Ruminations on Patriotism

I love the 4th of July. In my book, any holiday which is celebrated by flame-grilling meat and allowing children to light dangerous explosives is a winner. Fire kicks ass. (I’m saddened that many states no longer allow children anywhere near fireworks, as this was one of the extreme joys of my childhood. No wonder America’s kids are growing up with issues.)

I also love that we set aside a day every year to celebrate the United States’ independence from foreign rule and the birth of North American democracy. Man, democracy was and still is a terrific idea, and doggone if it’s not worth lighting a few fires to confirm it. I’m incredibly grateful to have been born an American, and pray that I’ll never take for granted the blind chance or dumb luck or possibly God’s hand that led to my birth in Houston, Texas rather than Mogadishu, Somalia or Chengdu, China or any one of a gazillion other places where my chances at life would have been significantly diminished and my chances at a GOOD life would have been next to nil.

It’s this matter of blind chance or whatever which makes ever-so-slightly uncomfortable with Independence Day, even as I enjoy the feasts and fires. The truth is, I’m not very patriotic. (This admission will make me instantly unpopular with some readers, but hang on with me a sec.) I think the ideas which led to the creation of our nation were some of the best that have yet occured to the human mind, and those ideas are definitely worth celebrating. But none of us were there, ya know? We can’t really congratulate ourselves, since we’re just the lucky dopes whose moms delivered in a hospital on this side of an imaginary line. Maybe we can feel some sense of ownership insofar as we participate in the perpetuation of this democracy, but even the opportunity to do that is the result (for most of us) of being popped out in the right place at the right time.

It’s this word patriotism that freaks me out a little bit. Like I said, I’m a huge fan of democracy. I’d go so far as to say that in certain circumstances, democracy is worth dying for. But the United States isn’t “democracy.” It isn’t even the embodied ideal of democracy, at least not all of the time. It’s a nation founded on the idea of democracy, and I submit that it is democracy, not our country, which warrants our devotion. Patriotism leaves room for the love of country to conquer the ideals upon which the country was founded. (I might also submit that this is happening even now, but that’s for another post.)

So tonight when I get together with some fellow Americans to light meat on fire and watch the sky explode, I’ll feel thankful that I somehow beat the 2,430 to 1 odds of being born in the U.S. in 1975 (rough estimate) and grateful that the idea of democracy caught the hearts and minds of our founding fathers. I will also pray that a blind love for our nation never overshadows the ideal for which it stands.

25 thoughts on “Ruminations on Patriotism

  1. harmonicminer

    yep, we’re incredibly lucky to live where we do… through no fault of our own!

    But we should honor all those whose fault it IS that this place is here for us to live in, and all those who maintained and protected that place before we got here to take our turn at the same. And we must understand that it’s our job to pass it on without messing it up. (A little humility here: first, do no harm.)

    I would frame it all somewhat differently. The Declaration does not mention the word “democracy”. I think it’s also missing from the Constitution. Elections are mentioned there, of course, but they are republican in nature and design, not directly “democratic”.

    To me, the stress of the founding is not on “democracy”, it is on “freedom” and “inalienable rights”, predictable legal protection for citizens and property, etc. Those things flow inevitably from an understanding that our inherent nature as created human beings makes such our inheritance from God.

    Some of the worst thefts of freedom in history have happened “democratically”, i.e., electorally.

    It is the respect for personal freedom that sets us apart, not our “system of government”, which is a result of the former, not the cause of it.

    Of course, I don’t mean unfettered “do what you want whenever you want to” freedom… I mean the kind of responsible exercise of freedom envisioned by the founders, which respects the exercise of the freedoms of others, as well.

    I thank God pretty often that I’m lucky enough to live here. I encourage my children to do the same. I think one of the best services we can do is to encourage that love of freedom to take root elsewhere in the world.

    It’s all a mystery, ain’t it? How’d WE get so lucky? But we did.

    Some responsibility attaches to that fact.

  2. Chad

    Well said, both Aly and HM…

    Aly, I struggle with the things you bring up as well. I get all twitchy when people (often with deep southern accents) talk about returning America to “God’s Chosen Nation” status.

    “Hmm…” I think. “Does that include extermination of one race and the enslavement of another?”

    “Only The Gays.”


    I like better the idea that America has never yet achieved the status of a Christian nation. I know some of our founding fathers, and the mothers who rarely get mentioned, were believers in Jesus Christ, and righteous men and women. However, to claim ours as a true “Christian” nation is, I’m afraid, giving them more credit then they are due. They ARE due a lot of credit, however.

