Can a Christian be a patriot? In one sense, the answer is obviously “yes.” If we mean, “Are there Christians who are patriots?” the answer is not only “yes,” but doesn’t even occur to most American Christians. American Christians confuse Christianity and Americanism so often that they are often HYPER-Patriots. The numerous TV preachers who proclaim that America is “God’s chosen nation,” or some variation of this are an obvious example. So are the numerous politicians and political candidates of both major parties who regularly pray that God will bless America–and never ask God to bless any other nation or show any indication that God cares for any other nation on earth (except maybe Israel).
But if we mean, “Can a Christian be a patriot while faithfully following Jesus?” then the answer is not so clear. Much depends on how we define “patriotism.” If we mean by “patriotism,” “national chauvenism,” or “placing loyalty to one’s nation above all other loyalties,” the answer is “no.” Christians’ first loyalty is to the Kingdom (or Rule) of God. As 1 Peter reminds us, we are called out “from every tribe and nation.”
In 1914, as World War I broke out, as the last train from Germany before the borders closed was about to leave the station, Rev. Friedrich Sigmund-Schulz, a German, clasped hands with the departing Henry Hodgkin, an English Quaker, and said, “We are one in Christ and can never be at war with one another.” This was the beginning of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, but the sentiment expressed is that which should be common to Christians.
A Christian in Iraq (which had a large Christian population before the U.S.-led invasion, but most of them have been forced out since Saddam Hussen was toppled) has more in common with a Christian in Canada than either do with non-Christians in their own countries. If two countries go to war, one side sis not “the Christian side.” Instead, Christians are likely to be in both countries, praying for each other. To kill each other in respective militaries is to place loyalty to one’s nation ahead of loyalty to fellow Christians–sisters and brothers in Christ in one Church and part of the Kingdom of God. So, in the sense that most American churches promote “patriotism,” Christians cannot be patriots and still be faithful Christians.
But if we simply define “patriotism” as “love of country,” without the chauvenistic attitudes toward other countries or the idolatrous worship of the nation in place of God, then it seem to me that a Christian can be a patriot–a critical patriot in the way that the biblical prophets loved Israel but were very critical of her shortcomings. After all, Martin Luther King, Jr was a better patriot–loving what is best about the country while confronting the country with its very real sins–than Bull Conner or J. Edgar Hoover or Richard Nixon. Martin Niemoeller was a better German patriot than the so-called “German Christians” who tried to combine Christianity with Naziism.
The Apostle Paul was certainly proud of his Roman citizenship, but this didn’t stop him from being very aware of Rome’s sins and faults–especially as it kept arresting him!
But patriotism is dangerous for Christians, especially in the United States. In the world’s sole remaining superpower, with a media that encourages blind loyalty, it is far too easy for American Christians to become blind patriots–nationalists. This is especially true if one belongs to an evangelical or Pentecostal congregation where hyper-patriotism is promoted. One needs to develop a global consciousness, an awareness of the universal nature of the Church and the Kingdom to counter the worst temptations of THAT KIND of patriotism.
ALL of us need to be able to say, with Hodgkins and Sigmund-Schulz, “We are one in Christ and can never be at war with each other.”