Every July 4 in recent years there’s a flurry of online warnings against churches and Christians trumpeting patriotism too loudly. Reputedly many U.S. Christians are more American than Christian. “Christian nationalism” is of late a much critiqued social force.
Yesterday a prominent liberal Christian commentator enthusiastically tweeted a list of works as antidotes to Christian hyper patriotism. The list was titled “Against Nationalism -A Reading List for Christians,” and it was compiled by Englewood Review of Books, based at an Indiana church.
This list included contemporary neo-Anabaptist writers like Stanley Hauerwas, Greg Boyd and Brian Zahnd, who are pacifists who inveigh against “empire” while rejecting any Christian support for nation states, especially America. It included Mark Charles, an activist focused on the “Doctrine of Discovery” claiming medieval popes authorized the conquest of the Western Hemisphere. It included the late Catholic social critic Dorothy Day. And it included Frederick Douglass’s July 4, 1852 denunciation of slavery.
Douglass is an incongruent inclusion, as his speech hails the Declaration of Independence and Constitution as sacred charters of freedom. In contrast, Mark Charles in his speeches to Evangelical audiences denounces the Declaration as racist. Douglass admired Abraham Lincoln. Charles denounces him as racist. Douglass would raise troops for the Civil War, of which presumably Christian pacifists like Hauerwas et al would disapprove. Douglass denounced slavery as contradiction of American ideals, which he honored, but which most of the other commended authors reject as farcical and idolatrous.
Much of Christian elite opinion is increasingly in sync with perspectives of this book list. Patriotism and nationalism, rarely defined fairly, contravene authentic Christian faith, these elites insist. Ideally, worship should ignore nation states, especially America. Any recognition of July 4 is somehow displacing Christ from His throne.
No doubt there are Christians and churches who intermingle worship and patriotism inartfully. Sometimes the problem is more lack of historic liturgy than genuine idolatry. And no doubt there are some Christians who are more passionate about America than about the Gospel, just as there are many more ardent for their families, hobbies, professions and favorite sport teams. They need reminders about priorities. All of us do.
But the increasing propensity by Christian elites to denounce all or most patriotism as unChristian is theologically incorrect. God expects all to love and serve their communities, even America. This propensity is also counterproductive to its intent. Churches and Christian leaders that reject any acknowledgement of the nation will create a vacuum to be filled with potentially undesirable alternatives. The absence of Christian patriotism will invite secular and pagan versions that are truly idolatrous.
Much of the driving force against Christian patriotism is from post-Evangelicals angry with their flag-waving upbringing. They react against excess with their own absolutist extremes. There’s also cultural snobbery. Persons in Christian academia are embarrassed by patriotic Evangelicals in flyover country.
Disdain for Evangelical popular culture and its intrinsic patriotism are not helpful guideposts. And anti-Americanism is not a Christian response to religious patriotic enthusiasm. If Christians are called to love and serve the nations where God has placed them, then they should model godly patriotism.
There needs to be an alternative reading list on godly patriotism, contra the Englewood Review of Books. Frederick Douglass belongs on that list. What contemporary Christian authors belong? Perhaps new books need to be written. Who should write them?