On observing July 4 as an American Christian

Last year I offered Independence Day greetings. This is a new year, and the circumstances are different, but I offer the same greetings. You can find them here.

But in addition, this year I offer three little posters for you to contemplate, and if you wish, to repost freely for your friends. I wrote them but I don’t need any credit for them. I wrote them because of the fact that this year July 4 fall on a Sunday, and because in the USA we see a marked tendency in some circles to wrap the Bible in the flag, to mix up patriotism with religion, to confuse God and country so badly as to make a competing god out of country.

The first poster points out an irony (or you could say hypocrisy) in the teaching of many “conservative” Christians. (American Christian nationalists tend to call themselves conservative although they are conserving neither authentic Christianity nor authentic Americanism.) With many others before me in the Reformed tradition, I tend to see the display of a national flag in a place of Christian worship—in any nation—as desecrating abomination. Others may think it’s OK to have a flag there, somewhere in the background, as an acknowledgment of our context and as part of the self that we bring to God; I don’t buy it, but we can disagree on that; I don’t walk out and shake the dust off my shoes if I see a flag in a corner of the vestibule or the choir loft. But I see no room for waving or saluting a national flag in church or processing with it or making it the focus of attention. Doing that is a sign of a dangerous kind of syncretism: Christian nationalism. Reading fun stories at home that have a bit of magic in them, or taking a fitness class that uses yoga, or using a personality and group-dynamics assessment instrument derived from the enneagram in the workplace—these do not introduce another god into the liturgy of Christian worship, and they do not compromise one’s Christian integrity (see St. Paul’s discussion of eating meat from animals that were sacrificed to pagan gods). But raising and praising an American flag during a Sunday church service does introduce another god into Christian worship. Do that, and I’m going to have to stand up and walk out.


The next one references one of the “hard sayings of Jesus.” I don’t think that God wants us to hate our parents. I also don’t think that God wants us to hate our country. Jesus said what he did about hating parents as a stark, shocking way of telling us that we must be so utterly loyal to him that every other loyalty is, in comparison, reduced to nothing. If any other loyalty in our life threatens to compete with loyalty to Jesus, we must be prepared to give it up completely; we are not permitted to pretend that loyalty to someone or something else is loyalty to Jesus. For Christians who know their Bibles well, the shock of Luke 14:26 has perhaps worn off. We can—and should—renew our appreciation for the starkness and exclusivity of Jesus’s claim on us by substituting other things for the terms in the original text: “father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life.” Obviously if he wants us to love him more than our closest family members and ourselves, he wants us to love him more than our country. What is your visceral reaction, and then what is your considered response, to the original form of Jesus’s saying? And to my revised version? Do you learn anything about yourself by comparing them?


Third: nobody asked for my advice in planning their worship service for today. Anybody who might ever ask my advice in such matters already knows these things as well as I do. I’m not aware of any Christian community in the Unites States that would object in principle to doing the things in blue in my little list. Some may neglect doing them and should perhaps ask themselves why and start doing them. But I’m sure there are churches that do the things in red; I think they also should ask themselves why, and should change their ways.


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