On July 4th millions of Americans will celebrate. The celebration will involve American flags, barbecues, picnics, speeches, music, and fireworks — lots and lots of fireworks. Americans will listen to “God Bless the USA” at least 91 times on the radio. They will see a lot of red, white, and blue. And they may even hold a sparkler with a surging sense of patriotism in their heart.
Is there anything wrong with being patriotic? Not at all, provided we keep our patriotism in line with our dedication to Christ’s kingdom. The problem with patriotism, politics, and partisanship creeps in when we allow these issues to become more important our faith and our mission. Here is the problem in three manifestations.
Problem 1: Patriotic ferver eclipses Christ-centered passion.
There is fulfillment in throwing ourselves into something bigger than ourselves. Feeling patriotic is a right and noble feeling, because it shows that we are invested in a great cause. We get excited when we listen to politics from a fired-up talk radio host, an intense argument on TV, or a stirring speech on the Fourth of July. Nonetheless, patriotism must take its proper place in our priority of passions. Our citizenship is ultimately in heaven, not on earth. The entire narrative sweep of the Bible is a record of God’s Kingdom, not a blueprint for political reform.
Problem 2: Political positions become more important than biblical truth.
When we become preoccupied with bickering over the healthcare system, bemoaning the choice of presidential candidates, or even rejoicing in an individual’s political victory, we run the risk of becoming distracted by politics. Keep in mind, as Jonathan Merritt writes, “Government can be a powerful tool for justice and goodness, and often Christians must advocate for policies that punish injustice, restrain evil, and promote a healthier society.” Advocate we must, but biblical truth is of greater importance than political positions. Despite its importance, one’s political stance is not of greatest important. Some issues are far more important, and as believers, we must maintain the right priorities.
Problem 3: One’s choice of presidential candidate or party affiliation becomes more important than one’s identity as a believer.
What defines a person’s faith? I can tell you what does not define it. One’s faith is not defined by being either a Republican or Democrat. You may be a good believer and be either, or both — just as long as you’re not making that your identity. As Jim Wallis writes, “Don’t go left, don’t go right: go deeper.” Regardless of whether you identify with the “left” or the “right,” remember that “the great unifier that draws us together is our common commitment to Jesus” (Merritt).
Let us not be dismissive of our nation, and God’s placing us here on this earth to make a difference. We are citizens of our country for a specific purpose. Be politically active, without being politically distracted. Vote with prayerfulness, rather than voting for a supposed political savior. Embrace a political position without becoming defined by that position. Stand for your position, without judging other Christians for taking a different stand. Keep Jesus first.
Let us rejoice in our country, and use our situation for Kingdom purposes. Let us celebrate our independence and our liberties. Let us advocate for righteousness and justice. As we do, let us never forget, that we are “longing for a better country—a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16).