    I’m of the opinion that this old earth just might keep spinning for another one or two thousand years before Jesus comes back. Why, you ask? Well… why not? I’m ready for Him by lunchtime, if that’s what He chooses. I just get weirded out by these speculations that He’s surely coming next Thursday.

    All this random thinking to say this… I think Jesus might just be really pleased with us, as a nation, were we to get our heads on straight. I think if we could say to ourselves…

    “Utopia isn’t going to happen, and secular humanism will never bring it about. The Kingdom cannot happen without the King. However, let it be said of us that we strove for peace. Let it be said that we fed the poor and clothed the naked. Let it be said that we comforted the widow and raised the orphan as our own.”

    That happens in America. It does. It happens enough that it’s worth letting Old Glory unfurl once in a while.

    America also exploits the poor. We start wars and we like to photograph the naked rather then give them a garmet.

    Can we celebrate what is lovely while seeking to elimate what is evil? I hope so.

    Happy birthday, old gal. You’re quite a mixed bag, but we love you all the same.

  3. harmonicminer

    Hmmm… no that this is any kind of excuse for bad behavior… but God’s agendas often are incomprehensible to us…. or at least to me.

    The Israelites, who surely COULD lay claim to being God’s chosen nation, DID, on His specific order, exterminate and/or enslave with some considerable degree of enthusiasm. As far as I can read, it was their failure to honor only God, not specific failures of moral behavior (especially social morality), that led to their downfall and enslavement in their turn.

    The Founders, mostly, were well aware of the compromises they made, regarding slavery and related issues. Without those compromises, they believed no nation would be born… and slavery would continue anyway. So they struck an agreement anyway… with many of them consciously planning to come back to the issue later, after the present crisis was resolved.

    I gotta agree with Aly… if the nation-state known as “The United States of America” became a totalitarian regime (i.e., responsible freedom no longer existed as it does now… even with its current challenges), I wouldn’t be feeling terribly patriotic towards it. I would probably consider it patriotic to try to bring about the overthrough of the state, in that case, if the replacement was founded on liberty once again.

    RE: the USA’s putative status as “God’s Chosen Nation”… again, Israel was FAR from perfect, at anytime in its history, yet clearly was annointed in that way, until it turned its back on God once too many times.

    Two points: If the USA is NOT “God’s Chosen Nation” at this time, surely no other is any closer. (Imagine the history of the last 100 years without a USA….) And, to the extent that the people of the USA honor God, and that honoring leads them to do right, we have a better chance of being “God’s Chosen Nation”.

    I guess you can call me a believer in Amercian Exceptionalism. We remain the only nation (OTHER than ancient Israel) yet to be founded on an explicitly religious view of human beings that stresses their creation in God’s image, their essential dignity and liberty, etc. Other nations have adopted some of this (a little), but we are the only modern nation whose founding documents, laws, political organization and the common perspectives of its people all reflect this basic fact.

    Doesn’t make us perfect… and we ain’t. Neither was Israel. Doesn’t mean there weren’t problems from the very beginning… and israel was worshipping golden calves in the Sinai almost immediately after being delivered from Egypt… where the Israelites were because father Abraham’s great-grandsons sold out a brother.

    The fall happened, and its effects will be with us until the end of time… but God still chooses, even so. I’d be careful about telling Him that He can’t do that…. and hasn’t done it before, and won’t do it again.

    Nations cannot be Christian. Only individuals can. But God can still choose them for His purposes…. and has. May He continue to use US (meant both ways) as He wills.

  4. Chad


    You’re thoughtful as always. America is an amazing place, there’s no question. I saw, late on the 4th, a bio of Ronalr Reagan, and for some reason it captured my attention. There was a clip of him saying something like this:

    “Imagine if any other nation other than the US had won WW2. We were the remaining lone superpower. We were the only ones who had The Bomb. We were out of depression and ready to rock and roll. We could have enslaved the world in that moment. Do you think any other nation would have simply financed the rebuilding of its enemies?”

    Or someting like that.

    I felt very patriotic at that statement. He was right. We have, at times, done amazing and Christlike things as a collective.

    Of course… we had just bombed Nagasaki for sport… but that’s a different thread.

    As for the Isrealites enslaving and killing people… I give a lot more leeway to the chosen people who live on the other side of the New Covenant, who recieved direct marching orders from the Most High. Americans leaders who claim that need to be medicated.

    I am forced reject that argument based solely on anecdotal evidence from my own life, which tells me that those that I have heard talk about that sort of thing don’t really exhibit the kind of Christian walk (peace, patience, love, joy… all that crap) that I want to emulate.

