Over on Kidology.org there is a hot discussion that was started by a brother “down under” who asked:
Why do American Christians see the need to teach patriotism? Doesn’t God love all nations equally? (see full question and discussion here)
I’ve been watching the conversation, discussing it with family and friends, and waiting to post my answer until I could really give it some thought, and decided to answer it here on my blog rather than just in the Kidology forum. I’d love your feedback here or there.
My short answer would be, I have never taught “Patriotism” to kids in church, but I certainly have modeled it. They see my flag ties and my red-white-n-blue converse shoes I only wear on US holidays. There is no secret I love my country, but I don’t teach “patriotism.” What I have taught is gratitude to God for our blessings, many of which are being American, and civil responsibility, both which are not USA dependent.
“nation” not “America”
I can go on and on about what a good and amazing country this is, but that is beside the point. I think the Kidology discussion got off on that rabbit trail, which is easy for Americans to do. We LOVE our country. We quickly take a challenge to patriotism as a challenge to our country, and we are very defensive now as we fight a war against those whose aim is to wipe us out. So forgive us if we are quick to “brag” about why we are good! I certainly have blogged about how wonderful America is before, so you may read those if you need to. (that’s four different links!)
Not Many Countries Make This Claim
But question posed by our Australian brother was not is American worthy of patriotism, but should we be teaching patriotism in our children’s ministry. That is a good question even if we weren’t worthy of it. Patriotism (or nationalism as it is usually called in other countries) is certainly taught to kids even in countries we would not think worthy of it.
The best definition of Patriotism I found was:
Patriotism is your conviction that this country
is superior to all other countries
because you were born in it.
— George Bernard Shaw
While intended as humor, I find this definition fascinating because it illustrates the point that Patriotism has nothing to do with how good a nation is, it has to do with our feelings toward our nation. Americans have a hard time separating how good we are from thinking we are the best, and I think that rubs non-Ameicans the wrong way. I apologize for that, but we can’t help it. We truly believe that America is unique on the globe in many positive ways, and struggle to understand why others don’t see why we are so fond of our country. We don’t see millions of people sneaking into other countries, and we think we know why. It’s a wonderful place to live.
America is great in a long list of ways… but as our critics abroad are quick to point out, with our prosperity and freedom has come a moral cost as well. We have some serious issues not seen in other countries, so it is difficult to give an overall “fair” or objective evaluation of a country. In the end, people will focus on the aspects that support how they already feel, rather than base their feelings on facts. We who love this country will quickly say our good outweighs our bad (and I’ll admit, that’s me!) but our enemies or critics who already hate or simply dislike us will say that the bad outweighs the good. (and I’m resisting defending how wrong this is!)
A Heritage That Makes Us Proud
I can’t think of another nation that has done and continues to do as much for the rest of the world, despite it’s shortcomings. I do believe that America has enjoyed God’s blessing and I think our heritage is why – but not a guarentee of lasting power or impact. For those who doubt or don’t realize the Christian heritage (it certainly isn’t taught anymore, or is glossed over or minimized) should watch these online videos, they are powerful:
So we as Americans have plenty of reasons to be proud of our country – but teaching pride for country misses the point. We shouldn’t teach kids to simply love and be proud of their country. What about when the country violates Scripture? What about abortion? Do we love that? Are we proud of the innocent we kill? What about racism? Do we love that? Are we proud of it? What about high levels of crime, drug use, and immorality? Love it? Proud of it? Of course not!
Instead, we ought to teach our kids to appreciate our blessings and to recognize that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17) But we also need to teach them what God hates, and the role God’s people should play in correcting those wrongs. We need to teach kids to be a light in a dark world, and there are dark places in America that need that light!
God is Supreme Over ALL Nations
Having said that, however, there is a place for Patriotism/Nationalism. The quote above is holds a nugget of truth – we are in the country we are in, because God placed us there. Even on the mission field American missionaries will teach the locals to honor and support their country. My father in law founded a mega church in Manila, Philippines, and when Filipinos would come to the USA for education he would encourage them not to just stay in America but to return to their own country and help there. America is a wonderful land of opportunity but if everyone came here the problems in other countries wouldn’t be helped. It isn’t un-American for an American to encourage someone in another country to love their country and be a part of making it a better place. America is not heaven on earth – but it is our country, and therefore we love it, even if we don’t love everything in it.
What I would teach kids in my church is the same thing kids can be taught in every country. NOT “America is Best”, but love your country, be thankful for the blessings of your country, and be a part of making your country better and more pleasing to God.
That applies “down under” as well as “up top”, and all the “sides.” And sorry for assuming that we are “on top” – its a sphere and Jesus died for every “side” of it. Someday we will have One country and One leader, the King of Kings, but until then – love your country, but love God first!