Posts tagged with: nationalism

Here’s the text of a letter sent this morning to the editor at Woman’s Day magazine (don’t ask why I was reading Woman’s Day. I read whatever happens to be sitting in the rack next to our commode):

Paula Spencer’s commentary on the Pledge of Allegiance (“Pledging Allegiance,” September 1, 2007) sounds incredibly McCarthy-esque. Are we to now believe that having qualms about mandatory recitation of the Pledge constitutes an un-American activity?

Spencer dismisses the many reasons that one might object to the Pledge in the context of public schools. These schools are, after all, institutional arms of the government itself, and attendance is mandatory (unless one can afford private or parochial options). A cynic might suggest that when combined with an obligatory recitation of allegiance to the nation, such education runs the risk of becoming indoctrination for the purposes of social control. As to whether nationalism can be such “a bad thing,” consider Germany in the 1930s.

There are also religious reasons why a person might feel compelled to abstain from pledging to a physical object (the flag). For Christians, whose citizenship is finally in heaven and whose ultimate loyalty is due to God alone, concerns about idolatry might compel a person to conscientiously refrain from making such a pledge. Indeed, those two little words “under God” which have occasioned such controversy in recent days are perhaps the only elements of the Pledge that make it even permissible for Christians to profess allegiance to any particular nation.

Patriotism too often can morph into xenophobia and nationalism. Whatever your views of the Pledge, I would think that the educational potential contained in having a “conversation with your child about your family’s approach to the Pledge” would be the sort of engaged parenting that your publication ought to praise and endorse rather than disdain.

The free exercise of religion, not to mention the freedom of speech and independent thought, are thoroughly American. A coerced, perfunctory, and unreflective patriotism is no true patriotism at all.

Jordan J. Ballor
Associate Editor
Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty

As Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “The nation will always claim a portion of man’s loyalties. Since it usually claims too large a portion, it is necessary that other communities compete with it.”

By my way of thinking, for Christians the Church ought to be that community of primary loyalty (for Niebuhr, it’s the class: “There is no reason why a class which is fated by its condition of life to aspire after an equalitarian society should not have a high moral claim upon the loyalty of its members”).

It seems to me that American churches have a particularly hard time separating out what elements of their worship and piety are merely the trappings of civil religion and which are the indispensable elements of catholicity.

At the recreation center where my wife plays softball, and which is explicitly supported by the denomination, players, coaches, and umpires only pause to pray after the national anthem has been played. In itself its a small thing, perhaps even unimportant, but when combined with all the other similar elements (American flags near the pulpit, for example), it raises in my mind the perennial questions about ultimate loyalties and the proclivity for Christian denominations, particularly Protestants, to align themselves along national boundaries.

See also: “Which of These is More Offensive?”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, August 7, 2006

As a brief follow up to my last post and the point about nationalism, see the Liberty Bible offered by the American Bible Society. The Kruse Kronicle passes along some more partisan options for those of us who put being a Republican or a Democrat above being an American (which are both above being a Christian). For my use of the quote appearing on the GOP Bible, go here. I’m willing to bet that the Liberty Bible will sell pretty well.

Apparently it is acceptable for the ABS to offer a Bible with the Statue of Liberty and the American flag on the cover, but not one with a cover for the New Testament that said “Jesus Loves Porn Stars.” After all, “the wording is misleading and inappropriate for a New Testament,” said Barbara Bernstengel, the executive in charge of standards at the American Bible Society. It seems, though, that the cover of the Liberty Bible is neither misleading nor inappropriate.

Which of these is more offensive?
or

Weigh in through the comments section below.

For more on the reaction to the latter Bible, see “Does ‘Jesus Loves Porn Stars’ Bible Go Too Far?” and “Christians at a Porn Convention?”

This Sunday’s sermon at the church I visited was on Joshua 5:13-15:

Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”

The commander of the LORD’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

The point basically was that we have to be sure that we are on God’s side before we can even legitimately ask, much less be sure, whether or not he is on our side. It was an excellent sermon, and one that brings into sharp relief how often Christians do what they will themselves and then attribute it to God.

If anyone had a claim on God, it would have been Israel, his chosen nation. This passage seems to me, among other things, to be a pretty strong indictment of any form of nationalism that baptizes a political agenda as God’s will. It brings to mind Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, in which he noted that both the North and South “read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.” He later observes, “The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.”

It is helpful to note, I think, that once Joshua, representing Israel, had put himself on God’s side, in this case by obeying the command to “take off your sandals,” the commander of the army of the Lord goes on to give him some rather specific battle instructions. And when Joshua was faithful to God and followed these instructions, God was faithful to Joshua. So in the end, “the LORD was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout the land.” Only when we are sure that we are on God’s side can we be sure that he is on our side.

See also: Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 12:30, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.” Mark 9:40, “for whoever is not against us is for us.”

Blog author: jarmstrong
posted by on Wednesday, July 5, 2006

The spirit of nationalism is a positive thing in my view. Most people inherently love their country. Christians should not be alarmed by this very normal human emotion. I shared in it by observing the Fourth of July parade in my community. As the band played and the fire trucks blared their sirens I found myself feeling a sense of pride about this community and my country. I watched the politicians go by, seeking recognition and votes, and thought to myself, “Elections never seem to end here.” The best word to describe my emotion was “pride” I think. I am sincerely proud to be an American.

But as with any other emotion I felt some other reactions as I thought further about our country at this time. I believe nationalism is a good thing but I am deeply concerned about the growing “Christian” nationalism on the far right. This spirit is fed by many springs, including popular preachers, best-selling books and mean-spirited talk shows. My concern about this kind of nationalism is not without reason. When I hear conservative Christians talk about the future they envision for America I find myself becoming more and more distant from their vision of nationalism. I think one reason I have these fears is rooted in my racist Southern background. The fears I heard played up in my childhood, often by white conservative Christians, are the same type of fears I hear played up by growing bands of fringe Christians who appeal to the instinctive fear that this country is so anti-God that it is in need of a huge social upheaval that will radically remake everything from our judiciary to our schools.

What I realized, especially as I watched the parade and chatted with my multi-racial neighbors, was how wonderful it is to live in this country where people of all races and backgrounds can find a home in what still is “the land of the free.” I want real Christian influence in this culture but I do not want a “Christian nation.” I do not believe such a nation has ever existed and every attempt to create one will lead to extremes that ultimately harm the real work of the gospel and Christian mission in our society.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."