“If I Have But One Life to Give….” (the error of a patriotic God)

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Recently it was brought to my attention that Rome, in the first century, was a very diverse civilization and actually quite tolerant of different religions and beliefs. The reason that they persecuted the early Church was not for their theology but because the Church held Jesus to be their only Lord and King, not Caesar. The Christians (the Romans themselves popularized the phrase) would not pledge their allegiance to anyone other than Jesus, Messiah and King. (Later the Romans figured out a way around this and the world was ‘blessed’ with the Holy Roman Empire, but that’s another story.)

I think this is worth remembering as many of us prepare to celebrate Independence Day. Certainly it is good to be considerate of those ideals and principles which have been instrumental in providing most of us with the benefits of American republicanism. I feel, however, that we venture onto tremulous ground when we quickly wed God with country. (I am reminded of a poster I saw in which Jesus has an American flag draped about his shoulders. You be the judge.) The British, after all, worshiped the same God that our forefathers did. Once, while listening to my pastor, who is British, I wondered what our country would look and sound like today if we hadn’t resorted to violent insurrection over 200 years ago. Much like Canada, I would guess, most likely peaceful, benevolent and perhaps a little boring. Hardly tyrannical.

We proudly and loudly proclaim the Christian morals of the founders and it does seem that most if not all were spiritual men, regular church-goers and well versed in the Bible. Many, though, owned slaves and those that did not still profited from the system, which was obsessively patriarchal and repressively dominating of the poor. (Having recently visited Monticello I can assure you that Thomas Jefferson was no Christian.) I do believe that patriotism (in moderate doses) can be a good thing. I wonder, though, if Jesus would have supported the Revolutionary War if he had been there. I can envision him standing atop Bunker Hill but I suspect the day would have turned out a little differently.

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  1. #1 by Alan on July 20, 2009 - 12:03 pm

    Catching up on some of your recent posts so the reply is a bit after you posted this…

    This is very good. Many churches would do well to be reminded of this, as they drape the American flag and red-white-blue bunting all over the altar and turn worship on the weekend of the 4th into an American-lovefest.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am proud to be an American… but I don’t worship the flag… I worship God.

    We sang the hymn “This is My Song” in church on the 5th, and I like the lyrics. I think it gets at the balance we need to remember …

    This is my song, O God of all the nations,
    A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
    This is my home, the country where my heart is;
    Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
    But other hearts in other lands are beating
    With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

    My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
    And sunlight beams on clover-leaf and pine.
    But other lands have sunlight too and clover,
    And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
    Oh, hear my song, O God of all the nations,
    A song of peace for their land and for mine.

    • #2 by Christian Beyer on July 20, 2009 - 1:19 pm

      Wow! What a great song. I ‘ve never heard that. Gotta try and find some way to hear that. Thanks, Alan.

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