Friday, July 03, 2009

On being Christian and a patriot

In Church tomorrow, we will celebrate, as we do each Sunday, the resurrection of Christ. Actually, this is why Christians meet on Sunday. It is on the first day of the week, the day the tomb was found empty, we celebrate Christ's victory over sin and death. Our services at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) are traditional...ok, very traditional. Some of the prayers we use every Sunday date back to the end of the first century. The overarching trend in all of our services of worship is threefold, a Trinitarian truth. Although we may not always succeed in conveying these themes, we try to focus on the eternality of God, the redemptive and unique work of Jesus Christ and the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. As a matter of fact, even when we might celebrate other events, like our congregation's anniversary, the ordination of clergy, the installation of local elders and deacons or the dedication of an infant, the primary theme is still that Trinitarian truth. In the midst of all of these celebrations, we are aware that they are fleeting. Someday, our congregation may very well cease to exist, new officers will be installed and this clergyman along with all the saints that now gather at 1930 Winchester Ave in Ashland, Kentucky, will die. The only thing that is eternal in all of those celebrations is God.

Tomorrow (Sunday) will feature another celebration. My denomination calls it Freedom and Democracy Sunday. Our denomination is a North American denomination, not solely a US denomination. Therefore, our Canadian congregations might resist celebrating a specific holiday about the birth of a nation in which they do not live. Imagine if we celebrated the birth of the Queen. Nevertheless, everyone in the US knows what it is really all about. As American Christians, we are thankful for our nation. It may not be perfect, but it is one of the better nations in the world with regard to civil liberties, standard of living and basic freedom. Our Canadian friends are pretty good too, not to mention the English, the Swiss and the Germans. Their democratic and economic fruits were planted from seeds discovered during the Great American Experiment. Though ancient Rome may have been the first, greatest democracy in known human history, the founders of the US have remolded the known world. Even today, it is considered just and good to go to war to espouse these Jeffersonian ideals onto others. A people who seem happy and are not democratically free are either ignorant or faking it. Most of these founding fathers attributed the revelation of a republican democracy to their belief in God, specifically, a Christian understanding of God. To be sure, many of these original founders teetered on the brink of deism, nothing short of heresy to many traditional Christians, but even their deism was a Christian deism. This relationship with faith and a new ideal of how humans might govern themselves for the sake of peace and justice was soon understood as one in the same. I think I believe in this concept for the most part. Some say that a good monarchy is dependent on a good man being king. The same is true for a democracy. A good democracy is dependent on good people governing themselves.

The problem begins to arise, however, when our Christian faith finds itself coupled with not just the method of government, but the policies of that government. This is why many of my colleagues bristle at the thought of religious patriotism. I agree with some of their points. For the most part, I think we all would agree with some of their points. The big glaring point is: Sunday worship is for the glory of God. The response: So shouldn't we take a Sunday to thank God for the blessing of our nation? The answer: yes. The problem: Many churches will allow the service to celebrate the nation as eternal or that the policies of our nation are ordained by God. Those perspectives are misguided...if not wrong. As great as our nation is, it is not eternal. If the Lord chooses to tarry, the general lifespan of a great democracy is 500 years. Rome lasted 500 years. The US is almost middle aged. The fear of our actual lifespan is informed by a great literary work by Englishman Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), entitled The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. If the US is a mirror of the first great democratic experiment, we find ourselves about where Rome was mid way through its era of power and influence.

As Christians, we are keenly aware that our nation is not eternal. It is not our creator, savior or sustainer. It is a servant, like the rest of us. It is a model, an ideology, a concept, albeit, a very good one, but a concept nonetheless. Have we been ordained by God? I don't know. If so, the weight of responsibility is great. Our words and actions should be carefully chosen so as to persuade rather than alienate. If we are not ordained by God, the punishment may be swift and severe. The Old Testament is filled with warnings of claiming authority that is God's alone. The Tower of Babel was crushed and the people scattered and Kings claiming to be gods were turned into donkeys.

The sounds of music thanking God for this nation will swell in the air tomorrow. Prayers of confession and thanksgiving will be offered. We will be reminded that the blessings of being Americans carries too, all of the responsibilities of a free people. Above all, we will worship God who is eternal. We will celebrate the victory of the resurrection. We will depart in the power of the Holy Spirit, knowing that as Christians, whether Canadian, German, English, Swiss, Jordanian, Iraqi, Israeli or American, we are all citizens of the only eternal realm, the Kingdom of God.

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