Several years ago, while a seminary student and a student pastor of a small rural church, I wrote a blog post around the 4th of July bemoaning how Christians celebrate this day. I said I would not, as my allegiance was to King Jesus alone.
What a bonehead I was. How self-serving and unloving it was for me to write such a thing, alienating every person in the church and town in which I served as pastor. My ivory-tower thinking, and the impersonal way I chose to communicate it, did nothing to bring one person to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ or make a disciple. It only won me the applause of those who read the books I had been reading, who already bought what I was selling.
While telling everyone else not to make an idol of America, I was making an idol of my position. Those who refused to bow to it were somehow sub-Christian, unlike me and my more progressive friends.
But then I got into the actual work of ministry (as opposed to just writing about it) and learned that out on the front lines the things I was learning in books just didn’t add up. When I took the time and actually talked to the people I was serving I learned a few things.
None of the people I worshiped with on Sunday were actually worshiping America. Rather, they were simply grateful for it. None of them were actually worshiping the flag. Rather, they were showing respect for it. None of them were celebrating all the past (and present) sins of our nation, including slavery and segregation and more. Rather, they were honoring the good that our nation has accomplished in the midst of a world of pain and hurt. None of them were saying “God bless America” because they desired to be better than all other nations or, even worse, rule the world. Rather, they were remembering that any good thing we have comes by God’s grace and as Abraham was blessed to be a blessing to nations, they desire to be used in the same way. None of these people were idolizing war or those who fought and died in war. Rather, they were honoring men and women who under seemingly impossible odds made the ultimate sacrifice – sacrifices far too many of us today take for granted and cannot even begin to comprehend.
In all these ways no gross sin or idolatry was being paraded but rather a rich tradition of thanksgiving, joy, celebration, honor and remembrance was and is taking place. In all this, the people of God were being very much biblical, giving thanks in all things and rejoicing with those who rejoice, while even mourning with those who mourn. These were, and are, real people with real stories with real legacies. Shame on me, or any of us, for raining on that parade with our pride.
Today, I do not apologize for being patriotic, for asking God to bless America, or for celebrating this day which declared our independence from imperial rule. I do, however, apologize for how in the past I made others feel guilty for their American pride while I blogged from my privileged bunker armed with a Mac Book and a seminary degree.
Today I would gladly trade theological pride for American pride. Pride in my theological position never won a single person to the ultimate freedom found in Jesus Christ. Pride in America, however, has opened many avenues for me to talk with everyone else in the world who hasn’t read Yoder or Hauerwas (turns out that’s most of the world), making me “one of them so that I might win some.”
So, today I choose to celebrate rather than make others feel guilty for loving ‘Merica. Today I choose to rejoice and wave flags and light fireworks and eat good food alongside the many people who I pray will be worshiping with me tomorrow morning as we gather for the Lord’s Day. My hunch is they will find their way to churches led by people celebrating life with them over those who, like I once did, remind them annually at this time how much bigger my thinking is than theirs.
God bless America, and America bless God!