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A Preacher Can Be Patriotic, But Should He Preach Patriotism?

Since many who read this site are in the U.S., I’ll take this opportunity to raise the issue of patriotism in the pulpit (4th of July weekend, etc.). Now I recognize the potential irony since I am writing as an English man on the day when Americans celebrate one of our only military defeats in a long history! But actually, I raise this issue for preachers in every culture.

Some church cultures espouse a very strong patriotism, while others seek to eliminate almost every reference to the country in which they are located. I don’t want to suggest that there is a right approach. I do suggest it is an issue worth thinking about (I suppose I’m saying be patriotic on purpose, just like I say use Powerpoint on purpose, or cross-reference only if there is a real purpose in doing so, etc.).

When the listeners are thinking about patriotic issues—such as on a holiday weekend or a day given to remembering those who gave their lives in war, etc.—it makes no sense to pretend otherwise at church. Hopefully we would refer to a major news incident, so why not a major holiday? God does not call us to despise our nationality or be unpatriotic. Yet at the same time, He does call us and give us a new citizenship. During the Olympics, I’m definitely British, but in all of life I am Christ’s, first and foremost. I am Christ’s more than I am British or English. I bring my ethnicity to the unity so wonderfully created in Christ, but I never confuse my ethnicity or nationality with my faith and identity in Christ.

It’s an issue worth thinking about. Some people think their religion is determined by their passport. We want to be careful not to encourage such thinking in any visitors to our church on a patriotic day. Some people may overly esteem their nationality so that it is held on a par with their faith. We wouldn’t want to encourage that. Some people may despise their ethnicity or nationality for various reasons. Again, let’s not encourage that either. Somehow we have to be sensitive to the patriotic and the disillusioned, the elderly who fought for our freedom and those that have somehow been hurt or marginalized by that same society. We have to be sensitive to those with a clear understanding of their true citizenship, and even more to those confused about where home really is. We want to honor both the diversity in the church and the unity of the church.

I’m patriotic, probably more patriotic than many English people these days. I’m married to an American and have no problem enjoying their Independence Day (although I have a few one-liners ready if I need them!). I appreciate good-natured patriotism from any nationality (including the Scottish!). I just think we need to think through how we approach patriotism in the pulpit. What do you think?  

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Peter Mead is involved in the leadership team of a church plant in the UK. He serves as director of Cor Deo—an innovative mentored ministry training program—and has a wider ministry preaching and training preachers. He also blogs often at BiblicalPreaching.net and recently authored Pleased to Dwell: A Biblical Introduction to the Incarnation (Christian Focus, 2014).