Growing up, I understood only a few things. 1.) God is good. 2.) America is also good. and 3.) The two are mutally exclusive.
It’s difficult, really, being 21 years old on the cusp of adulthood. God has taught me so much about himself, and I can’t help but stand in awe of his glory. Growing up, every 4th of July and Memorial Day I remember hearing the patriotic hymns sung in church, resonating deep within the hearts of all the believers. I made no distinction between those hymns and the ones that sang praises to God. America and Jesus, to me, were one in the same.
For many years, I gave my allegiance unabashedly to the land of the free and the home of the brave! But once I hit high school, I began to question this great nation. I began to wonder if maybe singing to America in the same way we sang to God was wrong. And I as I searched and prayed, I began to believe that not only was it wrong, it was idolatry of the worst kind. The new belief I embraced was this: God is not America, and America is not God. The truth cut through all the years of tradition and changed the way I view the world.
My Dad always said that it was “God and Country,” all the way. I believe now that it was a lie, albeit well intended, but a lie just the same. For years after that I began to hold a pessimistic attitude towards the country and considered myself unpatriotic. There was a preacher who used to come guest speak at my church named Bud. He got up and vomited passionate rants about America as God’s great nation! He was an ornery southern man if ever there were one. He spit out hatred and cruelty, branding it with the name of God and pretending that his rally cries for patriotism looked at all like the gospel of Jesus. I still stand by the belief that his tirades were NOT at all even close to the life, salvation, and beauty of Jesus. Once, he stood up and screamed “They want me to love muslims! LOVE A MUSLIM? OVER MY DEAD BODY!” This is not the Gospel. It misses the mark so badly and trumpets the misguided, nationalistic fervor of a blind religious majority.
Don’t get me wrong. I do NOT hate America. In the years to follow my first understanding of Americanism as a blind religion of the patriots, God has shown me that America is not all bad. It is certainly not the “best” nation on earth (if there ever were such a thing), and it is not equivalent to God. I still do not pay much attention to the slogan of “God and Country” but I am not as bitter, cynical, or pessimistic as I once was. My home is not on this earth, which means it does not belong to ANY country. My soul does not belong to a government, and the freedom I experience is better than anything a brigade of soldiers can win for me. My religious experience does not hinge on stars and stripes, but on the scars of Christ that bear the weight of MY sin, YOUR sin, and the sin of all who call Jesus Lord! I am not consumed with nationalistic zeal, but thank God I am not consumed with passionate hatred anymore either. I can see America for all of it’s flaws, all of its strengths, and all of the things that make us free on paper. It does not possess my heart, but I will honor it for what it is.
This may not be a Christian nation, but it is my nation, and I am thankful for the (temporary) freedoms I have here, knowing that the freedom given to me by the death and resurrection of Jesus is greater than anything else can give.
“Some folks may be really bummed to find that “God bless America” does not appear in the Bible. So often we do things that make sense to us and ask God to bless our actions and come alongside our plans, rather than looking at the things God promises to bless and acting alongside of them. For we know that God’s blessing will inevitably follow if we are with the poor, the merciful, the hungry, the persecuted, the peacemakers. But sometimes we’d rather have a God who conforms to our logic than conform our logic to the God whose wisdom is a stumbling block to the world of smart bombs and military intelligence.” ― Shane Claiborne, Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals