My grandson, Noah, and I visited Washington, DC, during the Spring break. One of the highlights was a tour of the U.S. Capitol. We had done this before, but each time is a learning experience. As our guide pointed out the statues in the Rotunda and in Statuary Hall, both Noah and I noted an interesting juxtaposition.
In the Capitol are statues of both Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of America, and Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, the chief executives on the two sides in the Civil War. There are also statues of both commanding generals of the opposing sides at the end of the war—Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. Of course, the individual states have the opportunity choose the statues in the Capitol Building based on persons that they consider notable, so Davis of Mississippi and Lee of Virginia are there because of their status in those states. (You would be surprised at some of the selections.)
Even so, each of these men was and is seen as patriotic by their respective states. They were faithful and committed in their own way. So exactly what does it mean to be patriotic? There is a lot of posturing about who is deserving of that title today. Even more specifically, what does it mean for a Christian to be a national patriot while being a citizen of the Kingdom of God? Let me suggest some ideas about what it means to be patriotic from a Christian perspective.
A Christian patriot prays for those in authority. Even if you did not vote for the leaders of your country, they need your prayers and doing so may encourage humility both as a Christian and as a citizen. I am struck by the fact that the liturgy used by the Episcopal Church includes praying for the President by name each Sunday.
A Christian patriot votes in elections. This involves not just voting the party line or being an “issues voter” but being discerning and informed before casting a ballot. This means reading, questioning, and discussing the commitments and apparent qualifications of the various candidates.
A Christian patriot pays his or her fair share of taxes. This is specifically what Jesus was talking about when he said, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Luke 20:25, NIV). He was not condoning all that the Roman Empire did, but he did recognize that when you live in a secular state, you meet your obligations to that state. In a modern democracy, this means that just as the Christian is honest in all his or her business dealings so that person will be honest in paying what is due to the government.
A Christian patriot serves when called upon for such civil obligations as military service or jury duty. Not all Christians will accept the role of military service and conscientiously object to the practice, but we can agree to disagree on that point.
A Christian patriot helps others in the community regardless of ethnicity or national origin. This means that the Christian wants good schools, public services, and health care for all people. All need the opportunity to prosper. Here again I do not expect everyone to agree with me on this point but it does seem to embody the teachings of Christ.
A Christian patriot knows the history of the country. As a historian by training, I am often amazed at the ability of some political (and religious) leaders to either rewrite or ignore history. History is both inspiring and disappointing. The story of how we have come to where we are now includes incidents of brutality and indifference but also acts of courage and sacrifice. Religious leaders must also realize that the church is not free of guilt in some of the darker episodes of our history—human slavery, for just one example.
What does it mean to you to be both a Christian and a patriot? Each of us must make our own choices, but I find this short list rather challenging for me.