    You are someone that I wanted to emulate, in the time that I was closely in your orbit, so you sort of fly in the face of my anecdotal evidence, but unfortunately now it’s only about 1 against 100. :)

  5. phil

    I too would be appalled if some USA leader said that God told him/her that we were to exterminate our enemies, Old Testament style.

    Although occasionally faculty meetings leave me wondering if maybe they were on to something.

    My take on it from above: “to the extent that the people of the USA honor God, and that honoring leads them to do right, we have a better chance of being “God’s Chosen Nation”.”

    This has less to do with what our leaders tell us God is telling them, and more to do with how we all live… which will impact what leaders we choose, of course, and maybe even how they behave in office…. or misbehave. Israel had some pretty flawed leadership, even among its greatest leaders.

    Chad, I’m not sure, but I think you may have just called me “patient”. Are you blind, man?

  6. Melody

    This is an interesting conversation which I hope to join. I agree with Phil that our nation has been blessed because of the biblical tenets used in formulating its founding. It is very interesting to read the writings of our founders and to learn of their thought processes. Pretty amazing stuff!

    I also find the thought processes of Chad interesting. In all the reading I’ve done on WWII (which for a girl is pretty extensive) I’ve never come across any evidence that any American bomb was ever dropped for ‘sport’. That seems a pretty flip statement to me. War is a terrible thing and sometimes people who have zero experience with or exposure to it have no concept of why it happens. It’s easy to take our freedoms for granted when we have never had to do without them.

    When Chad says “(peace, patience, love, joy…all that crap) that I want to emulate” I wonder at the use of the word ‘crap’. The true meaning of the word according to the American Heritage dictionary is “vulgar slang excrement”. There are several other uses but they are worse so I will not repeat them here. I’ve never thought of the gifts of the Spirit in quite that context. I guess if you do think of them that way there is no reason to be surprised that you’d want to emulate them; after your own fashion. I find the use of ‘coarse talk’ (something discouraged in Scripture) surprising in Christian circles. I guess it does make one seem more ‘cool’ with one’s friends though.

    “With malice toward none and charity toward all…” whose quote is that? Happy Independence everyone.

  7. Chad


    1. You’re right, we haven’t done it for sport. I was being a little hyperbolic about the need to drop a 2nd atomic bomb on Japan a scant three days after the first was dropped on Hiroshima. Yes, Japan hadn’t surrendered yet, but only 3 days?!?!?!? The war had been going for five years! Was there a gig that someone had to get to? I wasn’t there… but… sheesh. We’re talking about millions of lives. Japan had to be beaten… no doubt in my mind, and I don’t even fault the US for dropping the 1st one. I just have lingering questions about the motives regarding the second.

    2. The use of the word “crap” in that sentence is totally ironic. Those are values, as are all nine fruit of the spirit, that are critical to me in evaluating the kind of Christian I want to be, as well as the real only standard with which we can evaluate others. Sorry for any confusion. I like to sometimes say the opposite of what I actually mean. It’s a terrible habit.

  8. michael lee

    Melody, some of us have the benefit of reading Chad’s posts and being able to hear them in his voice, and I know that without that beneift, his comment comes off as crass and flippant.

    The truth, though, is that he is actually VERY crass and flippant. He conducts himself with an almost heroic sort of self-restraint to come across as socially acceptable as he appears on the blog.

    In all seriousness, I feel very confident saying that Chad does not, actually, think that we bombed Nagasaki for sport. Nor, I feel safe saying, does he think that the fruits of the spirit are “crap”. Most of our conversation around here takes place in casual language, where with a wink and a nod we try to make our friends grin while talking about important things.

  9. Chad


    I’m kind of bummed this conversation has drifted towards my unfortunate love of irony, but it’s actually raised a great point. I promise to say exactly what I mean for the next paragraph.

    Let’s set aside the 2nd atomic bomb for a sec and look at the first one. The rationalization for dropping it was that in the long run, it would save lives, both Japanese and American. I believe this to be true. The Japanese were and are still a prideful people, dedicated until the death. An invasion of the Japanese mainland would have devastated both nations.

    Here’s the rub, and here’s why we shouldn’t confuse America with the Kingdom of God. Jesus simply doesn’t make allowances for us to kill people to save people. It’s just not there. What’s good for a nation is not often reflected in the scripture. Nations cannot behave in a Christlike manner.

    Therefore, I think it’s important to embrace this irresolvable tension. I really mean this. We must look to the word, where Jesus tells us to give to the USA what belongs to the USA and give to Him what is His. Don’t confuse the two. Can you be a patriot and a Christian? Yes, I believe you can, but it’s a tightrope act. I think people who confuse the two give too much credit to the US, or their nation of choice, and not enough credit to the Lord. If this is as good as it gets…. well… let’s just say that I hope the taxes in heaven are more reasonable.

