Last week I got an invitation from one of my online communities to join a group called “Christian Patriots.” When new groups are formed, the platform’s algorithm decides who might be a good fit for it. Because I am a member of other Christian groups, the algorithm chose me.
Here is how the “Christian Patriots” group describes itself:
“A caring group of people who love Jesus and our beloved America…. We believe in God and Country, and we celebrate all that God has blessed us with. Our guiding principle is: We serve God our Father, and His son Jesus, who died for our sins. Our guiding documents are the Holy Bible and the U.S. Constitution. The symbols of our beliefs are the Cross and the American flag.”
Many such groups exist in the United States today. As a Christian who is also a United States citizen—a country in the midst of a white nationalist resurgence—I felt called to blog about this expression of it here.
Now, there are parts of this description that share characteristics of Christian faith. And there is no sin in loving and giving thanks for the place in which one lives. However, there are also marks of dangerous idolatry here, just the type of false worship that is exacerbating our nation’s current sins of racism, nationalism, and xenophobia. By looking to the event of Pentecost, we can discern how the statement above, and even the phrase “Christian Patriots,” pervert the church’s witness.
The blog at Pentecostals and Charismatics for Peace and Justice has already presented numerous examples of early Pentecostal leaders in the United States writing and standing against nationalism and unhealthy expressions of patriotism. Sadly the movement lost this early conviction. But as Pentecostals, we cannot ignore the erasure of divisions between nations revealed in the event of Pentecost that we are called to continue today.
Let’s begin by examining what made the event of Pentecost unique, according to Acts 2. Jesus’ disciples were gathered together in Jerusalem. What is significant here is how the Holy Spirit chooses to make Herself known among them and how the first converts come to hear the gospel. The message of Jesus first spreads when the disciples gain the ability to speak in other languages (Acts 2:4). As a result, the Jews gathered in Jerusalem from every nation under heaven hear God’s deeds of power spoken to them in their own language (v. 5–12). Peter then confirms that what is happening is that which the prophet Joel spoke about: that God’s spirit would be poured out on all flesh (17). He assures them that the gift of the Holy Spirit is freely available to all who repent and are baptized: “For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him” (39 NRSV). Not every Galilean, or Roman, or any national division of any kind. All.
Now we see how the description of the Christian Patriots group denies the universal message of the gospel. Its members make no distinction between their love of God and their love of America. The “sacred” document of the United States is given the same authority as the Bible, and its nationalistic symbol is equated with the cross of Christ. While they claim to serve God and recognize that Jesus died for our sins, their failure to draw a distinction between their Christian commitments and a reverence for their geographical region denies the universality of Pentecost.
Nationalistic idolatry has real-life consequences for how Christians live their faith. If a group believes that the flag of the United States is equal to the cross, they will consider those who come from places represented by different flags as lesser. Nationalists place the word of God revealed in the Bible on the same level as a document written for one nation. As a result, God’s word becomes America’s word. Acceptance of inhumane treatment toward those who come from other regions then becomes acceptable.
Those fleeing violence from other countries can be separated from their children and kept in cages with no moral qualms, because they come from a land that bears a different flag. As those who most value and seek to embody Pentecost, Pentecostals must resist this nationalistic idolatry. Suffice it to say that I will not be joining “Christian Patriots.” Further, I urge every American Christian to consider what it means to faithfully follow Jesus in this time and place. Those who seek to equate God’s love and commitment to one nation above others blaspheme the universal outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and the Gospels tell us that blasphemy against the Spirit is a sin that cannot be forgiven.
Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please become a member!