber and the six other protesters were placed in handcuffs after they chanted, “Do Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly With God.” The words are from a Bible verse, Micah 6:8.
They also chanted, “Fund education, not incarceration,” and “Save our children, don’t cut education.”
Also arrested was a singer/songwriter named David LaMotte. In his blog, Morrell quotes David LaMotte, as saying:
The current legislature is making a host of decisions which are contrary to the teachings of Christianity, and I feel called to resist those actions with my very body…What is right and what is legal sometimes come into conflict, and when they do, our allegiance to God’s teaching should be stronger than our allegiance to the state.
What do you think? What would cause you to express your faith through civil disobedience? Is there enough congruity between “the American way” and your faith that you can’t imagine ever engaging in civil disobedience? Or do you see gaps between the two that beg for demonstration? I for one have never been a part of a community that has formed a courage within me to engage in this level of faith expression. Nor have I surrounded myself with mentors to teach me. But I do know that Jesus longs to be first. Above state. Above culture. Even above my favorite thing in the entire world: myself. This does not make me or anyone else unpatriotic in the least! It means we’re committed to human flourishing on either side of the border, seeking the welfare of this and every nation through acts of love and sacrifice. And I hope, with all my heart, that my love of the good news of Jesus is strong enough that when I see injustice and evil in our world I respond appropriately. May it be so for us all!
Also posted at Marty’s The Peace Pastor blog at blog.chron.com/thepeacepastor where you can follow the discussion.