  10. Melody

    See, crazy things happen when APU alums start talking about important things. Especially when they have degrees in music. Is everybody on pitch?

  11. Jeremy

    ok…chiming in cuz this is way too interesting a topic and a particular sentence stood out to me.

    “Jesus simply doesn’t make allowances for us to kill people to save people.”

    Umm….I guess Jesus never actually said that there would be a justifiable killing or a just war but he never went against it either (please correct me if I am wrong) In fact, he never specifically weighed in on many topics. I hope that you aren’t referencing the whole “turn the other cheek” I always read that as a response to insults. Even Jesus, when slapped by order of the priest, didn’t literally “turn the other cheek.” Rather, he said, “If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike me?” (John 18:23) I seriously doubt that Christ would disparage a person for dealing out violence to protect innocence. I mean, if you had to kill a man to keep that person from killing you or raping your wife etc do you think Jesus would condemn that? I don’t think He would be happy of course, but I doubt he’s very happy about most of the crap we do. (appropriate use of the word crap ;-) Jesus was not a pacifist. He kicked some ass when he needed to.

    I agree that there have been few if any just wars but ol WW2 gets about as close as you can get. I mean Nazis and Nazi-esque villains are universal in their evilness for a reason. And back in that time the Japanese and Italians weren’t much better. For that matter maybe we should have listened to ol George and gone right on into Moscow when we should have. Saving literally millions of people from horrible death can’t be wrong and in trying to know the nature of Jesus I have to disagree with your earlier statement. Our involvement in WW2 was not to take joy in killing or to gain power or resources. It was to protect those who couldn’t protect themselves. It was nasty horrible business but I think, especially in historical hind sight, I as a Christian would have felt compelled to help stop the things that were being perpetrated on many, many people. (plus Call of Duty 2 on the xbox360 is really sweet and I’m sure the real deal was just as fun….sarcasm people.)

    I do agree with your idea of giving Caesar what is his but at the same time the Bible is very clear on who gives government that authority and for what purpose.

    I Peter 2:13-14 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.

    My view on this is that the idea of submission is not merely “give in because we’re Christians and we know the real deal.” Rather it’s the idea that government ideally is an instrument of God. So perhaps I disagree with your idea that nations cannot behave in a Christ like manner. Why not? Shouldn’t that be the goal?

    And no, I’d rather not get into the whole idea of just authority and when is it ok to go against that authority. We’re talking about America and I believe that while not perfect our country is just about as perfect as humanity has gotten so far. That quote by Reagan is truth and there are dozens upon dozens of other examples that testify to that same idea.

    And since I should comment ever so briefly on the original posting…I think there is a huge difference between nationalism and patriotism. I’m a patriot. Do I think that my government is perfect and we are the uber race? No. Will I defend her ideals and what she has been and can be? Hell yeah.

  12. michael lee

    “Nations cannot behave in a Christlike manner.”

    True … kind of. I think navigating this point requires a great deal of perspective on the distinctions between God’s ordinance for nations, and God’s ordinance for people. As I read the scriptures, political structures aren’t charged with being positive forces for good in the same way that people are – they are charged primarily with mitigating the amount of evil that people can do to each other. They mediate justice, they provide for common defense, they guard the fair participation in the economic structures of a culture. I’m reading the Old Testament Law right now, and where it doesn’t deal specifically with religious observances, it deals primarily with establishing these kinds of statutes. This continues through to the new testament, where Paul’s primary view of the state is as the steward and executor of God’s justice among the people.

    The balance of the state/person dicotomy is that the state is charged with doing things that would be inappropriate for individuals to do. If I think my neighbor took something that belongs to me, it’s not appropriate for me to mount up a posse, ride him down, and take something of equal value from him. It is appropriate for the state to decide the case, then enact the consequence.

    Christ’s teaching and mission were to people. He called people to be compassionate, forgiving, loving, charitable, all that crap (sorry mel, it’s a thing now). If I am wronged, I have an obligation to be forgiving and compassionate to my enemy. But if I am wronged, my nation does not have the obligation to be forgining to my enemy. In fact, it is derelict in its duty if it does so.

    So, can Nations be Christlike? No. But I don’t think they’re called to be, in the same way that people are. Can they be Godly? Yes, I think so – when they are faithful executors of his justice.

    I think this fits into Kingdom Theology in interesting ways, but I’m going to wait until I’m no longer on dial-up before I delve into that whole mess.

