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Against patriotism

I’ve got to get that 9 Marks crap out of my system. And there’s only one way I know to do that: Will Campbell:

I believe God made the St. Lawrence River, and the Rio Grande River, and the China Sea and the English Channel, but I don’t believe God made America, or Canada, or Mexico, or England, or China. Man did that. . . . It is doubtful that there has ever been a nation established for bad reasons. Nations are always established to escape tyranny, to combat evil, to find freedom, to reach heaven. Man has always been able to desire to build a heaven. But it seems he has never been able to admit that he didn’t pull it off. So he keeps insisting that he did pull it off. And that is really what patriotism is all about. It is the insistence that what we have done is sacred. It is that transference of allegiance from what God did in creating the whole wide world to what we have done with (or to) a little sliver of it. Patriotism is immoral. Flying a national flag—any national flag—in a church house is a symbol of idolatry. Singing ‘God Bless America’ in a Christian service is blasphemy. Patriotism is immoral because it is a violation of the First Commandment.

Will D. Campbell, “I Love My Country: Christ Have Mercy,” Motive (December, 1969)

H/T: Chris Spinks (via Facebook)


  1. Jason wrote:

    I was just telling someone the other day, that my last day as a member of a church has usually been the Fourth of July service. That quote pretty much sums it up.

    Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 8:53 pm | Permalink
  2. Brad A. wrote:

    That’s a keeper.

    Friday, January 22, 2010 at 6:11 am | Permalink
  3. We have a flag in our church house.
    I’ve asked to have it removed.
    It has not been removed.
    I believe it has no place there, but if I really believed it was idolatry wouldn’t I do more to get it out of there?

    What about the rest of you?

    Friday, January 22, 2010 at 3:57 pm | Permalink
  4. Mark W. Wilson wrote:

    Marriage ceremonies are idolatry. We should not be pledging our love to anyone but God. Marriage vows are a violation of the First commandment. How dare we blaspheme God by asking him to bless our husband or wife!

    Or is it possible to love God, our wife, our country, our state, our city, and our neighborhood without idolatry? Probably, but doing that would deprive me of my radical pose.

    Friday, January 22, 2010 at 6:20 pm | Permalink
  5. Halden wrote:

    Wow, you seem really smart.

    Friday, January 22, 2010 at 6:22 pm | Permalink
  6. It’s not a question of pledging our love. We’re already called to love our neighbor…which of course means that in any country (and maybe especially one that pretends to be of, by and for the people) we need to help it remember it’s better promises.

    The problem with the flag goes deeper. To start with, the liturgical colors are all wrong :P

    It has to do with what kind of allegiance the modern nation-state requires. For example, try suggesting that you should love another country…say Iran or North Korea. When people suggest praying for ‘our troops’ suggest that we pray that they would love rather than kill their enemies. Suggest that we pray for Osama bin Laden, Kim Jong Il, etc.

    Love for the modern nation-state (patriotism) is a disordered love. I can think of no better example of how global capitalism has taken primacy over liberal democracy than recent Supreme Court rulings regarding corporations and campaign finance.

    True love for a nation such as the u.s.a. requires being able to distinguish between the kingdom of God and the powers and principalities that are against the way of Christ, then speak the truth accordingly.

    Friday, January 22, 2010 at 7:49 pm | Permalink
  7. Jeremy wrote:

    Halden he does have a point. If I recall Jesus was a big advocate of marriage.

    Friday, January 22, 2010 at 11:26 pm | Permalink
  8. Halden wrote:

    Oh yeah, how could I have forgotten Jesus’s radically pro-marriage statements all over the gosples. Duh!

    Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 12:42 am | Permalink
  9. Brad A. wrote:

    We don’t become one flesh with our country.

    Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 6:10 am | Permalink
  10. Brad A. wrote:

    I should expand on this: Mark, marriage is obviously categorically different from those others, so your rather snarky remark here is really without much traction.

    Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 6:20 am | Permalink
  11. Brad A. wrote:

    The problem here is that neighbor is a divinely given entity. The nation-state is a human construction that by its very definition demands that certain people qualify as our neighbors and others don’t, or that our fellow countrymen are at a level of “neighborness” that others are not. Cultures and smaller, local communities fall somewhere in between.

    Your last three paragraphs are pretty right on, I think. I’d suggest, however, that the problems you mention there are inherent to the nation-state, and not merely a problem of a disordered approach to the nation-state. Of course, we Christians still have some relation to the countries in which we reside, but that relationship is radically redefined by our ecclesial identity and allegiance to Christ.

    Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 6:26 am | Permalink
  12. Yes…I wasn’t very clear. The point was that you can love your country (land, people, geography, history), but modern patriotism (state-love) is right out. Thanks for that.

    Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 12:09 pm | Permalink
  13. Bobby Grow wrote:

    I think folks have confused “The City on a Hill” with America, I always thought, in context, what constituted the “City” was God’s people (as lights to the world Mt 5:14). I know Reagan meant well when he used this lang., but he was wrong, and so is anyone who follows the logic of lifting up America in the way that he and the Puritans did. It’s one thing to be thankful to be American (I am), it’s another thing to elevate that thankfulness to an exceptional level . . . which I’m afraid many well intending Christians have done. Our citizenship is in heaven . . .

    Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Permalink
  14. roger flyer wrote:

    I want to go up to the city on a hill. Can someone please show me the way? or GPS me

    Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 5:16 pm | Permalink
  15. Brad A. wrote:

    But this is the essence of Christian nationalism (sorry, the subject of my dissertation). It requires a theopolitical syncretism where nation supplants church as the continuation of biblical Israel in the salvation schema.

    Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 7:15 pm | Permalink
  16. Brad A. wrote:

    City on a Hill Ministries
    2224 W. Kilbourn Ave.
    Milwaukee, WI 53233

    Couldn’t find any GPS coordinates for anything close. Sorry.

    Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 7:20 pm | Permalink
  17. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Indeed, just posted something on this myself. Hatch, Noll and Marsden do a good job of developing this in their book “The Search For Christian America.”

    Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 10:24 pm | Permalink
  18. roger flyer wrote:

    This place actually looks like it could live up to its name!
    Thanks for the lead. It would be a long walk from Mps/St Paul but looks like it might be worth the pilgrimmage…

    Sunday, January 24, 2010 at 5:56 am | Permalink
  19. Paul wrote:

    That depends, Roger. These days, it’s all about who you know, and how much you have in the bank.

    Sunday, January 24, 2010 at 11:22 am | Permalink

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