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On Putting God Before Country

On Putting God Before Country

When my wife and I decided to get married we also made another decision: God would be first in our married life. That means that for me, God comes before my wife, and for her God comes before me. Some people hear that as a sort of sacrifice. We have less because we give more to God first. But in practice we both would say that putting God first actually makes our love for one another greater.

I think this is a characteristic of loving God. In 1 John 4:20 love for one’s brothers and sisters is inextricably linked to love for God. Matthew 25:31-46 explicitly tests love for God by our actions of love towards others. Love for God is intended to bring us closer to one another, not to separate us. Like many things in Christian orthodoxy, 1 + 1 = 1, i.e. 100% devotion to God results in 100% devotion to others, without either detracting from the other.

Now perhaps you think I’m going to say next that 100% devotion to God will result in 100% devotion to my country, and thus make me the most devoted of patriots. And with the proper perspective, that is partly true. I would say that devotion to God makes me a better patriot.

But my love for God also limits and guides my patriotism. I think it makes me a better citizen, but to some it may make my devotion questionable, and others may even see me as disloyal. Many Christians over the centuries have been seen as disloyal because they put God first, and because there were things they could not offer their country. My father planted trees in Canada because he refused to bear arms in World War II. Many people saw that as disloyal. Even though I don’t share my father’s view completely, I honor his devotion to God.

You see, for many patriotism means supporting whatever one’s country chooses to do, and being willing to carry out orders, no matter what those orders are. If they are the policy of one’s country, the patriot carries them out.

I believe a country, any country, is best served by those who offer their integrity, their best judgment, and their commitment to the morals and ethics they have chosen and accepted. That means that they must, in some cases, say no. They may sometimes be wrong, yes, but they always act with integrity.

So at the same time as I honor those who have fought for freedom in this country and in others, I want to also honor those who have stood against the tide and chosen to act with integrity, even that action cost them their social standing, their livelihood, their reputations, and even their lives.

There are many times we, as a nation, would have done much better by listening to them.

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Patriotism Redux

Patriotism Redux

I’ve written before on what citizens owe their country, and blind support is not patriotism in my view. I think that a blind support, my country right or wrong, would be analogous to suicidal tendencies in a person. I wrote on this before, amongst others in my posts Patriotism: What Do I Owe My Country? (2008) and My Country, Right or Wrong? (2009).

I would still stand by both of those posts, but I want to link to some newer discussion. The issue has come up again in connection with attorneys who represented people accused of terrorism, and the suggestion that they should not serve. Robyn Blumner discusses that here and I agree.

There is an unfortunate tendency to treat “accused” as guilty, so criminal defense attorneys are automatically trying to get bad guys off. But the integrity of the justice system requires their service in this fashion, and they should be congratulated and rewarded, not demeaned.

I found the Blumner post via Dave Black Online, and since his blog doesn’t divide into posts, I’m going to quote his take on patriotism here:

  • True patriotism is love of country, not love of government. Neo-patriotism is mindless worship of the state.
  • True patriots refuse to honor government above God. Neo-patriots gladly deify government.
  • True patriots understand loyalty as adherence to the ideals upon which the country was founded. Neo-patriots believe in blind submission to the bureaucrats currently running it.
  • True patriots believe that eternal vigilance is necessary to keep politicians under check. Neo-patriots are willing to entrust their lives to politicians thinking this means loyalty to the ideals spelled out in the Constitution.
  • Neo-patriots think that if you criticize U.S. foreign policy or the country’s obsession with security you are “unpatriotic.” True patriots believe that the exercise of critical judgment is absolutely necessary to any civilization that is to stand or forge ahead, and that it is both their right and duty to criticize their government.
  • In the final analysis, I concur with President Theodore Roosevelt who said, “Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the President or any other public official save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country.”

    Just so!

