I am an Army National Guard Chaplain, served a tour in Iraq, and absolutely love my country. I truly believe that democracy, while certainly a man-made governmental system, is the best system that allows people to flourish in regards to religion. But I am uneasy with the way we celebrate and display in our churches here in the United States.
I find it interesting that many evangelical Christians, flowing from the “Moral Majority” perspective of the 1980s, are now reassessing their view of America as a so-called “Christian Nation.” Were we ever to have such a wedding of the kingdom of God and a kingdom of the Earth anyway? I think it has been a major mistake, and we will see the ramifications of it in our long-term discipleship for the next generation or two in America.
Those that claim America is supposed to be a Christian nation are driven by a type of theological reading of the Bible that sees a marriage between church and state. A recent study from LifeWay revealed 53% of Americans still say the United States is special to God. Some have even gone so far as to call the United States the “New Israel,” a view partly rooted in the idea that the majority of the Founding Fathers were evangelical Christians. From my view, while there may have been a few Founding Fathers that could anachronistically be labeled as “evangelical,” most were driven by Western Enlightenment steeped in deism with general Judeo-Christian ethics and values.
Here’s why all this is a problem. First, the church loses its focus on discipleship and evangelism when there is too close of an association between the church and politics. We have found this to be true now that evangelical Christians are considered to be on the “outside” of Washington politics. Jesus never commissioned us to marry the church and politics; instead Jesus commissioned us to speak prophetically to politicians and rulers and call them to the standards of justice given in God’s Word.
Second, when there is a close association between politics and the church, the church starts to have a triumphant attitude toward non-Christians instead of an attitude of meekness and humility. Paul encouraged the believers of the early church, as much as it was up to them, to live at peace with others (Romans 12:18). As we live in a post-Christian America, humility and peace must be an essential part of our evangelism.
Third, when we celebrate America in our worship services, we focus on the wrong kingdom. Believers are first and foremost citizens of the kingdom of God, not the kingdom of America. When we have patriotic celebrations, I think we show too close of an association between the church and state, or even that the church SHOULD BE the state. Don’t get me wrong, I love America, and enjoy singing patriotic songs along with everyone else in July 4th celebrations. However, America is not God’s kingdom and I have no biblical expectation that it ever should be. America is not a New Testament version of Israel. I believe countries are blessed when they follow God’s law, but my world is not crushed when a country’s highest court does not rule in favor of biblical values. In fact, I kind of expect they will not!
Can we still be patriotic? Yes, I believe we can. I still have no problem serving as a chaplain in the Army National Guard. I love my country and love the freedoms we stand for, but I serve the soldiers’ spiritual needs first and foremost as a chaplain. I am not a crusader in the American military forces trying to evangelize people (or soldiers) “by the sword.”
We need to understand that Paul commands us to be submissive to our government authorities and to pray for them (Romans 13:1-3). Paul submitted to a Roman government that was much more “unchristian” than America, yet he still encouraged believers to submit to the authorities. In a way, a believer should be a model citizen in any country of the world. We find the New Testament teaching believers to pay taxes, work for peace, submit to government leaders, and obey laws (within biblical boundaries).
Evangelicals need to stop using the argument that America was founded as a Christian nation and needs to get back to that foundation. Such an argument holds little weight in our postmodern world. I acknowledge that America was founded on Judeo-Christian values (and that some founders were very committed Christians in general), but I do not hold the argument that it was founded by evangelical Christians. Our word, our witness, and the Holy Spirit is what brings about a change in a person to believe in Christ, not arguing from an unstable historical argument.