I’m sure I’m not the only pastor uneasy about the Sunday closest to July 4th. Our Christian faith gets convoluted with civil religion and the separation of church and state goes out the window—even in most American Baptist churches I know, where we spout the words of Roger Williams in our Baptist history classes but place the flag prominently on the left hand side of the chancel. Every church I have served has had the American flag in the sanctuary. On the other hand, every church I have visited in a country other than the U.S. has not had their country’s flag in the sanctuary.
It’s a tricky thing to maneuver as a pastor. Do we sing patriotic hymns or not? If we say God Bless America, do we also say God Bless Afghanistan, Algeria, and Australia? Ideally, I would do none of it, and try hard to remember that we pray for Christ’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. I would rather that we remember that all people are God’s children, no matter our citizenship or documentation in worldly nations. I would not have the flag in the sanctuary if it was up to me—but it is not.
At the same time, I am writing this right after the USA vs. Belgium World Cup game, in which the USA games have been watched more than any other sporting event in recent memory in the United States. People from all religious backgrounds, all ethnicities, all political views, have been rooting together, and more interestingly, getting caught up in the entire World Cup fever. The World Cup has been a place where national pride, the language of faith (“I Believe That We Will Win”) and the energy of millions has been funneled together. And while the United States did not advance, the game was well-played and there is a sense of being part of a global community, even if it is limited through this sporting event and its fans (temporary or loyal to soccer/futbol).
Patriotism in and of itself is not a bad thing at all, but when we convolute our love of God and our love of country together, we end up with flags draped on the cross, and forget that our God is the God who created all of us, and we forget that the United States has more than just Christians as citizens and participants. We shove God and the United States into the same box.
While many pastors I know will not even mention Independence Day on Sunday, for those of us who cannot get away from some sort of patriotic display, let us open the boxes completely. Let us pray for God to bless America, along with Afghanistan through Zimbabwe. May we show the same sense of pride of being citizens of the reign of God. And may we learn a lesson from the World Cup—our language of faith—“I Believe that We”—can also be adapted to suggest faith and trust in other human beings, and that we are stronger together.