As I write this, July 4th is just around the corner. This year, we enter the holiday in the context of nation-wide protests over the way systemic violence and injustice has been and remains deep-rooted throughout our country’s systems and institutions. There’s much to love about this country, but some days it’s difficult to feel particularly patriotic.

I find myself wondering how patriotic I should feel. As a follower of Jesus, what does it mean to live as a citizen of two “countries”—while swearing allegiance to only one?

What seems strange is how rarely mainstream Christian culture seems to struggle with this question, and how often it seems to reinforce loyalty to political forces.

For most of my upbringing in the church, the question rarely even came to the surface. But I remember one startling moment of clarity at a worship service (during the week before the Fourth), when I realized the “worship” song we were about to sing was the song “My Country Tis of Thee.”

At the time, though I was relatively ignorant of the dark side of our country’s past and present, I knew I could not sing that song. The idea of singing a song praising the virtues of our country in God’s own house seemed shockingly blasphemous. Despite their deep love for the gospel, somehow praising our country during a worship service seemed like a good idea to the church leadership involved in planning that service.

In a recent conversation with my husband, I mentioned how politically resistant the Bible often is, and the way New Testament authors presented the gospel as a political alternative to the reigning political powers. (For example, it’s no accident that Jesus’ victory is described as “good news” of peace—it was an alternative to the political propaganda of Rome declaring it’s “good news” of the worldwide “peace of Rome.” Another stark example is the repeated emphasis on Jesus as lord and savior, both terms applied to the Roman emperor.)

My husband was quiet for a moment, and then responded, “You know, it kind of makes me angry learning these things. I feel like I was fed a lie. When you point those things out, they seem so obvious. But my whole life I was taught to separate the gospel from the world, from politics, like it was irrelevant. And I almost gave up on Christianity because of that lie.”

He’s not alone; many people, devoted, ardent followers of Jesus, like my husband, get the impression they have to choose between their faith and resisting the injustices they see around them.

There is no simple answer to the complex question of how believers who confess Jesus as Lord (not a president or political party) best relate to the culture of which they are a part. But if our faith is actually relevant to our lives, shouldn’t the question, at least, be at the forefront of our minds on a daily basis?

For Americans, the idea of freedom is central to our self-understanding. It’s the thing we celebrate and cherish, as well as the ever-present aspiration. But what happens to our idea of “freedom” if we stop believing that we are called to believe in and live for the qualities of a kingdom more just than our own? One that demands change?

I think what happens is that we exchange true freedom—rooted in God’s unconditional love and defeat of evil and death—for the kind of “freedom” that has always been part of the propaganda of the powerful to the vulnerable. Like the “peace of Rome,” that’s a “freedom” grounded in fear, it’s a freedom we’re allowed only in exchange for turning a blind eye to the violence used to maintain control.

Not knowing the difference between these two kinds of “freedom” may have disastrous effects, both within our communities of faith as we adapt the methods of the systems around us, and on our witness to the love and victory of our God, as we sit passively by and shake our heads sadly as we watch injustice and domination roll through our “free” streets.

Maybe the most patriotic thing I can do this fourth of July season is to pray for the faith to believe, and act like, the gospel is much better news than that—to love my country and its people enough to believe God has something better in store for us, a better country, a better freedom, one that’s worth staking our lives on without fear.

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