Sunday, May 29, 2011

America: It's a country, not a god.

Disclaimer: Please note that I am discussing patriotism within the church. While I do have pacifists leanings and aversions to strong patriotism in any context, I don't hate soldiers and believe that a government that literally asks for the lives of its people should treat those people and their families with respect and dignity.

I grew up in a church that regularly incorporated patriotism into worship. On "patriotic weekends"  like Memorial Day, 4th of July, Veteran's Day, etc - we pledged to the flag, sang the theme song of each of the branches of the military, and talked of the honor and sacrifice of the soldiers of our country. During the summer Vacation Bible School camp we said the pledge every day. One of the churches I attended in college had similar patriotic celebrations.

And while I value many things I learned and the foundation of faith I received in that church - I was never comfortable with the overt patriotism. Not even as a child. Even then I thought it was odd and questionable to spend time set apart to worship God in order to worship a nation. Even as a child and teenager who aligned herself with the conservative/fundamentalist beliefs about society and scripture and believed that wars could be just I still found it odd that we pledged allegiance to a nation whose status of "under God" was as questionable during the days of those famed founding fathers as it is today.

And now today as a pacifist-leaning adult I find it downright appalling that we can use a Sunday morning to choose to worship a vastly imperfect nation in lieu of worshiping the nonpartisan God of the Universe

So, I guess I shouldn't have been shocked when a friend showed me this picture of the church bulletin at my childhood church this morning, but I was.

I literally gasped. And the first thought that entered my head was, "Does he get 40 virgins too?"   Because when you take a verse out of context and imply through the imagery that a man who dies fighting for America is  in the will of God and therefore guaranteed eternal life you might as well start up a kamikaze training program in your church. Not only does this image with the accompanying words suggest that war is the will of God, but it also suggest that all those who die in such a war are guaranteed eternal life.

And I know that's not what they're trying to say. I know that I'm being extreme and making a big jump. But the history of the church includes the scar of hundreds of years of people killing in the name of God and eternal life. (And don't try to get out of that history, Protestants, it happened before the reformation.) And, I could talk about Hitler or the KKK and how they each called upon the favor of  God  in their search for  political gains or ideals..

So I'm going to be extreme with this. Because they shouldn't have used God to justify their political  violence and we shouldn't either - no matter how noble or just we may believe our cause to be.

When you present information in order to influence an audience towards a specific belief - that's called propaganda. And while propaganda is a neutral term in its denotation alone, the negative connotations are evident here - this image uses an emotional scene, strong words, and a Biblical passage removed from it's proper context in order to influence a church-going audience towards a political opinion.    

That verse on that image in context says:

1  John 2:15-17

 15Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever

I'd like to compare the 1 John passage to another  verse that talks about being undefiled by the world and how to live out the will of the Father - and it gives some pretty clear directions on what that looks like.

James 1:27

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

I am so very grateful that while I now still attend an evangelical church there was not a flag in sight or military mention made all this Memorial Day weekend morning. Today we sang praises to God and we studied his word. We also had the opportunity to be encouraged this morning as we listened to a couple share how they are actively living out God's command to care for orphans.

While even with my pacifist leanings I can honor and respect the hearts of soldiers and their families who are willing to sacrifice much in the belief that doing so provides freedom for others,  I don't believe that the house of God is the time for the worship of a nation or its people -  however brave and selfless they may be.

"Worship is no longer worship when it reflects the culture around us more than the Christ within us." -A.W. Tozer