Thinking Out Loud

June 30, 2016

A Patriotic Long Weekend

Sometimes when you're in a hurry, you go with whatever is in your photo file.

Sometimes when you’re in a hurry, you go with whatever is in your photo file.

Friday, July 1st is Canada Day in (wait for it) Canada and Monday, July 4th is Independence Day in the U.S. (I was going for a red, white and blue effect on that last one…)

The gang at Church Marketing Sucks tweeted out a link to a 2014 piece they wrote about the church and the flag. It’s been awhile since I’ve re-blogged an item wholesale, so I thought I’d hit the highlights though you can also read it at source. First, the setup; Kelley Hartnett writes:

My dad enlisted in the Air Force as an 18-year-old high school graduate. Over his 41-year career, he engaged in structural battle damage repair on fighter aircraft, acted as an intercontinental ballistic missile crew commander, worked nuclear intelligence and space program surveillance, served as a space shuttle launch team member, and worked as a public affairs officer for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. For many years, he held the highest security clearance available. (He knows stuff. It’s a running joke in my family.) When people ask me where I grew up, I proudly declare, “Oh, I’m an Air Force Brat.” It’s safe to say I’m reasonably patriotic.

The churches I attended as a kid were full of military families. “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “God Bless the USA” were staples of our worship gatherings. I can remember the exact placements (yes, plural) of the American flag in each of those spaces. Did we recognize veterans on Memorial Day and Independence Day? You bet your Yankee Doodle Dandy we did.

The Empire at the Altar
In my early 20s, I became close friends with a few seminary students in Boston—radical-thinking types who were questioning everything they’d ever been spoon-fed about Jesus and the church. One Sunday, we were visiting yet another church to see how they “did” worship. At some point in the service, one of them leaned over to me, pointed toward the chancel, and said, resolutely, “You’ll never see one of those in my church.”

“What? A choir loft?”

“No, the flag.”

“Umm… why?”

“Because it doesn’t belong in the church, that’s why.”
Now this guy was a bit anti-establishment, so I assumed he was just having a stick-it-to-the-man moment. Turns out he isn’t the only clergy person who feels that way, though, and over time—and what feels like yearly conversations—I’ve come to agree that the church isn’t an appropriate venue for displays of patriotism. And while giant, church-sponsored Fourth of July festivals aren’t my biggest concern these days, it’s nevertheless worth talking about why such things fall under the general category of church marketing that sucks.

Then follows three reasons patriotism can turn churchgoers off.

The first of these is something I think we’re more aware of in Canada, namely that the church is universal; it’s not American.

But it’s number three I want to focus on:

America’s not always a terrific reflection of Christ. If we have God and country intertwined, what do we do when the two ideologies conflict? I mean, at one point, America valued slavery (Frederick Douglass had some things to say about slavery and the Fourth of July). Right now, people’s families are being killed by our military’s drone strikes. Some Americans are marginalized as a result of politics and policies. Isn’t it dangerous for the church to be aligned with what is, for some, an oppressive empire? When we’re preaching patriotism (even subtly), what message—or whose message—are we actually marketing? Do people have to share your political/patriotic beliefs to participate in your church community?

While we don’t have the same history in Canada with respect to slaves, the general principle here still applies.

Hartnett then offers four celebratory types of things churches can do in honor of the day before coming to this powerful conclusion:

In short, be sure the message your church proclaims is clearly about Jesus more than America. The freedom in which Christ-followers live is so much higher, broader, deeper and wider than that afforded by the “land of the free.” That’s what the church ought to be communicating.

What about your church? Is this an issue with which you’re struggling? How do you balance the tension of God and country?

Here’s the link one more time to read the article: Click here

I may be prejudiced, but what drew me to this article was initially the set-up. We just tend not to have flags in our churches so much in Canada. The idea of distributing a voter’s guide in the church lobby would be unthinkable. We’re certainly under no illusions that ours is a Christian country anymore.

Personally, I think 2 Timothy 2:4 has some application here. The idea that we serve a commanding officer who is all about an entirely different kingdom; and that we need not be preoccupied with national politics; that the church shouldn’t lower itself to pride over nation or nationality.

…By all means, enjoy your long weekend. But don’t let the civic calendar set the agenda for weekend worship.

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