    Resident Alien, Agent of a Foreign Power, Patriot

    Resident Alien, Agent of a Foreign Power, Patriot

    I planned to post this yesterday, but both work and family intervened, leaving me with insufficient time to complete the task. Work involved family as I helped my brother with a computer problem at his office. Family was in the form of listening to my stepson play baseball via the internet, as the Pensacola Pelicans lost to the Grand Prairie Air Hogs. While it isn’t fun to listen to your team lose, I wouldn’t miss it! Now that it’s Saturday, however, I’m going to finish the post.

    As an advocate of separation of church and state, I’m often mistaken for an advocate of separation of faith, ethics, and politics in one’s own life. This misunderstanding is encouraged by the effort I put into learning to express goals in a secular or interfaith context. But this separation does not exist in my own mind.

    As a Christian, everything centers around the incarnation, and my acceptance of that belief. I put my faith in Jesus as the anointed one of God, and if God invaded human space in the form of one Jewish man in 1st century Palestine, then that has to be the central fact of my life.

    Now before someone determines from this that I mean that anyone who doesn’t have the same faith I do is less ethical, less trustworthy, or even is evil let me say clearly that I mean no such thing. I mean that my view of life centers around that one point of trust. I acknowledge that I live in a secular world when I express my political goals in secular language. I acknowledge that this is my own commitment and choice by saying that it is best that faith and spiritual commitment not become a matter for the use of force. Thus starting from my roots as a committed Christian I conclude that for the sake of both church and state the church and state should stay apart. But that’s for other posts . . .

    As a committed Christian, I live in a world shaped by metaphors, and in the literary sense myth. One of these metaphors is that of the alien and stranger in the land. This shaping story goes all the way back to Abraham. Israel was formed first as strangers and aliens, and only afterward as residents of the land. (This is one aspect that should be part of any struggle we have with the genocide recorded in Joshua.)

    In the book of Hebrews (11:13) this metaphor is presented to Christians, who have taken it up and embraced it as their own. When we pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done” we are talking about another country, a kingdom not of this world, that will transcend our concepts of “nation” and “kingdom” so much that we probably cannot imagine it.

    So while I am a citizen of the United States in an earthly and a secular sense, my primary citizenship, as a Christian, is in the kingdom of God. If my prayers frighten you–and they should not if you don’t make the same faith commitment I do–then you should be afraid. I sincerely pray for a new kingdom. If you realize, however, that I serve the one who said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight” (John 18:36), you would also realize that I will never use the tools of force to advance God’s kingdom. In fact, I believe it is antithetical to that kingdom for me to force you or even manipulate you into proclaiming your acceptance.

    I’m a resident alien, serving and praying for another kingdom, an outside sovereignty.

    One of the great concerns I have with American Christianity is that we have forgotten this fact. Our nation, in fact every nation on earth is contingent and temporary, always assuming we really believe the core elements of our theology. We serve a greater sovereign. When his commands come into conflict with the commands of our secular rulers, we have the example of the apostles in obeying God rather than men, though we also have ample advice to make sure it is God we’re obeying rather than our own desires (Romans 13). In fact, their temporary nature is part of the reason one should obey them in all ways possible.

    Second, and derived from the fact that I’m an alien, I’m also the agent of a foreign power. I am a representative of my sovereign Jesus Christ in the world. I serve him. I report to him. I give him my allegiance. He says to keep on living here until he comes, and I do that.

    I think we should frequently pray and meditate on the Lord’s prayer. When we pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” do we, as Christians, actually mean it? Is our primary concern that God’s will be done on earth? I ask, because it seems that in politics we have tended to equate our own nation’s desires with God’s will, and have often failed to live as resident aliens who are agents of another power. But I think that the Lord’s prayer clearly says that.

    The interesting thing is that my foreign Sovereign doesn’t tell me to subvert my earthly country, but rather to be a voice there for what is good and right. Sometimes that will place me in a position to challenge actions. That’s why I take a firm stand against torture, why I believe that the unnecessary and counterproductive killing in Iraq ought to stop. It’s why I think my country should live up to its proclaimed ideals and follow its own constitution. Integrity demands it if nothing else. Integrity is a feature of my Sovereign’s kingdom.

