Summary: Patriotism is more than is preserving our nation’s values.

Patriotism -Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Let not the wise boast of their wisdom, or the strong boast of their strength, or the rich boast of their riches, but let all who boast, boast about this: that they understand and know Me, that I am the Lord, Who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight’, declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 9:23-24

When I came to Massachusetts, there were some places I especially wanted to see: The USS Constitution, Paul Revere’s house, the Old North Church, Concord Bridge, the Spirit of 76 painting, Plymouth Plantation, and Bunker Hill. America is important to me, even though I grew up in Germany (though appropriately in Mark Twain Village in Heidelberg). It’s one of the safest, freest countries, and the land of opportunity.

What is patriotism to a Christian? It is more than singing patriotic songs, waving the flag, and feeling emotionally stirred over our nation’s heritage. On this Independence Day weekend, let’s consider what patriotism is and is not:

Patriotism isn’t hostility…

I’ve seen a lot of hostility expressed in the name of patriotism. It’s very easy to demonize those who take opposing stands with regard to political issues. The conflict between our two political parties is not a struggle between good and evil. We can hold strong convictions regarding political matters, but we need to be civil toward opposing views. I find Talk Radio very stimulating, but I’m appalled at some of the extreme views I hear and the mean-spirited denunciation of anyone who disagrees with the host. The other day I heard a local talk show host wishing that a certain Supreme Court Justice would drop dead. We have become a culture that thrives on argumentative conflict. Last week on TV I saw America’s odd-couple, James Carville and Mary Matalin, debating on Meet the Press, with Tim Russert serving as referee. He was not serving as a marriage counselor, however. In spite of their completely opposite political views, they appear to have a good marriage. I read their book, All’s Fair, and the bottom line is that they respect each other, even when they’re sure the other’s ideology is ridiculous. We should maintain strong convictions, but it’s important that we’re civil to one another when we disagree.

Patriotism isn’t a license to sin…

Americans make a big deal about freedom…but for many, freedom is the right to do anything. Taken to an extreme, freedom is anarchy and lawlessness. Society needs some rules in order to maintain order. For example, if we had the freedom to drive however we wanted (some people I’ve seen think they have this already), consider how dangerous the roads would be! When I was in Italy, I was told there were no traffic laws, only “suggestions”. If you’re stopped at a red light, and no one’s coming, the guy behind you will honk his horn and yell at you to go already! People claim you can’t legislate morality, yet if you think about it, most laws have a basis in what we believe is moral behavior and fairness. Total liberty often means the free expression of immorality. True patriotism recognizes that we answer to a higher authority, that it matters how we live as citizens in a world God created.

Patriotism isn’t “My country, right or wrong”…

In the movie Chariots of Fire, Scottish runner Eric Liddel is faced with an ethical dilemma. Does he run his Olympic event on the Lord’s Day, against his convictions, or does he refuse and disobey his king? Liddel decided his priority was God over king. He respectfully declined the race and was allowed to participate in a different event on a weekday…and won the gold medal. This is a true story. Liddel went on to serve as a missionary to China. Patriotism isn’t blind or uninformed. It’s certainly appropriate to be proud to be an American, but there are times when our love for our country demands that we stand up and voice our concern when our nation is headed in the wrong direction. If and when we disagree with policy, we don’t leave the country, as some people in the news have threatened. Patriotism involves taking a stand, writing letters to those in authority, and supporting candidates whose ideology concurs with our convictions. Patriotism is not equal to the number of flags we fly but by living the courage of our convictions, which may mean having to take a stand, and certainly the offering of prayers for justice and national repentance.

Patriotism isn’t a “free ride”…

Adlai Stevenson set forth that “Patriotism is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.” JFK had it right—what can we do for our country? What contribution can we make to help preserve our nation and our way of life? How can we impact our nation morally, especially to preserve the values upon which America was founded? We can make a difference by being a voice in the marketplace of ideas--whether we write a letter to a newspaper editor, call a Congressman, or run for public office ourselves. When I served as a military chaplain, one thing I recognized was that I had a potential influence on policy. I attended staff meetings and advised the leadership. As one of my Commanders put it, “You’re here, Chaplain, to keep us honest.” Speaking of the military, while the Armed Forces isn’t for everyone, I do believe some sort of national service is important for every citizen. In WWII even children saw their role in helping the war effort by saving paper for recycling. I understand that many of the committees and positions in town government are unpaid positions. Those who serve are giving back to their community. As we teach our children to appreciate America, we need to rekindle this principle of selfless service.

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