By Pastor Jeff Fox-Kline
"But the day has passed for superficial patriotism. He who lives with untruth lives in spiritual slavery. Freedom is still the bonus we receive for knowing the truth. ‘Ye shall know the truth,’ says Jesus, ‘and the truth shall set you free,'" – Martin Luther King Jr.
Patriotism is so often superficial. People abuse the idea of who we are as a country in singular pursuit of some form of personal gain. People too often flatten the idea of who is an “American” to only encompass their vision of what they want America to be. This leads to xenophobia, toxic nationalism, and abuse of power. Think about the marchers in Charlottesville chanting “blood and soil”, a Nazi slogan that did not feel out of place in that crowd.
It’s depressing to think of the way that the concept of patriotism has been abused. ‘Real’ America for ‘real’ Americans is a serious problem. The idea that some people have a stranglehold on who it is that can or cannot be part of the fabric of this nation runs directly counter to what patriotism means, but somehow we’ve gotten the idea that the inverse is true.
But the truth will set us free. Jesus knew that, and Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us of that. What does the truth mean? The truth is that we are a country made up of cultures and peoples. The truth is that no one culture or person is more American than any other while they live in this country. The truth is that to love this country means we have to learn to love this fact.
I have a hard time loving this country sometimes. I have a hard time loving this country when I buy into the narrative that there is a ‘real’ America. Even when I know that this is a false narrative, a lie repeated often enough starts to harden and calcify. When I’m told that I’m not an American for something I believe, or when I see ‘real’ America being reduced to ‘white’ America, the concept starts to enter into my head. This twists me up, makes me hard hearted, and forces on me a reductive view of America, one that is harder to love.
But it’s not that I don’t love this country. I forget the things that make this country great – freedom of religion; freedom to protest; equal protection under the law; the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These are the things that make this country what it is.
These are also things that we’ve never really done right. Freedom of religion has often applied only to Christians. Freedom to protest has often been curtailed by overzealous law enforcement. Equal protection under the law has applied primarily to those with the resources to ensure their protection. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness has been curtailed by those who feel their power threatened.
But our constitution is a living document, our laws are being refined, the people of this nation attempt to make it a more just and equitable place for all. This is something that makes America great. This is something I love about this country. The ability to admit our faults and to work on rectifying our mistakes is what makes me feel patriotic.
America, America, God mend thine every flaw / Confirm the soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.
Is there any better prayer? Anything more patriotic?