  13. phil

    Fascinating discussion, with real implications for what we do and how we live and participate in our society right now.

    I’d love to hear more thoughts on all this.

    Thanks for kicking it off, Aly.

    (Sidebar: some of this applies directly to how we relate to institutions of other kinds, not just government. Can there be “Christian Institutions” in some sense in which there cannot be “Christian Governments”?)

    From Mike:

    “If I think my neighbor took something that belongs to me, it’s not appropriate for me to mount up a posse, ride him down, and take something of equal value from him. It is appropriate for the state to decide the case, then enact the consequence.”

    Umm… depends on the state. I would not be able to report a mere theft, in good conscience, in a country where the thief’s hand would be cut off. I just can’t imagine Jesus doing that. On the other hand, there are other countries NOW where a theft is so trivial that the state will do nothing, and if you don’t want to be stolen blind, you must handle it yourself. I do not think Jesus would have let the same guy steal his walking staff everyday for a month. (Careful, here… the obvious rejoinder will lead you straight to hard determinism… go there only if you want to.)

    (In the meantime, if I ever find out which one of you took my copy of Walter Piston’s HARMONY, 2nd edition, you’re dead meat.)

    None of this is news to anyone here… but it shows how much we’ve come to depend on reasonably just government. Again, our great good fortune to live where we do. If you’ve been anywhere else, you know just how rare it is, worldwide.

    One more comment for now: it’s easy to take shots at political leaders who say they pray and seek guidance from God, and to caricature them as Old Testament wanna-be nut-jobs. But in fact, do we not believe that it is our personal responsibility to do exactly that in our own lives, and with regard to many of the decisions we make about life, work, family, etc.? If YOU were elected President, I hope to God that you WOULD “pray and seek”, not just listen to the cacaphonic din of your advisers… and I would not be worried if you said so…. unless, of course, you announced that God had told you to launch Gorby into orbit around Saturn to meet with environmentalist aliens. Everyone knows God didn’t create any environmentalist aliens.

  14. Chad

    Oh man… this is what I get for blogging without a Bible near me.

    Perhaps I should have said something like… “Nations have not typically behaved in a Christlike manner,” which is a statement that is less definitive and, now that I’m thinking about it more, more accurate as what I observe and how I feel.

    As for the idea that Jesus would or would not condone war, I think I tried to make it clear that I consider WW2 a just war, and that there exists a state of unresolvable and acceptable tension between what is good and just for nations and good for The Kingdom. I think if we’re all a little honest and look a little deeply, we might see that there were things that we did through the course of that just war that were not terribly fantastic or even remotely Christlike. (Interment camps and the carpet bombing Dresden in ’45 come to mind… anyone remember those little incidents?) Can we give honor to those who bled and died (my grandfather spent two years in a POW camp in France after his B24 was shot down) without blinking at the mistakes and outrages?

    I guess… for me… when I say that the justification is not there, here’s what I mean: Jesus lived in a place and a time where God’s Chosen People were enslaved and oppressed by godless foreign pagans. If ever there was a just war to be waged, it was then. I think the fact that he DIDN’T lead a violent revolt is one of the many reasons he was crucified. Jeremy has made accurate points about the “Turning the other cheek” passage that is oft misquoted by peace activists, but I really have to challenge some of you to show me where, in Christ’s ministry, kicking ass and taking names is modeled and lauded. Clearing out the Temple did not overthrow the government. I just don’t remember the part where Jesus beat the hell out of the Roman Centurions. I do seem to remember him raising one of their kids from the dead. He just didn’t seem to be terribly interested in righting wrongs on a national level… so why are we?

    Personally, I am seeking a relationship with my country that is balanced and gives the correct amount of respect and deference because I DO believe that God allows governments to look after us, and I do take both Peter and “Give to Caesar what is Caesars,” to mean that part of my submission to God is a submission to my authorities, whether or not I love what they do all the time.

    Perhaps I have painted a more critical portrait of my views on America then is necessary. I love America. This is my home, and these are my peeps, and I wave my flag and put my hand on my heart and sing at the top of my lungs, and I mean it. I have seen a bit of the world, and you don’t hear me moaning about how everyone else has it all figured out. Public transit is pretty hot… but other then that…

    I guess… well… I guess I just don’t hear a lot of Christians who seem to have their heads in the right place on this one. I hear a lot of people at church who talk about Dubya like he has a personal hotline to Jesus. I’m not making this up, people. I hold the often unpopular opinion that Dubya has made bold moves that cannot be judged until History judges them. I think he gets a bad rap. But a hotline to Jesus… nope.

