Thursday, July 25, 2013

Christian Patriot

Can a Christian be a patriot? Some Christians would unhesitatingly answer in the affirmative. They can't understand how I can be a Christian and not be a patriot. But I'll be honest with you; I have struggled with that question for a lot of years.

I came of age during the Vietnam War. I watched the war unfold on TV. I saw some of the atrocities committed by a few, a very few, American soldiers, and I was repulsed by them. I thought the domino doctrine of our government stupid. And I became quietly anti-war and anti-government. Of course, attending Portland State University, the Berkelely of the North, probably influenced my youthful opinions. Several years into the war, however, I met some Montagnards who found refuge here as the war threatened their villages and their entire culture. They were Christians and an ethnic minority in danger of suffering genocide at the hands of the Communists, and I began to recognize that this war, no matter the rational of our government, was protecting innocent people. So I volunteered for the Marines.

God and the Marines felt I was unsuited. The Marines didn't think my eyesight was up to par. I'm not sure what God thought, but my guess is that he knew I could not kill anyone, even an enemy. The point is that I did a flip-flop and have been doing so ever since.

Can a Christian be a patriot? As a Christian I have allegiance to the King of kings. In a very real sense, I am a citizen of the kingdom of heaven and only a sojourner in the nation of my birth. In practice, throughout the history of Christianity, Christians have regularly had to choose God's moral rule over the dictates of human rulers. For that reason we have usually been suspected and often accused of being rebels and dissidents and dangerous. Often we have been - and are still - hunted by our governments, arrested, imprisoned and executed. Can a Christian swear allegiance to a government that could do that? I thought not. I am a Christian.

But what is a patriot? Here are the definitions: 1.a person who loves, supports, and defends his or her country and its interests with devotion. (classic) 2.a person who regards himself or herself as a defender, especially of individual rights, against presumed interference by the federal government. (American) My father-in-law, who was a Christian and and a patriot and who served in the Navy during WWII, believed that it meant his country right or wrong. We had our debates over that. I can not as a Christian and in good conscience be a patriot in that sense.

I would prefer to define patriot in the second sense. In the beginning of our nation, of course, those two definitions were not in conflict. Our founding fathers, who were many of them Christians, could love, support, and defend the United States of America with devotion because the United States of America was founded upon the principles of individual rights (freedom) and non-interference by the federal government. In this sense, I am a patriot.

I am a patriot. I believe God has, as the Declaration of Independence declares, created all men equal and has endowed them with the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In so far as this government or any government affirms that truth and allows those rights, I can and will love, support and defend it. I am a patriot.

In so far as my government does not affirm and allow those rights, I will oppose it because I am a patriot.

Of course, no country perfectly represents those values in practice. The United States allowed slavery for more than eighty years. Some of the founding fathers owned slaves at the same time they signed their names to the Declaration of Independence. That was truly insane.

Many Christians patriots, however, opposed slavery both in the North and the South. They argued against it. They wrote against it. They demonstrated against it. They disobeyed the laws of the land that protected slavery in order to assist slaves in their journey north to freedom. They fought a war. Some paid for their patriotism with their substance and their lives. I have stood before their graves. They were patriots.

That they succeeded was in great measure due to the wisdom of our imperfect founding fathers who recognized a truth they were not living. The documents created by these founding fathers continue to be the guide for our nation directing us toward the defense and implementation in our society of those God given rights. And they affirm the right of free men and women to argue against, write against, demonstrate against, and disobey the laws of this land when the practice of freedom falls short of the ideal. I am such a patriot.

That does not mean I am going to resist, or believe I can resist, to the point of taking up arms, though some think it could come to that for patriots in the days to come. It has in the past. In any case that would be pretty ineffectual. I have only one gun that shoots, a hunting rifle I haven't fired in fourteen years. It's under my bed if anyone comes looking.(Oh yes, I do have a pocket knife with a blade longer than three inches.) And I am old. Armed resistance is out of the question. Totally silly. And I have serious reservations about it being ever right. Passive resistance is another thing.

But I am a patriot. I will defend this nation and the principles of freedom it was founded upon. I will argue. I will write. And I will disobey those laws that deny and limit the freedoms won and defended by the lives and blood of millions of patriots past and present, yes, and those who are now serving in Afghanistan and serve in our military in other places defending the freedom we enjoy. I honor you. Thank you.

No nation lasts forever. Every nation will ultimately be judged by the only wise and righteous judge. This nation will be judged. As a Christian, I am absolutely convinced of that. But I believe I too will be judged, and in part that judgment will be based on how I stood for truth and righteousness. I find at this juncture of history I must declare with a Christian of the past who was faced with similar infringements of truth and righteousness: Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. I am a Christian patriot.

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