What does it mean to be a Christian nation?
In our church, as in many, there is the church flag on one side and an American flag on the other. I would prefer there not be an American flag in church. I think it’s easy to turn the flag into an idol, especially when it is in a space of worship. Conflating American heritage with Christianity I think is dangerous. I feel it in many ways but perhaps most acutely when I hear the phrase “Christian nation” thrown around with little or no resemblance to the teachings of Christ. Is that the meaning of the two flags in church? We are a Christian nation, and if you don’t believe it “get the hell out”?
My pastor once asked whether it was possible to speak of a Christian nation when Jesus said so little about politics. Let’s say it is possible. If we want to be a Christian nation, he thought that would mean we do not go to war, we forgive the wrongs done to us, and we marshal the vast resources that God has blessed us with toward helping the poor. This includes helping provide for their everyday needs – food, clothing, water, shelter, health care, education – and empowering them to lift themselves out of poverty, both in this country and around the world.
Now if I may add, while Jesus said very little about politics, he had a lot to say about how we treat the poor, the widow, the orphan, the homeless, and anyone who is a victim of injustice. If you’ve forgotten, read Matthew 25:34-46. He had a lot to say about violence, and he led a nonviolent movement long before Gandhi and MLK. Before the Anabaptists and Amish. Remember the Sermon on the Mount? Turn the other cheek? Love your enemies? Forgive your brother and sister seventy times seven? He even forgave the people who crucified him.
What does all that mean in regard to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, drone attacks, torture of prisoners, indefinite detention, deporting children, spying without warrants, women’s health, mass incarceration of African-Americans, and shutting the doors on refugees? What does it mean when candidates talk about bringing back waterboarding and worse? They tell us we have to do this to protect the American way of life. Maybe so, but is it consistent with the Christian way of life?
The American flag on one side, the church flag on the other. They may represent unity of purpose. Or they may represent divided loyalties. Are we serving Jesus Christ or what Eisenhower called the Military-Industrial Complex? If we follow Jesus Christ, we should feel at least some tension between the two flags. If we ever stop feeling that tension, we have most likely turned our nation and its flag into a golden calf.
Addendum – Matthew 25:34-46
34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;
35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’
37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?
38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?
39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’
40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,1 you did it to me.’
41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;
42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,
43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’
44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’
45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’
46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”