Patriotism, especially in connection with Christianity, has always been a bit of a struggle for me, even now as a military wife. I grew up as a missionary kid in Southeast Asia, and even though my American parents tried hard to encourage American sensibilities in their children, there was a bit of an inevitable disconnect. I am still learning the rules to American football and don't know why anyone would watch baseball ever (unless it's for the food); I'm still working on my American geography (where is Wyoming again?); and I am the queen of missing pop culture references.
But the more challenging part was figuring out how to fit my lack of patriotism with the American church. When I came back to the States for college, it was hard sitting in the patriotic services around Independence Day, Veterans Day, and Memorial Day. I was uncomfortable seeing the American flag at the front of the churches I attended in the U.S. I knew firsthand that God does not love American Christians more than Sudanese Christians, Burmese Christians, or Indonesian Christians, but I didn't always see that reflected in the American church.
Then, I married a military man from the South. We live on base where we stand at attention for the National Anthem every afternoon. I know the ins and outs of military culture. Our first five years of marriage, my husband and I spent more time apart than we did together--and I did it for a country that I had come to love because of the man that I had come to love.
But I still struggle with how we deal with patriotism within the church. In many areas of our country, patriotism has become one of the hallmarks of the American church. We recognize veterans in church services; we pray for our troops; we don't hesitate to sing "America the Beautiful" from our pews. These things in and of themselves are not necessarily bad. But sometimes, we forget that America is not our King. Jesus is our King, and He has His own kingdom, and it is not limited by the fifty states. Our churches should be defined by our love for Jesus, not our love for our country. If we get that wrong, we're just wasting our time.
With that said, how do we as Christians handle holidays like Independence Day, Veterans Day, and Memorial Day? The answer is found in Scripture. Jesus once said, "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13, ESV). Our veterans have done this. They have offered their lives to secure a greater hope and a safer future for many. The men and women we remember on Memorial Day exemplify the very real sacrifice that true love requires, and as we remember them, we should be drawn into a deeper appreciation of the ultimate sacrifice Jesus gave on the cross. While our military gives their lives for us, Christ gave his life for all. While we remember those who lost their lives in war, we rejoice in the hope of the gospel and the eternal perspective that Christ will come again to put an end to all war, death, and grief.
Second, Philippians 4:8 (ESV) encourages us, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." So if our patriotism encourages us in these areas, this is something worth celebrating. If our military members live lives of excellence and honor, if they exemplify what is honorable, we should support and commend them. Our country stands for some incredible ideals that are worth thinking about, even if they don't always pan out the way we wish.
Finally, we must remember that Christ has called us to mourn with those who mourn. When we sit with our neighbors and friends in their grief as they remember those lost to war, we have a unique opportunity to share the hope of the cross with them. We know that Christ wins. We also know that those who have put their faith in Him will live forever in his presence. They will not be lost forever to the ravages of war, but will be born again to new life in Him. So we do not grieve without hope as others must, but we do still mourn. If we purposefully withdraw from our country's days of remembrance, we waste an opportunity to share with unbelievers the good news of the gospel.
In the end, no matter who we are--in my case, missionary kid or military wife--we know that there is one thing that should determine all of our ways: the cross of Christ. Once we fix our eyes on Jesus, everything else falls into place. So let's not get distracted while we determine how our patriotism fits with our Jesus, but instead allow our love for Christ to color all of our days as we draw nearer to Him, become more like Him, and minister to others in His name.
By Marian Frizzell
Marian is a homeschool mom of five children, and her husband is serving our country in the Air Force.