Monday, October 10, 2011

This Is My Country

I'm part of a men's group that is going through an excellent video series, "Men's Fraternity: The Quest for Authentic Manhood." Years before I posted my lament that so few men are involved in church activities, Robert Lewis, a pastor in Arkansas, was running a program to help men plan to grow up. His point is that we need to understand what social forces have shaped us and our view of manhood, how the people and events in our lives have further shaped us, and who we really are, in what unique ways God has made us. Then we need to take what we've learned to plan our futures as best we can.

This is an excellent series, and I highly recommend it to any man, period. If nothing else, it's a good opportunity to get to know other men and talk about things other than sports and trivia. Nothing that follows should be taken as denigrating the value of the series, but Brother Robert unthinkingly gave approving voice to an attitude that is killing the church in our nation.

When describing "noble moments" that shaped him, Brother Robert told how every Veterans Day his father would place flags on the graves of fallen soldiers. He knew who all the veterans were, and (I think) he would place flags on their graves whether they died in combat or otherwise.

So far so good: those who are convinced that our nation owes its very existence to the sacrifices of our military personnel do well to honor the dead as a testimony to the living.

It was the next line (as best I can reconstruct it) that prompted this post: "I went to college during the height of the Vietnam War, and even though there was a lot of antiwar sentiment, because of my father's example, I still had a lot of love for my country."

Notice the presumptions: Those who love their country support its wars; those who oppose any war do not love their country. Though most evangelicals seem to believe these presumptions, their truth is open to question.

Let's begin with the Vietnam war itself. It began in the 1950s when Vietnamese nationalists rebelled against their French colonial rulers. The US refused to aid the Vietnamese, instead aiding the French until the French pulled out. The US then propped up a puppet government in the name of fighting communism.

In 1964 the US government reported that a US military vessel had been attacked in the Gulf of Tonkin. Using the precedents of the Maine and the Lusitania, vested interests were able to get Congress and the media behind an undeclared war that eventually killed almost sixty thousand US military personnel and a million Vietnamese.

Brother Robert was not alone in being convinced that the war was necessary to fight communism and that if Vietnam went communist, so would all of Southeast Asia, including Thailand and possibly India, all falling like dominoes. Again, this was not an unreasonable fear, but my point is that those who considered that fear unfounded could well have given evidence that they loved their country.

That communism is horrible is not open to question. But one might ask whether conscripting soldiers to fight in a "conflict"—the government never called it a war at the time—was the best way to fight communism. That so many Vietnamese were willing to die in the fight to drive the US out of Vietnam tells me that our government's efforts to make friends were not entirely successful. And while many of those in the antiwar movement did not come off as particularly noble or self-sacrificing people, one needs to judge the pro-war faction by the same standard. And in this case, they come up woefully short.

It turns out that the Gulf of Tonkin incident was not what the government told the people it was and that the Secretary of Defense "perpetuated the war long after he realized it was futile"—that is, the US government sent soldiers to kill and die after they knew the war could not be won: those US military personnel and Vietnamese who died from then on died for nothing. They were, quite simply, murdered by the US government. And after the US withdrew, only those countries the war had spread to, Cambodia and Laos, went communist.

So unless loving one's country includes cheering on a government that lies to its subjects and conscripts them to fight in futile wars, it is at least possible to love one's country while opposing its wars. Is this the love Jesus wants us to have for our neighbors?

What does it mean to love one's country?

Using Brother Robert's implied definition, one's love for one's country is best measured by one's agreement with government policy. By that definition I do not love my country.

But if my country is my family, my neighbors, and my church, then my love for my country can be measured by how well I serve those people. I love my country by being faithful to my wife and by raising my children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. I love my country to the degree I put in an honest day's work and show appreciation for for my boss's honest efforts to make his clients happy. I love my country by paying the rent on time and treating my landlord's house well. I love my country being courteous to the staff and other customers in my local supermarket. I love my country by volunteering on various committees at church. I even love my country by turning the other cheek to my enemies and faithfully representing Jesus to them.

I don't have any conscience about not loving my country by Brother Robert's defintion, but it does bother me that I have fallen short of my own standards.

What is one's country? Who are our countrymen?

Brother Robert seems to define a country as a political unit and countrymen as the people subject to one government: to criticize a man's government is therefore to criticize the man himself, a good way to get the likes of Merle Haggard into a fighting mood.

By that definition of a country our current president is my countryman. But if the Bible is true, my true country is the kingdom of God, and he is not my countryman. He is a neighbor I am to love until I am taken home, but until he surrenders to Jesus, he is not my countryman.

Maybe Brother Robert was really using my definition of country. Maybe when he saw the antiwar protests, he realized that the government was fully as evil in its way as the fornicating dopers were in theirs and felt homesick for the kingdom of Jesus. The rest of his message is so good it might be best to assume so.

No comments:

Post a Comment