World Cup, Patriotism, and the Language of Faith

By Rev. Mindi

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. 

Pondering a Prayer for Politicians

I'm like a lot of people in America right now: I don't think much of politicians. It seems to me that the new batch is even worse than the old ones. And the old ones where bad enough. I don't get the impression that many of them have the sorts of qualities most extolled in scripture. The "fruit of the Spirit" has been far from conspicuous (Gal. 5:22-23).

Sure, there are politicians who are quite public about their faith. They use God-words and speak of their personal devotion to Jesus. They may participate in prayer meetings. Some are big promoters of displays of official ceremonial religion: God in the pledge, God in the national motto, posting the Ten Commandments, orchestrated prayer in school and so forth.  But while they push the appearance of religion in public life, they seem to use this as a substitute for the practical reality of biblical faith, something sorely lacking in the policies they pursue.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think Jesus ever provided a political platform he wanted his disciples to adopt to run the nations of the world. I don't think there can be such a thing as a genuinely Christian nation. The only Christian nation is that Christ-centered nation without geographical borders: the church (1 Peter 2:9). Still I wish those politicians who draw attention to their Christian faith would allow something that looks a bit like Jesus to seep into their stated vision of how things ought to be. It seems to be missing. The very politicians who use the most God-talk seem to be the ones least influenced by the priorities of Jesus or the highest values of the Hebrew scriptures.

I was reflecting on Psalm 72 earlier today and it struck me that this is a prayer politicians ought to ponder and that we ought to ponder as we evaluate politicians. While the prayer is for an ancient king, and Senators, Representatives and the President are not kings, still they have the responsibility to govern. This Psalm points to the qualities that make a leader praise-worthy. We should note both what is included and what is excluded in the text. The prayer asks God to lead the king in ways that will result in "prosperity for the people" (vs. 3) and abundance in food so the people may be satisfied (vs.16). Further, the prayer asks, "In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound" (vs.7).

But what is this leader who is responsible for governing the nation supposed to actually do? The Psalm is very clear in its emphasis. He is to "judge your people with righteousness" but note that a particular class of people are given special attention: "and your poor with justice" (vs. 2). These words are directly linked to the prayer for prosperity. In this same vein, the prayer continues, "May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor" (vs. 4).There is no suggestion that the righteous leader should give similar attention to the interests of the strong or wealthy. This strikes me as a significant omission, not one found in contemporary American political leaders.

The Psalmist can't seem to emphasize enough the importance of the leader's attention to those who are less advantaged: "For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight" (vs.12-14). There is no way to govern "righteously" that neglects this focus. Of the leader who does the sorts of things he names, the Psalmist prays,"May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun" (vs.17). Where do we find leaders of this quality who govern with the emphasis this scripture commends? Do we have any in either major party? They seem to be missing in action. I think we should pray for our nation and pray in particular that leaders with the qualities the Psalmist applauds will step forward.

Craig is minister of Royal Palm Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Coral Springs, Florida, Co-Moderator of Disciples Peace Fellowship and a brand new Granddad who is willing to show pictures of his amazing Grandson if you want to see a few.

By Craig M. Watts