    The secular humanist left (sorry for the generalizations here, my liberal friends… I have all sorts of mean things to say about Republicans too) has gone so far in their disdain for all things American that we are getting a little… reactionary, I fear.

    P.S. My pitch kicks ass. It’s just slightly on the flat side, where it needs to be to sound cool.

  15. Jeremy

    i think this might be the only thing on the internet where people make intelligent, well thought out, oft times funny posts and dont get flamed because they have a different opinion. It’s also the only blog I read where I actually get out my Bible and read and try to figure out how I fit into the whole deal.

    Thanks Chad for making me think and presenting your mind in a well thought out and stimulating way.Applaus applaus. It’s why i keep coming back.

    and just so we can revert back to mindless internet arguments…PCs rule and Macs drool.

  16. corey

    Mike: “But if I am wronged, my nation does not have the obligation to be forgining [ sic ] to my enemy. In fact, it is derelict in its duty if it does so.”

    Interesting statement. And as I constantly chew on the relationships between crime, punishment, sin, and redemption, this is an angle I’d never thought of before. And it begs the question that if government is made of the people for the people, does the collective whole have license and latitude to deviate from the expectations of the parts?

    I don’t have any answers or fancy “a-HA!” points, just a thanks for the paradigm-quake.

  17. michael lee

    And don’t mock my spelling. I was on dial-up, crouched on the floor of a cabin, huddling out of sight of the cruel, cruel mequitoes. And, on top of all of that, I suck at spelling.

  18. harmonicminer

    This thread died an undeservedly early death. Some important issues were being approached, and specifically, Mike made a promise of sorts, that he never fulfilled… and inquiring minds want to know.

    To reframe: there is lots of loose talk about “Kingdom values”. Many seem to equate them with “leftist values”, in my judgment.

    Lots of people seem to talk about “Kingdom Values” as if the only thing we know about Jesus arises from the Sermon on the Mount. But if you believe Jesus is God, if you actually accept the notion of the eternal Trinity, then either you believe the Old Testament is false in many places, or that Jesus was in full agreement with a great many acts of violence done by “states” at His command in the OT. It’s popular to read the many references in the Psalms to crushing enemies as allegoric. It’s also plainly a false reading.

    So, the challenge: just what ARE “Kingdom values”? A true answer must incorporate the observation above, unless you’d like to just invalidate much of the OT… if so, be honest about it.

    On another thread here, I just posted the story of a young soldier recently killed in Iraq. Was he living “Kingdom values”? It seems so to me.

  19. michael lee

    [quote comment="41166"]This thread died an undeservedly early death. Some important issues were being approached, and specifically, Mike made a promise of sorts, that he never fulfilled… and inquiring minds want to know.[/quote]

    I reread the thread, and my comments, and I’m not sure what I was more I was intending to say in a later post. I think it would be elaborating more along the lines of my previous comment, that their are different spheres of just behavior for persons individually (me), and persons in the aggregate (my country).

    Compassion and grace are hallmarks of kingdom people, but living them out requires a state that guards those who are weak (or meek!) from those who are strong and evil.

    [quote comment="41166"]To reframe: there is lots of loose talk about “Kingdom values”. Many seem to equate them with “leftist values”, in my judgment.[/quote]

    That’s undoubtedly true. Scot Mcknight has taken up some the thread of some of this in his writing on the emerging church. There are many who define the boundaries of the Kingdom of God, and thereby their Christian mission, as an expression of an expressly political set of values. Many in the emerging church are drawn to communities because they explicitly define mission in terms that are sympathetic to a liberal political ideology. And of course, there are those drawn to communities that define mission in more conservative political terms.

    If you sit around the dinner table at my Grandma’s house, you will hear illegal immigration talked about in religious terms, as if it were the duty of every believer to grab a gun and patrol the border, shooting jumpers on sight.

    If you sit around the dinner table at my friend Dana’s house, you will hear Nuclear Power talked about in religious terms, as if it were the duty of every believer to chain themselves to gates at San Onofre and refuse to let the power plant operate.

    In both cases, it’s seems evident to me that they are bringing prior political agendas into their construction of the Kingdom, in cases where the issues at hand is so tangentially related, if it is even related at all, as to be almost unrecognizable.

    This is why I bring this up – as long as “it’s a leftist value” or “it’s a neo-con idea” or “you sound like Pelosi” or “That’s something Limbaugh would say” even enters in the conversation of what constitutes the Kingdom of God, the discussion is doomed from the start. It is poison. It is drawing from a feculent well from which no good thing can come.

