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What is a Patriotic Christian?
2 SAMUEL 7:1-17
We have just sung a favorite, "America, the Beautiful." "God shed his grace on thee, and crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea." It is a great hymn of patriotism. It not only celebrates our nation's accomplishments and hopes, but it is also a prayer of repentance and confession for the nation. "God mend thine every flaw."
It is timely on this weekend with all the fanfare, fireworks, and fantasy to add a note of reality. Hey, this great nation does have some flaws. And, it is the responsibility of patriotic Christians to point out the flaws, hold the nation accountable to its original mandate, and challenge our nation to pursue the ideals of God.
Some people are very uncomfortable with this position. They feel the church should stick to religion and leave politics to the politician, a position which has encouraged the flaws, to say the least. Others feel the government is above criticism. If we knew all the facts, they say, we would agree the government is doing what is right! J. William Fulbright, back in 1966, answered this well,
In a democracy dissent is an act of faith...To criticize one's country is to do it a service...Criticism, in short, is more than a right; it is an act of patriotism--a higher form of patriotism, I believe, than the familiar rituals and national adulation.
Holding the government accountable is the highest form of patriotism; and, if Christians, and the organized institutional church, do not assume the role of conscience in our society, who will? The church is the only institution whose sole purpose is to preach and teach the word and will of God. All others have other agenda.
The role of Christians in a society, and the relationship between church and government, have always been controversial. Wars were fought in the Middle Ages between Popes and Kings, over the question: who has the final authority in temporal matters? Pope or King? Church or state?
The founders of the United States of America were blessed with wisdom far beyond their years or experience. They separated church and state. They gave people the freedom to practice religion without government interference, and they gave government the authority to govern without interference from religious institutions. The system has worked beautifully. Truly, separation of church and state was divinely inspired.
However, separation of church and state does not silence the voice of the church. It is the church's privilege, and it is the responsibility of Christians under God, to be the conscience of the nation. When the church is silent, it is abdicating its role, and the nation suffers. When the church is muzzled by government, or intimidated by influential members, the nation suffers. When the church becomes a victim of popular morality, and abdicates its commitment to God's morality, the nation suffers. When the church acts as if religion is only a personal matter, and is no longer concerned about the welfare of the community--socially, economically, and politically--the nation suffers.
A model for patriotic Christians is found in our Scripture lesson for today. King David, sitting in his new palace built for him by King Hiram of Tyre, counseled with the prophet, Nathan, about building the Lord a house. After all, David said, I feel uncomfortable sitting in a house built of cedars, while the ark of God (in which resides the tablets upon which the Ten Commandments were written), the holiest of artifacts, resides in a tent. First, Nathan adopted the "Me, too" position. Whatever you want, O King, I, too want. Me, too.
Then, while Nathan thought it over, the Lord told him that it was not time to build a temple. The ark had accompanied the people throughout all their wanderings as nomads. The moving ark symbolized the presence of the Lord with his people; wherever the people went, the Lord went. To put the ark in a permanent temple would change the character and theology of their religion, and it was too soon to make such a drastic change.
So, Nathan went back to David, and the prophet, the preacher, dared to speak a bold word to the king, "Thus says the Lord, no way." The King wanted his plan blessed. The prophet disagreed with the plan and spoke plainly and clearly, "Thus says the Lord." President George Bush is an Episcopalian. When the Episcopalian Bishop of Washington, D.C. advised the President not to declare war on Iraq, but to give the sanctions more time, and to look for other means than war to resolve the conflict, President Bush called Billy Graham to the White House who supposedly told the President, "Go for it!" The President wanted his plan blessed. Billy Graham told him what he wanted to hear: "Me, too." The prophet Nathan refused to play "Me, too" with King David. Nathan spoke, "Thus says the Lord."
Later, in David's reign, Nathan dared to confront King David about his immoral behavior with Bathsheba and the termination of Bathsheba's husband, Uriah. Nathan stood before David, with pointed finger, "You are the man." Queen Jezebel and her weak husband, King Ahab, surrounded themselves with hundreds of prophets who told them what they wanted to hear. Only Elijah was brave enough to speak for the Lord, and to confront Ahab with "Thus says the Lord."
Who will be a Nathan today and dare to stand up and confront the government about its neglect and inhumane treatment of those who do not have the power to fight for themselves--the poor, homeless, unemployed, mentally ill, and the children, 1/3 of whom live in poverty, 1/3 of whom will never learn to read or write, many of whom quickly seize any way out of their situation, usually crime and drugs. America, "God mend thine every flaw."
The next phrase in "America the Beautiful" is "confirm thy soul in self control." Oh, how America needs to hear the word of self control today. Who will challenge the nation? We who greedily devour the resources of the earth with a cavalier, who-cares attitude not only for the rest of the world, but for the future of our own children; we who greedily and irresponsibly incur a debt that will enslave our children and grandchildren to foreign investors need to hear the word of the Lord, "Confirm thy soul in self control." If the followers of Jesus, who promise first and foremost loyalty to God, will not speak the word of the Lord to the nation, who will?
A patriotic Christian takes his/her responsibility very seriously to point out the flaws, hold the nation accountable to its original mandate, and challenge our nation to pursue the ideals of God for all of God's people. America! America! God mend thine every flaw!
© 1991 Douglas I. Norris