Minor Thoughts from me to you

Archives for Patriotism (page 1 / 1)

Choose You This Day: Aftermath

The Council was caught off guard by our request and asked if they could talk it over before making a decision.

We waited for two weeks before getting the final answer. They initially thought that we were overreacting to seeing an American flag or two in the sanctuary. Their feelings changed after finding photos of last year’s service. Seeing the photos reminded them of how over the top the display was. Several of the people on the Council had also been uncomfortable when they came into church that Sunday morning.

After looking at the photos, reviewing our written request, and talking it over, the Council came to the same conclusion that we did. They made a decision that future services can acknowledge patriotism, but will be much more restrained. Only one or two flags in the sanctuary. And while we won’t sing patriotic anthems, the Lutheran hymnal does have some approved patriotic hymns that the worship leaders can use.

We didn’t hear the Council’s decision until Sunday, after attending the Memorial Day service. We didn't know what to expect when we walked in, and were pleasantly surprised by what we didn’t see. There was only one flag in the sanctuary and it was tucked into a back corner. We sang a patriotic hymn, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”. We had a short video commemorating those who died in uniform. And that was it.

Best of all, the message was based on John 17:20-26 and focused on the need for all Christians to be one, free of divisions, so that the world will know that God sent Jesus to show God’s love to everyone, everywhere.

Choose You This Day

Last year, I walked out of the church on July 4th Sunday. When my wife and I walked into church, we immediately noticed the explosion of flags around the organ and piano. We both did our best to ignore it. She was more successful than I was.

I hit my breaking point when we started singing “My Country, Tis of Thee” and I saw that the background of the slide had a soldier saluting the flag. I walked out and skipped the rest of the service.

For the past year, we’ve been talking, on and off, about that service and how much it disturbed us both. We weren’t sure what to do about it, but we knew that we didn‘t want to go through another service like July 4, 2021. I definitely didn’t want to walk into another patriotic service that I’d just have to walk out of.

We finally decided to do the most obvious thing and talk to church leadership about it. We wrote down our concerns and the reasons for them, then worked with a friend to turn it all into a specific request. We joined the May meeting of the Congregational Council and read it to them.

Our Request

We would like the Council to keep the church free of patriotic symbols and imagery, around July 4th and every other week. Without casting aspersion on those who put up the flags in the past, who almost certainly thought nothing of it, we feel that such symbols and imagery are blasphemous here.

Jesus told Pontius Pilate that His kingdom is not of this world. It’s separate from this world and it’s above every earthly power. Every nation ultimately bows to Jesus. When we allow American flags and imagery to force their way into the church, when we allow patriotic songs to replace religious songs, it’s inarguable that America is intruding on God’s space and demanding our allegiance!

A pastor that I learned from in college referred to Christians as ambassadors for God. That we are the presence of God in our daily lives and should demonstrate God’s first importance everywhere we are. That’s stuck with me ever since. You’re not gonna see the British embassy putting up American flags on July 4. They represent Britain first, last, and always. Christians should take that as a hint.

The Church should be the vanguard of the Kingdom of God, and not aligned with any race, ethnicity, or nationality. The Sanctuary should be a true sanctuary, where all believers regardless of background or national origin or earthly loyalty can worship together free of national divisions.

What Scripture Says

Isaiah welcomed the foreigner to God’s House and said it was “a house of prayer for all peoples”. Jesus said he would gather all the sheep into His flock and “there will be one flock, one shepherd.” He told Pilate, “My kingdom does not belong to this world” and “my kingdom is not from here.”

Paul echoed this, multiple times. For him, it was a theme that followers of Christ became something new, something set apart from their original heritage and loyalty.

To the Colossians:

“you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God … you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, enslaved and free, but Christ is all and in all!”

To the Corinthians:

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”

To the Galatians:

“As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”

In 1 Peter, the author also says that people who follow Christ have become a separate nation.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the excellence of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

In Closing

For a very long time, I’ve thought of the church as a place where God’s people can worship as one, setting aside our other loyalties for an hour or two. Speaking bluntly, when I walked in last July 4th and I saw our church bathed in patriotic decorations, I felt sick to my stomach. Consciously or not, RLC was betraying its mission and allowing God’s House to be turned into a pep rally for America.

We would like the Council to keep the church free of patriotic symbols and imagery, around Memorial Day, July 4th, and every other week of the year.

While talking to the Council, I paraphrased the Scripture passages that had shaped our thinking. After talking to the them, I emailed the request to everyone and included the unabridged passages.

Isaiah 56:6-8

And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the Sabbath and do not profane it
and hold fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar,
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.
Thus says the Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel:
I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered.

John 10:16

I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

John 18:35

Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom belonged to this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

Colossians 3:1–17

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on the things that are above, not on the things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

… you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, enslaved and free, but Christ is all and in all!

1 Corinthians 10:31–33

So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage but that of many, so that they may be saved.

1 Corinthians 12:12-13

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Galatians 3:27–29

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

1 Peter 2:4-10

Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture:

“See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

This honor, then, is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the very head of the corner,”

and

“A stone that makes them stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.”

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the excellence of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.

Revelation 5:9–10

“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to break its seals,
for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God
saints from every tribe and language and people and nation;
you have made them a kingdom and priests serving our God,
and they will reign on earth.”

Revelation 7:9

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.

Up next: How did they respond to our request?

Thinking About Patriotism

Over at Winds of Change, the Armed Liberal posts some reflections on patriotism. What does it mean in a post-modern world? Is it worthwhile? Is it distinguishable from mere nationalism? What does American patriotism mean, in a nation that has been formed from one ethnicity after another (and continues to be reformed and remodeled each year)?

Now I've argued on and on that we need an anticosmopolitan liberalism, one rooted firmly in the American Founding if liberalism is going to get any traction here in US politics. I've slagged and been slagged by the usual cast of Netroots characters over this issue, and I'll point out that the Netroots liberalism for all the sound and fury hasn't signified much in the political scene except to - almost certainly - hand the nomination to the least liberal candidate running, Hillary Clinton.

The basis for much of my argument has been the work of John Schaar, a little-known political theorist who happened to be one of my professors. Who I admit I should have paid more attention to back then.

The work I keep pointing to is his work, 'The Case for Patriotism' (excerpted here).

Abraham Lincoln, the supreme authority on this subject, thought there was a patriotism unique to America. Americans, a motley gathering of various races and cultures, were bonded together not by blood or religion, not by tradition or territory, not by the calls and traditions of a city, but by a political idea. We are a nation formed by a covenant, by dedication to a set of principles, and by an exchange of promises to uphold and advance certain commitments among ourselves and throughout the world. Those principles and commitments are the core of American identity, the soul of the body politic. They make the American nation unique, and uniquely valuable among and to the other nations. But the other side of this conception contains a warning very like the warnings spoken by the prophets to Israel: if we fail in our promises to each other, and lose the principles of the covenant, then we lose everything, for they are we." [emphasis added]

This sounds right to me. It's the idea I struggled to articulate last summer, in my posts about immigration.

This, then, is the challenge for America. How do we change -- culturally, demographically, and ethnically -- while still retaining that political idea, that commitment to a set of principles that make America, America?

Furthermore, what, exactly, are those principles? What is that idea? What set of principles are we committed to? For that, I think we need to go back to principles set out in the Declaration of Independence and the framework established in the Constitution of the United States.

More on that, in the future.