Christians & Patriotism

It’s Fourth of July, the day we Americans celebrate our independence from Great Britain and more generally, celebrate our freedom. Being an American is truly a great thing: we live in the most wealthy and powerful nation in the world. We enjoy a level of freedom unknown through most of history. This is truly wonderful.

The question I want to consider is this: how should Christians express patriotism? While there is a danger in ingratitude for our country, there is also a danger blending patriotism and Christianity in a way that is border-line syncretistic and idolatrous. Here are some biblical principles to guide our thinking. 

1. Christian patriotism is marked by neighbor-love.

Simply defined, patriotism is simply a love and a gratitude for your own  country. As Christians, we should be able to recognize that it is not a bad thing at all to love your fellow-citizens and your homeland (provided we don’t love only our fellow-citizens). We are called to “love your neighbor as yourself,” and patriotism is a good way to expand that love to a group greater than your own street, city, or cultural sub-group. We can, in our more idealistic moments, declare our love to humanity in the abstract while detesting our own country in the concrete. As the old cartoon stated, “I love humanity. It’s people I don’t like.” Patriotism calls us to a real love for real people, both living and dead.

But should we love our country? Aren’t we as redeemed people part of something larger? While it is gloriously true that, in our redeemed state, nationality, gender, and ethnicity are not definitive (Gal 3:28-29), these aspects of our humanity are not removed when we become believers. In our glorified state, we will still retain our culture, language, and nationality, meaning that they are part of what is redeemed (see Revelation 7:9-10) and therefore appropriate to appreciate. God is the one who has determined when and where we would live (Acts 17:26), and part of our humble acceptance of his will in our lives is to love the particular place where he has put us. 

At its best, patriotism calls us to love our neighbors, even those who have differing worldviews, backgrounds, ethnicities, and beliefs from our own. We love them by respecting and defending their right to hold their view, and we love them by engaging them and seeking to win them to the truth. 

Recognizing that you are part of a country bigger than yourself is a good and humbling thing. Serving your country in uniform is not wrong (Luke 7:9), and indeed, many a soldier has displayed courage and sacrifice for others, modeling Christian virtues. This is worthy of praise.

Thus, when expressed as love and gratitude, patriotism is a good to be pursued. It is good and right for a Chirstian to love his country. 

2. Christian patriotism is marked by genuine gratitude 

Additionally, Christian patriotism is about gratitude for one’s country. Christian patriotism recognizes God’s goodness in the blessings and freedoms we enjoy. We need not be ashamed for praising God for nobility and triumph in our nation’s history. Gratitude to God means enjoying his gifts, appreciating his gifts, and recognizing him as the giver of those gifts.    

Being grateful for the good our country possesses recognizes God as the source of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). Our country is far from perfect. It has some truly horrifying strands in history. Nonetheless, even in a fallen world there is much to thank God for. Frankly, I would rather live in the United States in 2024 than anywhere else at any other time in history. Thank God for this. 

We should not be embarrassed by our love and gratitude for this country. We needn't feel uneasy about waving the flag, singing the national anthem, or honoring those who have served our country. We also need not let the darker moments of our nation’s history cancel out the truly good accomplishments of our nation’s history. Thank God for the freedoms we enjoy. Thank God that we have religious liberty, separation of church and state, that “We the People” have the ability to vote and to voice our protest. Thank God that we enjoy a level of safety and prosperity that few in history have ever had.  

3. Christian patriotism prioritizes heavenly citizenship. 

While Christian patriotism recognizes the good in the country, it keeps its priorities straight. Christian patriotism recognizes that our citizenship is ultimately in heaven (Phil 1:27) and that we live in this world and in our nation as exiles and resident aliens (1 Pet 1:1-2; 2:9-10). The key to loving your nation best is loving God most. 

Our identity as Christians is more closely linked to our fellow believers from every nation than it is to even our fellow citizens from our own nation. The church is a borderless, international, global body. It is the true (and only) Christian Nation. 

Indeed, apart from OT Israel, no earthly nation has a special covenant relationship with God (so no, 2 Chronicles 7:14 is not for or about America or the NT church), and therefore, we should not try to read our nation into the central storyline of the Bible. This perspective guards me from tying my faith too closely to my national identity, and my national identity to the faith. It guards me from “baptizing” non-Christian national heroes (e.g. Jefferson, Lincoln) into the faith, and it guards me from whitewashing our sometimes ugly history.

So while I love and appreciate my country, I recognize my greater affinity and loyalty to the kingdom of Christ.  This means that there are times when we must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). This means that we neither offer blind loyalty to our country, nor do ignore its flaws. You love your country while lamenting its history of dehumanizing slavery, segregation, conquest, and oppression. From your status as a dual citizen, you can likewise recognize these ills while celebrating the steady realization of our nation’s ideals in history, and the great good the United States has accomplished in the world. 

Like the Judean exiles in Babylon, we should recognize that the peace of our city (the USA) means our own peace and flourishing (Jer 29:7; 1 Tim 2:1-2). We pray for our leaders. We pray for our nation’s safety and success. We vote for leaders who will best uphold law, freedom, and justice. We advocate for policies that result in our neighbor’s flourishing. We speak out against racial injustice and the mistreatment of minorities. We speak up for the voiceless unborn, and stand in defense of morality.  

4. Christian patriotism is rightly ordered and prioritized.

Love of country, like any other earthly love, must be rightly ordered. Just as loving your favorite baseball team can be bad if it is in the wrong place, so love of country can become problematic when it is wrongly ordered. Patriotism can cross over into idolatry, what we might call nationalism.

Nationalism defines the nation by a single cultural, ethnic, linguistic or religious template. In its “Christian” varieties, a particular form of Christianity (usually Anglo-Protestantism) is given primacy and a central place of power. In nationalism, those who don’t fit the definition (those who don’t speak the right language, hold the right beliefs, have the correct skin color) are relegated to a second class status. Nationalism limits love of country to only one expression of that country, and it elevates love of the nation to an unhealthy place. 

While patriotism is positive affection for your own, nationalism turns on negative fear of others. While patriotism is motivated by love, nationalism is driven by power. While patriotism is thankful for the country’s goodness, nationalism aims for the nation’s greatness and dominance. While patriotism is compatible with loving other countries and nationalities, nationalism treats love as a zero-sum game, in which loving outsiders and immigrants necessarily means not loving your own (see Stephen Wolfe’s book for this idea being put front and center). 

Here are some litmus tests to determine if patriotism has become idolatrous. 

  • If you excuse not loving your neighbor or downplaying their basic humanity because of their political beliefs or immigration status, your love of country has led you to disobey Jesus. 

  • If you are more concerned with getting your candidate into office than your neighbor into heaven, your priorities are out of whack. 

  • If you spend more time and energy on politics than your walk with Jesus, your loves are wrongly ordered.  

  • If pursuit of power leads you to downplay virtue, defend immorality, ignore injustice your love for country has trumped your love for Jesus. 

  • If we allow the Bible to be treated as a political prop, the church as a voting bloc, and God as a tool for promoting national greatness, we have fallen into idolatry. 


In short, we should love God supremely and our neighbors as ourselves. That is the essence of Christian patriotism. Thank God for this country. Thank God for our freedoms. But do not forget that this is not home.


Popular Posts