Tag Archives: patriotism

Lowering the Flags of our Fathers

attachment“This church, along with our whole city, was completely destroyed. The Allies’ bombs wiped it from the face of the earth.”

I shifted uncomfortably as our middle-aged German guide came to this point in our tour of historic Worms this weekend. She had proudly taken us around her beautiful city, pointing out the significant remains of its long, multi-layered history dating back to the Roman Empire and playing a significant role in the Protestant Reformation. But now photographic images of the mass devastation that this civilian population endured at the hands of our grandparents confronted me with a side to the story that I had never really considered before. How could this local citizen so calmly look our group of mostly British and American scholars in the eye and talk about it? Rather than use this opportunity to protest the “terror bombings” carried out against her people at the close of WWII, she shocked me with her humble confession.

“Well, we were the ones who provoked it, after all.”

Are we willing to tell our whole story, including the shameful bits?

This willingness to bear national shame over the Holocaust and the nationalist aggression of their ancestors has impressed me during my brief time here in Germany. This is a country with a long history to be proud of. But nestled among the soaring cathedrals and elegant castles are more recently erected monuments to their shame. A set of pillars in Worms (near the Jewish cemetery) with an inscription memorializing those who were made victims of German nationalist pride. A bombed-out church in Mainz with a series of plaques, describing its proud history but concluding with a humble reminder that any society built on violence and oppression will be judged with a similar end.

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Listen! The LORD is calling to the city– and to fear your name is wisdom– “Heed the rod and the One who appointed it. Am I still to forget, O wicked house, your ill-gotten treasures… Her rich men are violent; her people are liars and their tongues speak deceitfully. Therefore, I have begun to destroy you, to ruin you because of your sins. You will eat but not be satisfied; your stomach will still be empty. You will store up but save nothing… Therefore I will give you over to ruin and your people to derision; you will bear the scorn of the nations. ”
Micah 6:8-16

As I listened to our tour guide’s personal acknowledgement of causes for both national pride and national shame, I couldn’t help but draw mental parallels to how a similar situation has been handled in the USA. We treated two entire races of people as if they were not equally created in the image of God, holding one set under our thumb as slaves and later as “liberated” but unequal citizens, and getting rid of the other set through massacres and round-ups into reservation camps. While these are arguably sins of the past, the question still remains of how we respond to their fallout today.

Are we willing to tell our whole story, including the shameful bits? Are we ready to accept the consequences of our forefathers’ actions?

In teaching my children about the American Civil Rights movement, I was shocked but actually not-so-shocked to discover that our Christian history book had simply skipped it, deigning the injustices suffered and the victories won for oppressed minorities within our country not worth mention. Such refusal to acknowledge and disclose the sins of our past can only lead to further hardheartedness and future recurrences.

And in more recent days, I have been deeply disappointed by the refusal of persecution watchdog organizations like International Christian Concern to report on the terrorist shooting of African-American Christians at worship in their Charleston church, not to mention the strong trend of Black-church burnings that continues across the South. Were such attacks on Christians or churches perpetrated in other lands, ICC would most certainly have reported them. And yet despite multiple emails pleading with this group to cover the persecution of Black Christians in their own country, they remain silent.

“Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
Job 42:6

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Psalm 51:3-4, 17

Among the many biblical virtues that patriotic Christians love to promote, somehow confession and contrition seem to get lost. And yet these are the hallmarks of true religion. Upright Job went back and set the record straight, lowering himself in repentance when he realized how wrongly he had spoken of God. And integrity-bound David recorded his confession for all posterity to read when he abused his power to take whom he wanted and get rid of whom he didn’t.

The king summoned the Gibeonites and spoke to them. (Now the Gibeonites were not a part of Israel but were survivors of the Amorites; the Israelites had sworn to [spare] them, but Saul in his zeal for Israel and Judah had tried to annihilate them.) David asked the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you? How shall I make amends so that you will bless the LORD’s inheritance?”
2 Samuel 21:2-3

Even on a national scale, David recognized the need to accept responsibility for his predecessor’s racist sins. As Israel suffered the ongoing repercussions of Saul’s unethical treatment of the Gibeonites, David humbly took it on himself to do whatever it would take to make things right.

Are we ready to accept the consequences of our forefathers’ actions?

And this is the spirit of contrition and national humility that I see dawning in the American South. The shocking display of racism that left nine worshippers dead is jolting devout Southerners into a public acknowledgment of the stain on our heritage. The Confederate flag may represent much that we are proud of, but it also represents much that we should be deeply ashamed of. Perhaps in its place we would do well to take a lesson from the Germans and erect monuments to those our ancestors have wronged, lest we forget and repeat the mistakes of our past.