    And that leads me finally to patriot. I am a patriot. Many interpret the first two points as a mandate to work to overthrow and subvert the government. And I do, in fact, believe that there are circumstances in which such a things would be appropriate. If you have a government that is oppressive, that refuses, for example, to allow you to live for your other Sovereign, then there may be a time when one must resist that sovereign.

    But when one has the ability to argue and act for one’s beliefs in the public square, when elections are generally open to anyone, when ideas can be exchanged freely, one has a legal way to advocate for the right.

    I love America as my home. I served it as a member of the United States Air Force. I continue to serve it loyally. I also criticize some of its actions. I am appalled that Americans, even many Christian Americans can sanction the use of torture or even long term confinement without a proper trial. I feel that it would be disloyal to my country if I failed to protest those actions.

    There’s a certain contradiction in 4th of July celebrations. There are people who call themselves American patriots who object to any protest of their own country’s actions, who call those who oppose war, torture, or other oppression disloyal, and yet they are celebrating the time when America’s founders acted violently against their legal sovereign, George III, ostensibly over a matter of taxes.

    Now the point went deeper than that. It went right down to the foundation, to the notion that one person could not be devalued over another, or one group of people (Englishmen on this side of the Atlantic) cannot be treated as inherently less than another (Englishmen on that side). Even with that foundation, this nation still continued to treat some people–slaves, for example–not merely as less than, but actually as nothing, not people at all. It took more patriots protesting laws and policies that were wrong to change that fact.

    I can’t help but believe that many of today’s American patriots, had they lived at the time of the American revolution would have been Loyalists and might have moved to Canada (not a bad place to live!).

    For me, the best loyalty that I will give my earthly nation is that I remain totally loyal to my Sovereign whose kingdom is not of this world. And I think that loyalty is the best kind of loyalty of all. May God help me live up to that goal.

    Patriotism: What Do I Owe my Country?

    Patriotism: What Do I Owe my Country?

    I like to think of myself as a patriot, but then there are times when I shy away from the term because of some things that are done in the name of patriotism. I served my country in uniform, even while disagreeing with many of the policies of my government. Despite any disagreements, I carried out those policies to the best of my capability.

    I’m an opponent of the war in Iraq, but what would I do if I were still in the military? Would I be protesting? Would I be speaking publicly against the war? No. I would vote my conscience, I would speak privately to friends and relatives, but I would carry out my duties again to the best of my ability. Note that this would not include what I would view as illegal orders–torture, for example. But for the vast majority of those in the military those particular questions do not occur. In the military, I owed it to my country to carry out its policies to the best of my ability.

    We live in a republic in which power resides ultimately with the people. I think the primary requirement for patriotism for those not in the military (or similarly sworn to carry out politically determined policies) under those circumstances is involvement. There are things one can do that are disloyal, such as desertion from the military, providing information to enemies, or actively working to destroy the country. But the primary responsibility of the citizen is to be heard.

    Some seem to believe that patriotism involves supporting your country’s policies, once made, no matter what. There is a sort of reverence when they refer to the actions of the commander-in-chief. But even though I voted against the current resident of the White House, I participated in making him commander-in-chief, and I get to participate in choosing the next president and seeing him leave.

    Would it be patriotism for me to support the current war just because my president got it started? I think it would, in fact, be precisely the opposite. The war is a bad move in what appears to be a bad ad hoc strategy, and it will result in no good for the country that I love. Given that I believe that, could I possibly be a patriot and a person of integrity if I didn’t say it? I would suggest the opposite, that I would be the worst sort of lying traitor in those circumstances.

    That doesn’t mean that the honest supporter of the war is less of a patriot. In fact, such a person would be a lying traitor if he or she does not act in support of those positions. We each owe our country our best arguments and our vote.

    Patriotism, in my view, is not the support of a set of policies, but rather that one gives one’s best in all areas, including one’s mind and judgment to one’s country and does so with integrity.