“And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon.” Revelation 13:11
American Seventh-day Adventists necessarily have a complicated relationship to patriotism. As I survey my social network news streams, it strikes me how varied, conflicted, and often contradictory our expressions of national pride are. A pastor writes, “Glad to be an American and to be free!” A friend from my Forest Lake Academy days posts a picture of a flag cake she made. Among the pictures of parades and fireworks is also a noticeable silence from many Adventist friends. The reasons are probably as numerous as the many backgrounds and experiences of those who choose to express their patriotism or not.
Our friend Leslie Foster gives beautiful expression to his own ambivalence in a blog post that’s well worth the read. He writes:
”Today is always a day filled with complicated emotions for me. How does one deal with the celebration of a nation whose very founding was built on the backs of my ancestors and the genocide of a thousand nations? And yet this nation, with all its flaws showing, stood up to power in a way that still inspires me, created two founding documents full of hope and promise (and some hypocrisy) and inspired the world by showing what a modern republic could look like.”
National pride and religion intersect in several ways. There is a trend within American Christianity towards the veneration of the United States that uses religious language in its cheerleading. More politically informed readers can discuss the extent to which religious political activism from either end of the political spectrum has made inroads to American Adventism. In any case, from where I sit a kind of religiously flavored patriotism has become increasingly common in the Church over the last couple of decades. And from another perspective, there is a sense in which patriotism is itself a form of religiosity independent of Christianity.
But for a church that believes the United States is the second beast coming out of the earth with horns of a lamb and the breath of a dragon 1, a textured, conflicted, ambivalent sense of national pride is not exactly surprising. We have a cultural sense of obligation to our country, to give unto Caesar. We run for congress, we serve in the military as medics, we support military chaplains. But our eschatology tells us that an increasing religious influence in secular government will see the United States ultimately betraying the people of God. Our sense of obligation as citizens is tempered by a suspicious eye toward the government’s involvement in religious affairs.
These can be difficult intellectual and emotional waters to navigate. I haven’t even mentioned the immigrant experience or the extra layers of complexity that having family serving in the military add to the issue of patriotism. Among us are immigrants, veterans, conservatives, liberals, minorities, republicans and democrats. What does the Fourth of July mean to you? How does your background and your experience help you understand your relationship to national pride? Tell us in the comments.
1. For a quick refresher on this part of Adventist eschatology, you can skim through this Amazing Facts study:
Thanks to Bill Cork for his help as I wrote this article.