    Politics is a dialectic, defined by advocacy – you enter the arena advocating for a particular solution to a problem. You must then make enemies of those who propose alternate solutions (or alternate problems) in order to secure enough power to enact the solution you are advocating for. Politics is a team sport; the landscape is populated by allies and enemies. The people of God should never be enemies, and the only way to become allies is to pursue some higher purpose than political dialectic.

    We HAVE to be able to talk, as brothers and sisters in Christ, about how to undo the Shoah of abortion in America without bringing our political guns to the fight. If we map the discussion politically first, we will never, ever, get to the point where we can do something meaningful and substantial about it.

    Likewise, we MUST be able to talk, as brothers and sisters in Christ, about our obligations to the poor in our midst without marking everyone at the table with a big R or D (or, heaven-forbid, G!) before the conversation even gets started.

    So, back to the point at hand. Yes, there are those who equate kingdom values with “leftist values”. That’s neither an argument for, or against, the rightness of how they conceive of the Kingdom of God.

  20. michael lee

    [quote comment="41166"]
    Lots of people seem to talk about “Kingdom Values” as if the only thing we know about Jesus arises from the Sermon on the Mount. But if you believe Jesus is God, if you actually accept the notion of the eternal Trinity, then either you believe the Old Testament is false in many places, or that Jesus was in full agreement with a great many acts of violence done by “states” at His command in the OT. It’s popular to read the many references in the Psalms to crushing enemies as allegoric. It’s also plainly a false reading.

    Bah. So, apparently I’m going to spend my entire evening just parsing this one comment, Phil. I’ll blame you when my students complain that I didn’t grade their homework, and just gave everyone a “C”.

    I’m not quite sure what your point is here. Are you arguing that sometimes violence is sometimes a justified tool of statecraft? I don’t think you’d find many here that would disagree with that. The only caveat that I would add is that violence is a function of sin in the world, and when we use violence in the service of justice, it should be with the utmost prudence and reservation, as limited in scope as is strictly necessary for accomplishing just ends.

    Are you arguing that the progression of the kingdom of God is a mission that should make use of violence? That seems … shocking. And more than a little disturbing. I doubt that’s what you mean.

    Parse this out for me a little more. I’m not quite tracking with you on how this paragraph fits.

  21. harmonicminer

    I think I can frame my discomfort with “Kingdom values” talk relatively briefly.

    When it is used in the larger sphere (say, outside the few hundred people you actually know) it is used way too often by people who aren’t happy with how this policy or that *feels* to them (of this or that governmental body), but who have no real alternative to that policy that has a cheeseball’s chance in a faculty meeting of working to bring about the justice they claim to crave.

    The touchstone for me: a soldier doing his duty in Iraq can be *every bit as much* about Kingdom values as Mother Theresa, and see his work there, including shooting apparent enemy fighters (a.k.a. terrorists), as God’s own work, and rightly so. Consider: a soldier going house to house trying to separate the goats from the sheep is putting his own life at risk to protect the innocent; otherwise they’d just shell it and move on. Some might suggest that it’s only because it would be politically unthinkable to do otherwise. To their utter shame, and out of ignorance of the modern military ethic our soldiers are taught, and believe in.

    That’s about it. The rest is just response and clarification.

    “Are you arguing that the progression of the kingdom of God is a mission that should make use of violence? That seems … shocking. And more than a little disturbing. I doubt that’s what you mean.”

    You’ve put it in a somewhat raw, unqualified way… but I guess you’ll have to prepare to be shocked and disturbed. It isn’t just that the Kingdom of God “should” use violence, but that it must, in this fallen world.

    Is it NOT part of “the progression of the Kingdom” to fight evil? Unless you believe all evil CAN be fought and MUST ONLY be fought with non-violence by Christians, then you’ve answered your own question. You just don’t like how the answer feels when you roll it around in your mouth. But the key is in your recognition of state responsibility to protect, which implies a recognition of the moral necessity to use violence when necessary. I have a hard time distinguishing “moral necessity” from “Kingdom value”.

    It is not noble to wait to be attacked, unless YOU are the only person in danger, and you’ve decided martyrdom (or the risk of it) is your duty.

    Yes, “violence is a function of sin in the world”. But that doesn’t mean only the sinful use violence. Your state/person dichotomy has some truth to it… but it makes it a bit too easy for those who depend on the state’s use (or threat) of violence (that would be ALL of us) to fail to acknowledge their own dependency on it, and to fail to acknowledge that it, too, is part of God’s provision for us, and by definition, therefore, part of Kingdom values. Missionaries are not a priori holier than soldiers. More soldiers have voluntarily risked, and given, their lives to protect the innocent than the entire list of Christian martyrs throughout history.

