Today we celebrate the birth of the freest and most amazing country on the planet. I know, such words offend some people. They see all of America’s flaws, and there are many to see. I talk about a lot of them on this blog spot. But still I defy you to name a better and freer and place to live and to experience “liberty and justice for all.” Here we can at least pursue, in the right way, "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Yes, some do not get the justice they should but the ideal remains and the willingness to better ourselves is inherent in our way of life. And nowhere else can you find such an opportunity to better yourself and thus to improve your lot in life in every way. Again, I know there are serious exceptions but utopia doesn’t exist, here or anywhere else, and never will.
I am a critical realist about many things. This includes my love for my country. I see America’s great flaws as large and inconsistent, but here in he United States I have the right to talk about them openly and to work for real change. I also can do this peaceably without threat. I can oppose my leaders, vote for new ones, protest decisions they have made and support my fellow citizens with hope.
As I think about July 4 I am reminded that patriotism is still an excellent quality. The word comes into English from late Latin via the Greek word, patriotikos. It refers to a commitment to my “fellow countrymen.” The New Oxford American Dictionary (New York: Oxford, 2001) says that a patriot is “a person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it.” I am a patriot by that definition. To be patriotic is to “express devotion to one’s country.” I am patriotic here as well.
I am less willing to use the term nationalist to describe my love for America. A nationalist “has as extreme form [of patriotism] marked by a feeling of superiority over other countries.” Though I believe my country is the best there is I think “feelings of superiority” are dangerous, especially for Christians. My first allegiance is to Christ and his Kingdom. Christ’s kingdom and American policy and developments will sometimes conflict. This is why I cannot abide the phrase: “America: Love it or Leave It.” Or, much worse, “My Country: Right or Wrong!” The first is bad and the second is idolatrous.
I feel very patriotic today. I think these feelings are very appropriate for an American citizen who is a serious Christian as well. I would also hope that we understand that other people feel the same for their own country. We ought to respect these feelings when we meet them in others as we do in ourselves. But let us, as Christians, never become fierce, ideologically-driven nationalists. If we love Christ we will always put him above all other human loves. And thus if we truly love America we will criticize this great nation wherever and whenever it is appropriate to do so. Our freedom encourages this criticism. We ought not to give this up to anyone or any group.