I live in the South, where “God and country” is a popular sentiment. Despite the fact that America was reputedly built on Judeo-Christian values, this seemingly honorable motto is problematic. It fails to promote an ideology that seeks God’s glory and multinational kingdom while encouraging American citizens to submit to his will.
Instead, it turns Jesus into a patriot.
Such a mentality tends to confuse God’s interests with those of a political party. It makes the United States the center of God’s affections, above every other nation. Critiquing the sentiment is seen not only as an assault on the principles of American democracy, but on God himself.
It conflates religion and politics, yielding a false god made in America’s image.
This dynamic is not new. Many of America’s forefathers built this country believing God’s hand of blessing was on them to bring good fortune to their endeavors. And for centuries, many have attributed America’s superpower status to God’s favor.
Unsurprisingly, this dynamic has created a potent civil religion in our country. Compassion and justice for the poor and oppressed (Isa. 1:17; Prov. 31:8–9; Matt. 14:14) is often subverted for the sake of partisan values. The importance of wisdom and moral character in leadership (Luke 22:24–27; Prov. 3:13–18; Phil. 2:3) is overlooked for the sake of a political party’s reign.
To a watching world, our public witness and cultural credibility is undermined to the degree we seek social dominance over biblical faithfulness.
America ≠ New Israel
So often the leader of this civil religion is Jesus, whose supreme interests seem to be “America first” and reinstating a golden age of traditional values. This Jesus is a mascot for a political team; he is not found in the Bible.
The Jesus of the Bible has one nation: his people (1 Pet. 2:9). He has one political interest: his kingdom (Matt. 6:10). We become citizens of this kingdom through faith in him (Rom. 5:1–2; Eph. 2:8–9). God’s number-one priority is his glory and the advancement of his kingdom (Matt. 28:18–20; John 6:38; 4:34). No earthly nation, including America, has a monopoly on God’s favor and blessing.
No earthly nation, including America, has a monopoly on God’s favor and blessing. All of God’s promises and blessings are directed toward the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multinational body of Christ.
Additionally, the Jesus of the Bible shed his priceless blood for people from every nation (Rev. 5:9). All of God’s promises and blessings are directed toward the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multinational body of Christ.
In Christ we are all blessed, from the least to the greatest. From Englewood in Chicago to the Korengal valleys in Afghanistan, God has children all over the globe. Salvation has come to all nations. The United States is not a new Israel; the church is.
Instead of worshiping at the altar of a false civil religion, Christians have a dual citizenship: a lesser, temporary citizenship on earth and a supreme, eternal citizenship in heaven. Love of country is a good thing, but the interests of our eternal King far outweigh any interests of our earthly land (1 Pet. 2:9–10).
God is concerned with true worship—holiness, obedience to Jesus, and justice that flows from neighbor love (Isa. 1:14–20; Mic. 6:8; Rom. 13:9). He desires for his people, here and now, to look and operate like citizens of a coming kingdom (Matt. 6:9–10; 6:33; Luke 17:20–21). As dual citizens, we should engage culture and bring renewal to every arena—arts, business, education, agriculture, and yes, even politics. But we must not use Jesus as a mascot for our partisan agenda.
Jesus Isn’t an American Patriot
We must never become so patriotic that we cannot hold our own country, political party, and leadership accountable when they engage in unrighteousness (for example, see Nathan calling out David, John the Baptist calling out Herod, or Paul calling out Festus).
God has made all people—including Americans—in his image, but we shall not make him in ours.
Jesus isn’t sitting in the heavenlies whistling “God Bless America” with the Declaration of Independence on his desk and pictures of the Founding Fathers on his wall. He won’t return in a pickup truck with “God and Country” bumper stickers and a flag in tow. Jesus isn’t an American patriot. God has made all people—including Americans—in his image, but we shall not make him in ours.
If Jesus is a patriot for anything, he’s a patriot for heaven. He rules a kingdom immensely better than America or any other nation. He is the Savior who will come riding on a white horse, with a robe dipped in blood, championing justice and the kingdom of God (Rev. 19:11–16). The flag our Savior waves is the flag of his own kingdom, to which all nations, tribes, and tongues will bend their knee (Phil. 2:9–11). Even the United States of America.