Do Christianity and Patriotism Mix?

Written by Karl Dahlfred on .

In response to the title question of this article, I imagine that many people would give one of two basic answers. The first is, “Absolutely! Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!”  The second is, “Never! What does the house of the Lord have to do with the house of idols?!”  There are certainly other possible answers along the spectrum between those two extremes, but if you resonate strongly with either of those two answers, you may not like this article.

If we look at the Bible, we discover that neither unqualified patriotism nor denunciation of devotion to one’s homeland fit within the will of God. 

Patriotism is Natural

On the one hand, it is completely natural to love one’s nation. It’s home. It’s where you’re from. If we had a more or less positive experience growing up, it is normal to feel attached to family, nation, culture, food, climate, music, etc.  There is nothing wrong with that.  Nowhere in Scripture is loving one’s homeland condemned.  When God spoke of restoring Israel after her exile, that restoration was conceived as a domestic image: “they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid” (Micah 4:4). There are many positive images of home in Scripture and Jesus never rebuked the Jews of his time for loving their nation.  He didn’t rebuke anyone for loving their nation because God “made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands” (Acts 17:26). What is more, God sends blessings upon all nations. “He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). 

But love for home and nation doesn’t mean that ‘our people’ can do no wrong. A biblical love for home and country is not unqualified.

Patriotism and Xenophobia

Patriotism doesn’t mean that we can look down upon other nations. God sent the Jewish prophet Jonah to preach to the Ninevites, a people not his own. And in Jonah’s mind, Ninevah was just the worst. In fact, he ran the other way to avoid preaching to them. When he did eventually preach to them, he hoped they wouldn’t repent so that God would destroy them in his wrath.  But they did repent and God asked him the rhetorical question, “should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”” (Jonah 4:11). Indeed he should. Just because they are not “our” people doesn’t mean they are not people.

Patriotism and Self-Criticism

Patriotism also doesn’t mean that we can overlook or excuse the sins and failings of our own house and country. The main goal of the prophets that God sent to Israel was to point out their failings and to call them to repentance.  No matter how proud they were of the Jerusalem Temple or their own faithfulness in making the ceremonial offerings required in the law of Moses, their personal immorality and abuse of the poor and the foreigner were not excusable. Patriotism is not incompatible with bringing up our nation’s problems in the public square with an aim of remedying them. We see this clearly, for example, in the ministry of the prophet Jeremiah:

“The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord. Thus says the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel: amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’ For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.” (Jeremiah 7:1–7)

Certainly, Jeremiah loved God and loved his country but it was these loves that drove him to bring up the problems, not to ignore them and sweep them under the rug. He loved his nation enough to want to see it be better than it was. He wanted to see it succeed, not fail. To criticize your country doesn’t necessarily mean you hate your country. It is a logical fallacy and unjust accusation to assume that anyone who criticizes their nation also hates it. 

Qualified Patriotism

I come from the United States, one of the most criticized nations on earth.  And I admit that the U.S. as a nation, and many Americans individually, have done a fair number of wrong things with the wrong attitudes over the years. And we continue to have issues today. But the U.S. has also done a lot right and there are a lot of great people there today. The U.S. may have problems but it is still a land of freedom and opportunity. That’s why people from around the world flock there to make new lives for themselves. 

The U.S is a great country and I am not ashamed to be from there, even if I can’t be proud of everything and everyone from there, nor of everything that the U.S. government does in our name. I’ve also lived in France and Thailand, and am currently living in Scotland. There are great things about all of those places and there are some aspects of each of them that are better than the U.S.  But some things in those places are worse, either when compared to the U.S. or each other. No country is perfect and every country has its own set of pluses and minuses. 

Wherever you are from, love your home and your nation. It is right and good in the eyes of God to do so. But let’s not allow our patriotism to blind us to the problems in our own house or to create an attitude of smug superiority over other nations. Love for God and love for country are compatible but only if love for God and doing what’s right come first.

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