Some thoughts about patriotism and conservative v. liberal Christians
I came to know the Lord back in 1970, in a time when Christianity wasn't strongly identified with a particular strain of American politics. Before any of us knew Jerry Falwell's and Pat Robertson's politics, back before Jimmy Carter gave born-again Christians a candidate they could identify with on the basis of their faith.
So I fortunately had lots of room to figure out God and country on my own, to draw my own conclusions before anyone came along to tell me what my politics had to be. And some things just seemed obvious.
For instance, God is bigger than country. There's really no getting around that one. God is bigger than the world He created, so He's bigger than America or (back then) the Soviet Union or whatever.
For a Christian, being patriotic in the standard sense is silly. If we are to be patriotic, what is our patrie, our fatherland? Well, we know who our Father is; presumably His land would be our Fatherland. We know from the Gospels that Jesus in His ministry spread the Good News of the Kingdom of God; if we have a true country, that would presumably be it. Certainly Jesus said his kingdom wasn't of this world, and the writer of the letter to the Hebrews said we are sojourners, passing travelers, in this world. And if our true country is outside of this world, that inherently limits the sort of commitment we can make to any of the countries in this world.
Which is important, because it would seem that anyone with a modicum of common sense - no deep theology or even book learning required - could see that God and country are going to ask very different things of us, and that there's going to be some conflict there from time to time. God is love, and He loves us all: God so loved the world, and He is no respecter of persons. Nations have strategic interests, for which God surely cares little; God cares about the people, not trade routes and resources. A nation might ask its citizens to bear arms against the citizens of a different nation, and a citizen who gives his allegiance to that nation will fight, kill, and die on its behalf. A Christian, in aiming his gun at the citizen of another country, has to ask, "Does God want that person dead? Am I called to kill that person?" If the answer to the first is No, or even I Don't Know, then the answer to the second question is No as well. (It could even be No if the answer to the first question is Yes: in the event that God wants someone dead, you may still not be called to be the one to kill him.)
Christians, in the true sense of the word, would make lousy soldiers. If you are serving God, then you must ask God what He wants you to do. In the military, they can't wait around for that. They have to know you will do what they want you to do.
Conservative Christians are generally quite patriotic. I have never understood this, and it's a fundamental part of my alienation from them. To be honest, I am not at all sure they believe in the God of the Bible, but rather in some tribal deity who blesses their tribe over against all the other tribes of the world, whether those other tribes be Communists, Moslems, or even American secular liberals, who they seem to view not as true Americans, but as a fifth column to be rooted out. (For the most part, I don't think they even believe in the existence of liberal Christians; I expect they think people like me are really secular liberals who are attempting to hijack their religion.) Certainly those I've talked to - a pretty large number, over the years - feel no tension between serving God and serving America, regarding potential conflict between the two as a rare and exceptional aberration that they're unlikely to ever have to deal with, if they think about it at all. And that's certainly symptomatic of a tribal religion. And if you were in an evangelical church this past Sunday, chances are excellent that you heard a lot of verbiage that wrapped God and America up together in the flag, with no caution that no man can serve two masters. That is also symptomatic of a tribal religion.
I don't know what to do about this. I feel some sort of need to call my more conservative brothers and sisters in Christ out of their tribalism, and into a deeper faith - for I believe many of the people in the pews have had genuine experiences with Christ, and have been led astray by the Falwell and Robertson wannabes in fundamentalist pulpits everywhere. But Lord knows I have no idea where to start.
But here and now, on the morning of July 4, I know that as a Christian, I cannot in any way, shape, or form be a patriotic American. I cannot pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands. That debt of loyalty and service to a liege lord that was the original meaning of 'allegiance' is already given; I already have a Lord. That doesn't bother me; I've known this for a long time now, and am quite comfortable with it. What I still find perplexing is that any Christian should see it another way.