“In memory of the dead / as a reminder for the living.”

“In memory of the dead / as a reminder for the living.”
St. Christoph Church, Mainz, Germany

Patriotism Revisited

I’m probably the worst person to ask about patriotism. With a Jamaican-American husband, a teenaged daughter who recently delivered a rhetorical speech on the evils of nationalism, a bagpipe-blowing son who is deeply disappointed over being too young to vote in Scotland’s upcoming independence referendum, and a youngest who still defines her national boundaries by the walls of whatever building we currently call home, I am pretty mixed up. For years I have felt a growing schizophrenia in myself over the question of loyalty to a particular country.

On one hand, I come from a military family and grew up in a military community, populated by men and women who have devoted their lives to serving their country with sacrifice and excellence. Love for them inspires me to love my country.

My neighbor is the person next to me. My obligation is to the nation with which I am connected, whether by birth or by residence or by media awareness.

On the other hand, I have spent most of my adult life abroad, living among and serving people of other nations. I have come to identify with their concerns and causes so fully that I often forget that I belong to somewhere else. Love for them compels me to love their countries.

But when there is a conflict of interest, whose side do I take? What does patriotism look like for a Christian?

Now bands from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”
2 Kings 5:2-3

I am not alone in this dilemma. The Scriptures abound with examples of dual allegiances and competing loyalties. Often those who found themselves in these tricky positions were there apart from their own choice. For the Jewish slave girl who served Naaman the Syrian, the fact that her master had invaded her nation, killed many of her people, and carried her off as a captive did not stop her from legitimately caring about his needs. In fact, her compassionate attempt to help him find a cure for his leprosy almost resulted in another war between his nation and hers!

Joseph said to the people, “Now that I have bought you and your land today for Pharaoh, here is seed for you so you can plant the ground.
“You have saved our lives,” they said. “May we find favor in the eyes of our lord; we will be in bondage to Pharaoh.”
Genesis 47:23, 25

Joseph, another slave expatriated against his will, served his Egyptian masters so well that he effectively consolidated their political and economic position as a superpower. It would have been one thing to faithfully but passively do what Pharaoh asked of him. But Joseph carried out his duty with such excellence that soon he had all of Egypt and its neighboring nations, including his own, literally eating out of Pharaoh’s hand.

Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.
Daniel 6:3-4

Perhaps the clearest example comes in Daniel, noble patriot to his own country but dedicated servant to another. Carried off as a prisoner of war to Babylon, he never left behind his loyalty to his God or his people, but nor did that hinder his faithfulness in serving his conquering kings. Administering justice. Managing the economy. Interpreting dreams. Giving wise political advice. Daniel’s faithfulness to God compelled him to work hard for the cause of the country in which he had been planted, despite its status as his own country’s mortal enemy. And in time he, like Joseph and like Esther, was able to use his insider status to help his own people at a critical moment in their history, in a pivotal “such a time as this.”

Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.
Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men…
Matthew 22:21, 39-40; Ephesians 6:5, 7

As I look at the life examples of these godly people, I see how they were each marked by the love that Jesus calls us all to exhibit towards our neighbors. I imagine Jesus’ instruction to pay taxes to Caesar rattled the patriotic pride of His fellow Jews. Assist the foreign oppressor in his rule of their nation? And yet that is precisely what He was telling them to do, twined with the perspective that everything done in love for others is ultimately done in service to God.

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. … But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. … “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
Luke 10:29-30, 33, 36

And this leads me right back to my question about patriotism. To whom do I belong? To whom am I obligated to love and serve, sacrifice and submit? I suppose the answer lies in Jesus response to the expert Jewish lawyer’s question, “Who is my neighbor?” Interestingly, Jesus laid His finger right on the man’s patriotic bias by telling a story with a Samaritan hero. An unwelcome immigrant held up as a model of civic duty? But Jesus‘ point remains the same.

My neighbor is the person next to me. My obligation is to the individual whose needs I am aware of, the community whose dynamics I play a part in, the nation with which I am connected, whether by birth or by residence or by media awareness.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Ephesians 2:19; 4:16

This Fourth of July I will celebrate the land where I was born, the country that so many of my loved ones have sacrificially served. But my love for the people of America does not eclipse my love for the people of the nations in the rest of the world. I am American, with all the pride and shame that comes with the history of my nation. But first and foremost, I am a member of the body of Christ, part of the holy nation that spans every political border and ethnic divide. To that I wholeheartedly pledge my allegiance.