America is great.
No, I really mean it. I love my country. Sure it can be the over-hormonal teenager that needs a good slapping from time to time, but ultimately, I feel lucky to live in the United States… in spite of Nancy Pelosi.
And I love the Fourth of July. I love that it’s a nationwide celebration in honor of our great country. I love that people from coast to coast are eating watermelon, shooting off fireworks, wearing fashion murdering patriotic clothing and singing songs about America. But there is one place where I never feel patriotic.
Let me tell you about my fifteen minute church experience today. I went to a church where they were having a “special” church service followed by a dedication of their new flag pole. The sanctuary was adorned in over sized American flags. The special speakers for the morning were four different heavily decorated military men and women. The music pastor kicked off the service by stumbling over a few words about celebrating America’s freedom tied in with God’s freedom. The first song that was sung was Amazing Grace. This was followed by a brief video summarizing England’s oppression, the Revolutionary War, and our America’s Independence. This was followed by a song about grace and then a finale of a rousing chorus of “This land is my land.”
That’s when I begged my wife for us to leave.
Now, I’m not the type to just duck out of the middle of a church service. In fact, today was the first time I’ve ever done anything like that. I’ve disagreed with many of sermons but stayed out of the respect for the church and the pastor. And the church this happened at is a church I absolutely love and still am looking to make it my home church. I just couldn’t take the patriotism.
Let me share with you a brief history lesson on Jesus and the church. (Thank you Greg Boyd for helping me with this one). When Jesus was on the scene and the Jews accepted him as the Messiah, they were experiencing some heavy persecution from the Romans. The Jews thought their Messiah was going to end the oppression from the Romans. He did no such thing. Jesus’ message was one where ALL people could come to him, not just the Jews. And when the Jews would ask him certain political questions, he simply dodged them all. Jesus refused to get in any political situation because, frankly, he was not a member of the Jewish Kingdom.
He was a member of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus was completely counter cultural to any earthly kingdom. Where nations must exercise authority over people with rules and consequences, Jesus exercised authority with love and sacrifice. He would say things like “turn the other cheek,” and “love your enemies.” When Roman guards made Jewish men obey a law to carry their equipment for one mile, Jesus told them to go two miles. Jesus healed the ear of a solider who was capturing him and asked his Father to forgive those who put him to death in the most vile of ways.
And yet we celebrate wars and bombs and land acquisition in our churches.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am very happy for the freedoms that I enjoy and have nothing but utmost respect for service men. Because I am an American. But when did our American rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness become our Christian rights?
I’ve been in multiple church services around the 4th of July where songs and videos about American freedom were met with people raising their hands to worship God. I’ve read essays and heard sermons about how Christians should fight for our religious freedoms if they’re being threatened, how we must win the battle over (name your favorite liberal agenda) and how it’s every Christians duty to vote Republican.
What if your God-ordained, God-inspired political agenda doesn’t match up with other Christian’s political agendas? Whose side is God on?
And when did these things become necessary to successfully share Christ’s love? Where in the Bible did Jesus exercise force over political rights in order for him to love on sinners?
My favorite theologian/pastor, Greg Boyd, tells a story about a visit to a church around the 4th of July. The church showed a video where at one point, the cross of Calvary was displayed with fighter pilots flying over it.
And people cheered.
Throughout history, many civilizations have tried to spread Christianity by using a authoritative force that is completely opposite of Jesus’ gospel. All of these instances ultimately ended in nothing but bloodshed. Christianity only works when we exercise outrageous sacrificial love. We simply can’t allow fighter pilots to be used as a sacrament of worship anymore.
This essay may be a lot to swallow. So many churches have been steeped in this culture for so long that it is hard to break. All I’m asking is that if you’re a Christian and this topic is new to you, take it with an open mind. Pray about it and read some of Jesus’ words in the Bible. Don’t just take my word for it. And next year, if you find yourself uneasy at a church service, you too may want to duck out. Go ahead. Quietly disappear and go spend some personal time with God. And later that night, go burn yourself on some fireworks, and be happy that you’re an American and a Christian.