No one will celebrate the nationalistic fervor that erupted the day after the 9/11 attacks more than Christians. We were, almost to a man, shocked and angered by the attacks. We’re grateful to God for allowing us to live in a country where we take for granted freedoms that others have never known. But is the “my country, right or wrong” mentality that prevails today really Christian?
Well, who are the patriotic heroes of the Bible? Did Abraham, the father of the faithful, ever consider himself a citizen of Ur, Haran, Egypt, Gerar, or even Canaan? Or did he consider himself a citizen only of “the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God…a better country—a heavenly one” (He 11:10, 16)? Look at the politicians we know he interacted with: nine of them were tin-pot despots ruling decadent societies and killing and plundering whoever could not resist them (Ge 14), and the other two thought nothing of abducting any woman they lusted after (Ge 12:10–20; 20). Small wonder Abraham never pledged allegiance to the flag of any of those nations, even if they could rightly claim to be “under God” (Ro 13).
The patriotism of Elijah, Elisha, and Obadiah in the days of Ahab nearly got them killed, as did that of Jeremiah, Ebed-Melech, and Baruch in Zedekiah’s. Same with Moses and the midwives in Egypt, Rahab in Jericho, Ezekiel in Babylon, and Mordecai in Persia.
If we want to show patriotism the way Isaiah did, we could do worse than lining up on the thoroughfares leading to every football stadium today and mooning those on the way to the game (Is 20:2–4). The omnipotent government of our day is no less an idol than that of Egypt and Cush in his, and our government will end no differently from theirs.
We know that Paul made use of his Roman citizenship to save his life (Ac 22:26–29), but can you see him with a Roman eagle window sticker or a “Support the troops” ribbon magnet? And, if tradition is correct, the empire to whose government he appealed eventually killed him, as Isaiah’s killed him.
Our ultimate example, of course, is Jesus. No one has ever drawn a greater distinction between “us” and “them” than Jesus did: Jews were people, non-Jews were animals (Mk 7:27). Did he wear a circumcision lapel pin? Or was he in a constant battle “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the [physical, mortal?] powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ep 6:12)?
To patriots today it makes sense for Israeli Christians to fire rocket bombs at Christian churches in Gaza and for a US Catholic priest to bless an atomic bomb to be dropped directly on the Catholic cathedral in Nagasaki: national political leadership is established by God, and whatever they decree is right. Like Cubs fans who buy tickets and souvenirs no matter how poorly the team does, a patriot considers his country (and thus himself?) superior to others no matter how evil the policies of his government are.
The biblical distinction is different. It distinguishes only between those who are in Christ and those without him (Ep 2:12). The love an Israeli Christian is to have for his Palestinian brethren is to totally eclipse his love for the godless State of Israel (Mt 10:37), though he is to be passionate in his love for his unsaved fellow Israelis (Ro 9:3). Iranian Christian is to be closer kin to me than any US unbeliever; in fact, a US Christian whose politics I consider murder is to be closer to me than an unbeliever whom I would consider a better neighbor. I fail miserably there.
Further, we are to love our neighbors, even our enemies, as ourselves (Mt 19:19; Lk 10:30–37). God is the warrior (Ex 15:3); our job is to implore people to be reconciled to him (2 Co 5:20). Our enemies need reconciliation no more than we do, because nothing anyone can do to us is worse than our personal and collective offenses against God (Mt 18:23–35).
So by all means fly the flag today: the banner of the New Jerusalem and of God’s love.