Last Sunday, Vice President Pence was invited to speak for the Celebrate Freedom Rally at Sunday morning services at First Baptist Church in Dallas. Pastor Robert Jeffress called the event “Our Annual Patriotic Service”, in which the Church celebrates “God’s Unique Blessing for Our Country”.
While some may celebrate this portrayal as faithful Christian practice, followers of Jesus need to be careful not to confuse patriotism (pride in the country) with nationalism (our country is better than any other country). And nationalism with idolatry (putting love for the country before love for God and neighbor).
Dr. John Wisely argues that American exceptionalism “serves to idolize the nation … in the best case to pave the way to heterodoxy, in the worst case to heresy and idolatry.”
Dr. Michael Gorman describes the state of emergency as “the idea that the United States has a unique place in God’s plan.”
What happened last Sunday is nothing less than a bold portrayal of American exceptionalism. Which, to be clear, is idolatry.
As Christians, our primary loyalty is not a nation state, but the kingdom of God. A kingdom characterized by love of sacrifice and suffering victim. The economy of this kingdom is in direct contrast to the economy of a nation-state or empire. When these lines blur, bad stuff happens in the name of a “god” who has nothing to do with Jesus. Without giving a historical overview, this has been largely the case in the last 1700 years since Jesus’ life, death and resurrection 2000 years ago.
Our current government is not the first to fall victim to the spread of this idolatrous relationship between church and state Like almost every president who has come before (both Republicans and Democrats), he has confiscated God’s mission as a convenient confirmation of his vision for our country.
READ: The Myth of the American Dream
In his “Annual Message to Congress” in 1865, President Abraham Lincoln described America as the “last best hope in the world”.
Friends, the United States (by the way, to say “America” in this context is a crime for our North American neighbors who are not in the United States) CAN be exceptional if we use our influence to embody justice, equality, and justice . However, this is NOT the same as saying that the United States is chosen by God as “exceptional”, so we can no longer criticize their behavior in the face of the values of the Kingdom of God. This is nothing less than idolatry and unchristian in every way.
There is a better way. A path that frees us from the shackles of partisan politics and the comfortable takeover of power. A path in which we do not have to commit ourselves to a kingdom other than God and a king other than Jesus.
We don’t have to bury our heads in the sand and detach ourselves from the systems we are responsible for renovating. We don’t have to turn to brokers as if they had the last word.
We can be Christians without falling victim to the myth of American exceptionalism. We are not the first nation state to struggle with compromised loyalty, and we will not be the last. But this is our moment to decide which kingdom we promise to be faithful to.
I am loyal to the killed lamb so that everyone can thrive. Not for the elephant or donkey who wants to win in the name of a “god” who has nothing to do with Jesus.
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