Every year there are the usual Christian bloggers denouncing the supposedly idolatrous nationalism of patriotic holidays like Memorial Day and July 4. Any display of the flag in proximity to the church or congregational reverence for fallen soldiers is ostensibly a grievous rebuke to the Gospel.
Such perspectives came to mind upon reading recent Wall Street Journal comments by French philosopher Pierre Manent, who noted, in columnist Sohrab Ahmari’s paraphrase: “For the West’s professional classes…the only acceptable sources of political communion are the autonomous individual, on the one hand, and humanity as a whole, on the other.”
This globalist mindset for Western secular elites is increasingly true for many American church elites, including some Evangelicals, whose elitism recoils at populist patriotic spirituality in Christian and especially evangelical subculture. It’s part of a larger spiritual universalism that rejects or minimizes particular loyalties. Although it nobly aspires to love for all humanity, it fails to appreciate that love meaningfully can only begin with relations in proximity, with family, friends, neighborhood and country. Loving everybody everywhere abstractly is unlikely without first loving nearby persons.
Sanitizing life of any mediating fidelities other than abstract universal love ultimately is isolating and elevates the autonomous individual to supremacy. This hyper individualism is arguably the ultimate cul-de-sac of a sterilized Protestantism shorn of the multiple organic community loyalties embedded in every form of Christian orthodoxy. Patriotism is a chief bugaboo to this cult of the isolated individual.
Here’s one such recently reposted Christian blog fretting about patriotic hoopla around Memorial Day from Rev. Dr. Jeff Hood, a “Baptist pastor, theologian and activist living and working in Texas:”
To put the United States flag on the altar of a church is to insinuate that somehow the United States has a claim to the grace of God that other nations and peoples do not. To put the United States flag at the front blurs that glorious declaration “For God so loved the world…” Can you imagine what someone from another country thinks when they see that United States flag up front at our churches? There is no nationality barrier to the altar of God. Jesus does not love the United States more than any other nation…to put a flag at the front and bless the atrocities committed by an incredibly powerful people in the name of Jesus is blasphemous.
If Rev. Hood worshiped at churches in Guatemala, Nigeria or Malaysia, and saw their respective national flags in or around the church, would he be offended? Why does he assume that a Guatemalan, Nigerian or Malaysian would be offended by American flags in or around American churches?
And why does Rev. Hood assume that affirming personal God’s love for America precludes love for other nations? Are fidelity and love for spouse and children a rejection of godly regard for other families? Or do marriage and family, solemnized in the church, signify the starting points and not the limits of love?
As to Rev. Hood’s obsession with the American flag as symbol of “atrocities,” there is a frequent Christian elite ideological anti-Americanism that demonizes American patriotism beyond all other national loyalties. Such critics, upon visiting a Latin American church, likely would not obsess over Mayan or Aztec atrocities from past centuries, which don’t fit the preferred narrative.
Here’s more commentary from Rev. Hood:
No one will recite Jesus’ words in Matthew 26:52, “…those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” Matthew 5:44 and Jesus’ reminder to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us” will not make an appearance. Least of all will we remember the millions and millions of people who have died in places with names like Hiroshima, Hanoi, Waziristan, Nagasaki, Kabul and Baghdad in the infernos created by our bombs…those “least of these” dead because we failed to see Jesus in their midst. No these words won’t be remembered… and I know most congregations won’t be talking beyond the soldiers who have died and will miss the opportunity to have a conversation about the wider call of Jesus to peace and justice.
Again, Hood’s anti-Americanism, so pervasive in the Evangelical and Religious Left blogosphere, precludes mention of crimes by Japanese militarism, Vietnamese communism, the Taliban or Saddam Hussein. Original Sin corrupts America more than any other nation or culture, supposedly.
Here’s more from Rev. Hood:
A real conversation about the non-violent love of Jesus and our purpose as followers can only happen when we take down the United States flags in our sanctuaries that stand in the way. If we want to truly honor slain soldiers we will stop perpetuating the nationalism that killed them. So let’s toss out all the flags and have a real Memorial Day next year…one that memorializes and celebrates a time when we began to emulate Jesus’ love for all people and put to death the nationalism that fooled us into thinking that violence can bring about peace.
The critique of Memorial Day and July 4, along with Veterans Day, is almost always premised on an absolutist pacifism that rejects the historic teaching by nearly all Christianity about the state’s ordained vocation to seek justice and security. Soldiers, police and public officials are called by God to seek the public good and defend the defenseless. Their calling, properly understood and conducted, merits honor and gratitude, not smug blanket condemnation. The hyper sectarian form of Protestantism that sneers at their godly roles is closely related to American hyper individualism.
Contrary to demands from the self-professed “radical theology” of Rev. Hood and other neo-Anabaptists, Memorial Day is a holiday deeply Christian in its origins and merits Christian embrace. It speaks to sacrifice, self-denial and duty. It vividly, disturbingly reminds us that the world is fallen and full of evil. It connects us to the dead and reminds us that we the living have no sanctimonious monopoly on truth and virtue. And it connects us to wider communities of nation, church, locality, neighborhood, lodge, family and friendship, through which God works, and all of which He desires to redeem.
We are not just solitary individuals standing in judgment of others but deeply interconnected with and obliged to many others with whom we stand under common judgment of God.
God bless your Memorial Day! Recall and thank the dead for their witness and sacrifice, their failures and their victories. Their example can be a providential means of grace for more faithful and abundant living today. And they remind us, contra American/Western hyper individualism, that we too are mortal and will follow them into eternity to meet our Maker and Redeemer.