    Sure, some soldiers have done evil for evil motivations, and all too often in the name of God. Motivations matter here, because all kind of evil has been done for “good” motivations too, if we measure by results, not intent.

    Yes, all manner of evil has been done in the misuse of such power. It will likely continue to be. But it is the only game in town. Hoping you won’t have to fight the neighborhood bully works when there is a larger structure of society that will reign in the bully (sometimes, anyway). There simply is no such thing in the world at large, *unless it is US*. (Double entendre intended…)(Department of Redundancy Department)

    I’d be very interested in anyone’s response to the image of the Logos standing by in agreement with David killing Philistines. As I read the OT, that is the exact case, assuming you actually believe in an eternally consubstantial Trinity. I have the distinct impression that too many folk ignore the OT, except when they can cherry pick a verse about the evil rich. Shoot, I used to do it myself, when I was a minister of music choosing scripture readings for services… it was downright HARD to find a Psalm to read that didn’t involve asking for God to help in crushing enemies… and in my innocence at the time, I just didn’t think we should be reading that stuff in church. (Even Scot McKnight acknowledges the lack of attention from the emerging folk to the Epistles, let alone the broader implications of the OT. The emerging ones are very “gospels” centric… and even there, they much prefer the Sermon on the Mount to Jesus’ parable of the guy burning in Hell, lines like “this night your soul is required of you”, etc.)

    I know some people who think the bumper sticker “Who Would Jesus Bomb” actually means something important. It does: it means they don’t have a clue about what it would mean to have Jesus as president. Do they think Jesus would have simply “taken over” the mind of Saddam, or Bin Laden, or Ahmadinejad (or Hitler, or Stalin, or Tojo, or Mao or Pol Pot), regardless of their will? Unless Jesus proved to be more willing to use His divine powers to simply make things right than He was in Palestine (where he left unjust rulers in charge, didn’t stop murderers from murdering by divine fiat, and didn’t force people via his Divine Presence to change their hearts), he would be forced to act in the scope of powers available to normal humans, or allow untold innocent life to be taken, or use those Divine Powers to make things happen that aren’t available to us. Not to put too fine a point on it, THAT Jesus would have left chattel slavery in place…. and I simply refuse to believe that. (You can give the evangelical activists against slavery the credit, if you want… and they deserve some. But the blood of soldiers bought the freedom of the black South.) So far from being comforted by the notion of the “Kingdom values” Jesus in the White House, I simply thank God that it was never so. Only a Jesus who was willing to simply ENFORCE His will would be able to avoid the responsibility of the use of violence when necessary, and that Jesus never lived.

    I note that Jesus, unlike other revolutionaries, took NO ONE to His death with Him. He let them run away to fight another day. He had the option: He was here for other reasons. But make no mistake, appropriate violence IS a Kingdom value, it being as necessary to protect the innocent as to feed the hungry. And the utter misery of that fact is that no human action is error free, and no human plan works perfectly, and when violence is necessary to fight evil and protect those who need it, people will be unjustly killed. It is a very terrible thing, and very messy, and very confusing, and very hard to endure. But to fail to recognize the necessity of it is to be a child… and I don’t mean in the “you must become as one of them” sense, either. It is no accident that the pacifist strains of Christianity came to the US… it’s much safer to be a pacifist here.

    I’ll put it succinctly: if the bad guys are coming to destroy your town, it is immoral (and specifically antithetical to Kingdom values) for you to wait until they get to the front door of the elementary school to see if they really mean it. Even if you’re willing to see the murder of your own children (and eternal shame be on you), you are absolutely required to protect your neighbor’s.

    This thread started out about patriotism. For all its failings, the USA has used force in ways more in line with Kingdom values than any state since David… or maybe Joshua. And maybe modern Israel. But we are still fallen folk, and our leaders do not have perfect motivations and perfect insight. Yet we are children (of a particularly mendacious, selfish sort) if we do not accept our responsibilities to make judgments in the light of reality and moral responsibility.

    We wait for His return.

    Until then, we have choices to make. We must make them carefully, but carry them out confidently. Make no mistake: our enemies ARE utterly confident of their total rightness in every particular, and are not troubled by conscience at the death of any number of us. Unless you believe in a God/Jesus who will intervene in ways more dramatic than any Old Testament story of Israel’s conquests, who will literally remove the will to do ill on the part of murderers, and on an incredibly massive scale, then you must accept the Kingdom necessity of violence in the fight against evil, and all the difficulties, ambiguities and human agonies accompanying it… because the alternative is surrender to evil most foul.

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