When Patriotism Becomes Idolatry
The Biblical Old Testament prophets continually warned the people of God about the dangers of idolatry. It’s important to know that during this time God’s people mixed their worship of God with the worship of idols. They continued to sacrifice in the temple, following all the laws given by Moses, including the feast days and the required details of all their formal worship. They thought they were doing just fine.
However, they also constantly betrayed the Lord God, by worshipping Baal and other idols at the same time. We need to take that sin seriously because too often today we Christians worship at church and also worship our own idols. These idols can be many things, popularity, pleasure, money, even family, if we put those things above God.
Today, I'm most concerned about the worship of heroes of the flesh and worship of our country. Too often, we Christians look to leaders who only give lip service to the faith, while mostly serving themselves, and we exalt love of country to an extreme, even to the point of idolatry.
Patriotism, when it’s kept in its place, is not a sin. Patriotism is natural. I thrill to the Star Spangled Banner, have a US flag bumper sticker, and honor the heroes who suffered and died serving our country. I believe we have a noble constitution and a partially noble history, but we cannot put the Constitution on the level of Holy Scripture and cannot treat human leaders as divine beings who can do no wrong. We cannot continually overlook our leaders' offensive behaviors just because they have been elected to the highest offices of our great country. Instead, we should be expecting and demanding higher standards of morality from all of our leaders.
I grew up seeing the American flag in churches. It seemed normal and harmless, and to a large extent it probably was harmless, but now currently with such an extreme cultural emphasis on patriotism in society, I'm concerned that having the national flag in a church could encourage a form of idolatry. Don’t get me wrong, flags are a wonderful symbol of loyalty, but our loyalty to our country should not supersede our devotion to God, his Son and the teachings in the Bible. We tend to treat the flag as if it is a holy thing sent by God. It’s only a symbol. God did not create the American flag, but many treat it as holy. Yes, repect it, but don't elevate it to God's holy flag!
When we make our country an idol, we forget that God cares about all the people of the world. He sees those suffering in other countries, and He sees our wealth and too often our lack of desire to help those people, even though we were blessed just to be born here.
As Christians, our desire to help our country should come second to our commitment to spreading the gospel of Jesus and our desire to help hurting, needy people around the world. Yes, we love our country, but I repeat, we need to remember that our country is just one of many countries that God loves. He wants all people to have their needs met, and He wants people to share their goods with others less fortunate. I firmly believe that if we put God’s values first, He will help us find ways to help refugees and poorer countries and still keep our country growing and prosperous. We have so much to share, it's not an impossible challenge!
A related issue is that when people set up the country as divinely chosen, we have a harder time learning from past mistakes. That attitude leads to a desire to present our country as perfect, but we are a people of Christian and non-Christian background. If we want to be a nation of Christians who value our country but don’t worship it, we need to have humility about our history. We should see our country as a reflection of our humanity which often falls short of the glory of God.
When we look at the church in our history and how it failed to see the sins of slavery and racial segregation, we need to be humble and repent of a false patriotism that says America has always been terrifically great. We have leaders who act like it would be terrible to teach our children that our country has made mistakes. Is this because they want our children to worship our country? Most children know adults are not perfect and if they don’t, they need to learn that adults do make mistakes, but can and do improve. It’s part of growing up and learning to understand our country and how to make our country a better place to live for everyone.
These lessons are all part of being a wholesome, unified country, made up of Christians and non-Christians alike, who seek to understand the correct place of patriotism, a wonderful emotion, but not an idol to be worshipped.