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3 Things Christian Parents Need to Teach Their Kids about Patriotism

A cross the Bible and the American flag, most practicing Christians think America is blessed by God

The truth is, our children are constantly learning from us and how we engage with the world around us.

We may not sit them down and talk to them about love of country and what might be considered over the top. But they are seeing how we respond to current events. They notice the causes we champion.

And, all of these things work together to greatly influence the people they will end up being.

Being patriotic and loving America isn’t wrong. I’m so proud that I get to call this place home. I didn’t choose to be born here, but God blessed me beyond measure. I believe in praying for our leaders, expressing gratitude to our military and thanking God for the freedoms we enjoy.

However, if that basic love and respect turns into a rabid form of Christian nationalism, it’s an idol no different than the golden calf the Israelites created. Instead, we are exhorted to “flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14).

What Is Christian Nationalism?

We hear a lot about Christian nationalism in the news right now, but what is it?

Andrew Whitehead, in his book “Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States” defines Christian nationalism this way: “a cultural framework that idealizes and advocates a fusion of Christianity with American civic life. It contends that America has been and should always be distinctively Christian from top to bottom--in its self-identity, interpretations of its own history, sacred symbols, cherished values, and public policies--and it aims to keep it that way. But, the Christian in Christian nationalism is more about identity than religion. It carries with it assumptions about nativism, white supremacy, authoritarianism, patriarchy, and militarism.”

C.S. Lewis, in his book “The Four Loves,” writes “Love, having become a god, becomes a demon.” In other words, love of anything (even things considered “good”) can reach a point to where it becomes a problem.

As parents, we need to model the correct behavior that shows the next generation what is truly important. Here are a few things I believe we need to keep in mind as we shape the next generation.

1. Our Allegiance to God Should Surpass Our Allegiance to a Flag

Ultimately, as Christians, we know that this is not our ultimate home. As Billy Graham once said, “The Bible says that as long as we are here on Earth, we are strangers in a foreign land. This world is not our home; our citizenship is in heaven.”

Our primary allegiance should be to the things of God, not to our country of residence.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t be patriotic. But, our love for America should never cause us to turn a blind eye to the things that matter to God.

This has happened throughout our nation’s history, where people have chosen country over God. Leaders and citizens did spiritual and moral gymnastics to justify the evils of slavery and Jim Crow laws. And, today, we see the similarities in our modern political discourse. We’ll set aside the things we hear on Sunday if it means our political party is winning on the other days.

In general, many of us display a passion for American policy and politics that we don’t possess in our faith. We wave the flag, but won’t reach out in love to a neighbor. We post on Facebook about how much we love America, but refuse to stand up for those in it who have been marginalized.

Parents, our children need to see us showing the correct balance in our priorities. We can be patriotic and love our country, just like we can appreciate other things that this life has to offer.

But, we should be men and women after God’s own heart first. Everything else comes afterwards. We need to talk to our children about the true history of this nation, how far we’ve come, and how far we have yet to go.

They need to hear us say that our home is ultimately in heaven, and that God placed us where we are in order to make America better. They need to know that God is less concerned about so-called Christian policies coming out of the White House and more concerned about Christian living happening in your house.

2. Loving Americans Is More Important Than Loving America

None of us chose our parents or our skin color. While we can choose where we live as adults, none of us chose where we were born.

God, in His great mercy, allowed me to be an American. But, He didn’t put me here for me to boast about my earthly home. He puts all of us where He wants us to bring about His kingdom on earth.

Pastor and author Tim Keller wrote a book based on the well-known parable of the prodigal son called “The Prodigal God.” In it, he writes about the description of judgment day from Jesus in Matthew 25 and how many people be turned away because they didn’t serve the hungry, refugee, sick or prisoner.

Jesus says, “’Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25: 45-46).

Keller writes, “There is no contradiction to what we have heard from Jesus in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. He is not saying that only the social workers get into heaven. Rather he is saying that inevitable sign that you know you are a sinner saved by sheer, costly grace is a sensitive social conscience and a life poured out in deeds of service to the poor. Jesus hates suffering, injustice, evil, and death so much that he came and experienced it to defeat it and someday, to wipe the world clean of it. Knowing this, 

Christians cannot be passive about hunger, sickness and injustice. Karl Marx and others have charged that religion is ‘the opiate of the masses’. That is, it is a sedative that makes people passive towards injustice… Christianity, however, teaches that God hates the suffering and oppression of this material world so much, that he was willing to get involved in it and to fight against it. Properly understood, Christianity is by no means the opiate of the people. It is more like the smelling salts.”

Loving your country isn’t necessarily wrong, as long as you are loving your neighbors first.

For children to grow up with this proper perspective, they need to see their parents caring for the sick, reaching out to those in need, giving to organizations that make a difference and working hard to right the wrongs we see in our country.

We have to ask ourselves difficult questions. What causes do we champion? Are these efforts on God’s agenda, or mine?

3. Caring for Outsiders Is More Righteous Than Loving People Just Like Us

I’m not here to introduce a debate about our national immigration policy. There are people far smarter than me who are better equipped to speak to those issues.

But, from my reading of the Bible, it’s clear to me what I’m supposed to do: love everyone, including strangers (or immigrants).

Loving people like us is not hard for most of us. It makes sense… people like me come from a similar place, having the same hopes and dreams for the future. But, loving people I don’t know, especially those from completely different backgrounds, takes more intentionality.

Too often, I’ll hear or see “patriotic” types of remarks from people that are hostile to immigrants at best, and down-right hateful at worst. This has been very common over these last few years.

The bottom line is that “patriotism” is not a fruit of the Spirit.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). Immediately before this list, Paul describes some of the things that are the opposite, or works of the flesh. They include idolatry, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions and divisions.

Thomas Kidd writes for The Gospel Coalition: “What’s the difference between Christian nationalism (bad) and Christian patriotism (good in moderation)? Political theorist Benedict Anderson described nations as ‘imagined communities’: though nations may be vast in geography and population, many of us cherish such intense patriotic commitment that we would lay down our lives (or those of our children) to defend our country, and to promote its power around the globe.

Obviously, traditional Christians ought to limit that kind of nationalistic fervor. As ‘strangers and exiles on the earth,’ our ultimate allegiance is to Christ’s kingdom. Our love for a non-American brother or sister in Christ should exceed our comradeship with unbelieving American patriots, whose numbers are legion.”

Wow, that’s one way to put it. As a follower of Jesus, I should have more in common with my Christian brother or sister in Pakistan, Mexico, Uganda or Russia than I do with the guy down the street who doesn’t know the Lord but flies American flags from his porch.

If we are doing anything that elevates America to idol status, we need to ask God to tear it down.

To fulfill our Godly role as parents in teaching the next generation how to follow God, there can’t be anything that stands in the way. Even good things can sometimes pull us off course.

Our priorities as Christians, and what we need to model for our kids, are these: loving God and loving people. Loving country didn’t make that biblical short-list of to-dos.

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Enterline Design Services LLC.

Brent Rinehart is a public relations practitioner and freelance writer. He blogs about the amazing things parenting teaches us about life, work, faith and more at www.apparentstuff.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @brentrinehart 




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