Updated: Sep 29, 2022
Over the last several years we have begun to see a growing number of Christians declaring that patriotism is idolatry and that phrases like “America First” are theological heresy. Is that true? Yes! No! And Maybe!
Let’s start with Yes. Many Christians on social media act as if their hope is in politics. They act like getting certain people elected is the only hope for America. They spend more time ranting about politics than telling others about Jesus - which is the hope for America and the rest of the world. This is idolatry. This is putting your trust in something other than Jesus. This reveals what is in the heart.
Does that mean that Christians should not participate in politics? No, it just means it should be clear that your hope is in Jesus, and that God and His agenda is greater than any political party or country. For the Christian, this issue is extremely tricky. On the one hand, our main goal is to see people’s lives transformed by Jesus Christ. If we are constantly declaring our political views (especially if we do it sarcastically), we are probably pushing away many spiritual conversations with friends that otherwise would have been willing to talk about Jesus. On the other hand, there are some things that have become politicized that someone needs to address. Our culture has capitalized on the idea that Christians shouldn’t push their religion on others, and often remind us to be quiet. However, what about the 63 million babies that lost their lives since Roe vs. Wade? What about Drag Queen storytime? Is anyone going to speak up for children who are being killed? Is anyone going to speak up for innocent children that are being exposed to sexually explicit ideas before they can possibly handle those concepts in a healthy way? What about free speech, not just for Christians but for everyone? Christians look back at what happened in Germany in WWII or Russia during the Cold War and they say, “Why didn’t good people say something when they saw this happening?” It starts with certain groups of people being silenced. With what we know from history and how many people were slaughtered once the truth could no longer be told, should we say nothing? So yes, for some people love of country supersedes love of Jesus, and that sends a terrible message to the world. But at the same time, we still have a responsibility to stand up for important issues. However, our hope is not in political wins. Our hope is in the power of Jesus to transform lives.
Now for No! No, being patriotic is not unChristian. We are told that believers have a commission from God to care for the whole world and to love everyone. Therefore, patriotism is too focused on your own nation. This is a misunderstanding of the difference between the goal of individual believers and the goal of governments. But what does the Bible say about this?
First of all, God created the nations. In Genesis 9, when Noah got off the Ark, God told him that mankind should fill the earth and multiply. By Genesis 11 they had not done that. Mankind was still living in one large community and was planning to build a spectacular city with a tower that reached to the heavens. For some reason, God was not for this. Maybe it had something to do with how wickedness seemed to spread before the flood. Maybe God knew that having multiple nations would create some accountability. One of the biggest reasons that the Soviet Union hated the United States was because it made them look bad. The US was allowing personal freedom and an open market and its people were flourishing. Imagine if the Soviet Union had been the only nation that ruled everything. They would not have to worry about how things look on the world stage.
Second, it is the responsibility of the leaders of a country to do what is best for that country. That may seem extremely obvious, however, when you say “America First,” it all of a sudden sounds selfish. Many have written articles saying that “America First” is selfish and greedy and unChristian. I believe that would only be true if what is meant by “America First” is “America Only.” There is nothing wrong with the leader of a country making sure he/she takes care of his/her country first and foremost. If you owned a chain of grocery stores and you found out that the manager of one of your stores was helping another grocery store succeed while his store was failing, you would fire that manager. He may be best friends with the person running the other store. He may hope they also do really well. But his main focus should be on making sure his store succeeds. The same should be true for anyone running a country. The results of America making sure she is healthy and strong first have been far reaching for the world. America has been able to be more generous than any other nation in the world. If our leaders make bad decisions for us and great decisions for the rest of the world, what happens to those people around the world we have been blessing?
The Bible talks about the idea that you should have more responsibility for those closest to you.
For example, in Galatians 6:10 it says, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” It is as though there is this specialness about those who are close to you, who have a similar deep bond to you. We have a kind of affection for them that is different from the world.
Or 1 Timothy 5:8, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith.” So, it seems like it is right not only to have this general love for everybody that covers the world, covers our neighbors, covers our enemies, but also and especially for our families or those near to us.
Paul said in Romans 9:3 that he had a special burden for “my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” It doesn’t seem to me that he would have written like that if it weren’t appropriate for him to feel some kind of special affection for his fellow Jews, a kind of patriotism for his ethnicity of Jewishness.
In Romans 13:4-7 Paul makes the case that our authorities are there to serve the people they oversee. That would naturally mean doing what is best for them first.
It is not typical for people to pay for their neighbor’s children’s braces, car insurance or college. If a person does do those things, which is very generous, they should have already made sure that their own kids were taken care of in those areas.
Maybe - This entire argument hinges on what is meant by certain terms. If by “America First” we mean “America Only,” that would not be something that Christians could get behind. If we just mean that we are going to do all we can to encourage jobs to stay here and not be sent elsewhere, or that we don’t want to be at the mercy of other nations for energy, there would be nothing wrong with that. If by patriotism we mean that we are proud of our country and thankful for the blessings we have enjoyed, I don’t see anything in Scripture that is at odds with that. If by Patriotism we mean that the nation and political wins are more important than our relationship with Jesus and spreading His Kingdom, God has a problem with that (Matt. 6:24).
The problem that we are experiencing today is that many feel that we should be ashamed of our nation. Our nation absolutely has some dark stains. Our stains are not unique. Many, if not most, nations also mistreated groups of people for long periods of time. That doesn’t make it right. However, our founding principles have led to the most free and fair culture that has ever existed. Does that mean we stop working to get better? Obviously not!
Many believe that our systems were only set up to protect those possessing hegemonic power. However, the brilliant thing about our founding documents is that they came out of a struggle against extreme hegemonic power. Our founding fathers were reacting against tyranny. They were reacting against a system where the common people had no say. They put checks and balances in place to make sure our government would have built-in accountability. The leaders would follow the will of the people and willingly leave office when not re-elected. People would be considered innocent until proven guilty.
Unfortunately, some of the push against patriotism in the US is coming from Marxist ideology with the goal of tearing down the systems. That’s another blog for another day, but it’s important to know that Marxist ideology has never created a better or more fair society for the vulnerable than the system we have in the US. To say that is not idolatry. No matter what our system of government, my hope is in Jesus and His ability to transform hearts and cultures. I will spend more time telling people about Him than I will pushing a political agenda (I spend almost no time on that). My concern as a Christian is for the whole world. But I do expect our leaders to make sure they are doing what’s best for the country they lead.