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Why churches should not celebrate the 4th of July.
Tomorrow is the 4th of July. People all over the country will be all decked out in their red, white, and blue. There will be gatherings of friends and families. (They probably won’t be social distancing or wearing masks but that’s a post for another time). There will be fireworks. Citizens all over the country will have their patriotism on full display.
Independence Day is another time when my double consciousness rises up again. I understand – and am one of – the black folks who have a challenging time celebrating the anniversary of the independence of the country when at that same time those who signed the Declaration of Independence themselves enslaved human beings.
At the same time, I recognize that the America that exists today would not be possible without my enslaved ancestors. For 246 years, America was a business that had ZERO LABOR COSTS! Not to count the slave labor that America still enjoys in the form of prison labor.
My wife (who is the dopest person in the world) is a financial guru. **Don’t believe me? Check out her YouTube channel The Organized Money** She told me that labor costs for a business average anywhere between 20-35%. America was able to take those labor costs and build wealth for itself that some of its inhabitants are still benefiting from. This was only possible because of the work of enslaved Africans and African-Americans.
So I try not to get mad at black folks who take this position, “My ancestors built this country. Without their sacrifice, this country would not exist. So, I’m going to celebrate.” While this is not my position, I certainly understand it. They want to honor those who helped to birth forth a nation that was simultaneously trying to abort their future. I get it. This is just another example of what it means to be Black in America; you are constantly forced into situations where you have to choose your culture or the country.
While this ambiguity can exist within the citizens of any country, there is one place where there should be no ambiguity whatsoever: the church of Jesus Christ! Let me be very clear: when it comes to our times of sacred gatherings and worship, the American church should NOT celebrate Independence Day or have any public displays of patriotism or nationalism at all.
In his work where he studied the morality of patriotism “Patriotism – Morally Allowed, Required, or Valuable?”, Igor Primoratz defined patriotism beyond a simple “love of country”. He stated that “patriotism must involve special concern for one’s country and compatriots. A patriot loves her country more than any other, and is more concerned for the interests of her country and compatriots than for the interest of other countries and their inhabitants.”
For those that remember that Chris Rock movie “Head of State”, think of this definition of patriotism as presidential candidate Nick Searcy. Remember his campaign slogan?
“God bless America and no place else.”
Can you see why this would be problematic for a church? It seems to prop a desire to have America as the sole beneficiary of God’s blessings. It expresses a desire to hoard all of the good things for ourselves without regard to those who may need it more. This is anti-Christ. And while most churches fall short of this level of heresy, having American symbols and iconography in our sacred worship spaces is pretty much the same thing. Again, let me be clear: patriotism is NOT a Christian virtue.
I am reminded of an assignment for my graduate degree where we had to visit worship services of other faith traditions. I went to a Jewish Shabbat service. I thoroughly enjoyed the service, but I was also clearly an outsider. In addition to being only one of about three Black people in the synagogue, I didn’t know any of the prayers, melodic lines, or the Hebrew that they were singing/praying. I can do “church” with the best of them! But at that moment, I was a stranger and it did not feel good.
I imagine that this is what it would feel like to be a non-American coming into a worship service looking for God and finding the American flag on prominent display with songs being sung in worship TO GOD that say things like “God Bless America”. I have been to churches where the Christian flag and the American flag were placed right next to each other with equal prominence and placement. Loyalty to Jesus Christ is not enough for those who insist that their patriotism be given voice in the worship and life of the church.
Symbols and imagery are important. This imagery seems to suggest that salvation stands in league with patriotism. In essence, you have to love America just as much as you love Jesus. But Jesus never demanded loyalty to country above all else. His demand for our loyalty was to the Kingdom of God and the church universal. One theme that runs throughout scripture is the fact that God is not happy when He has to contend with other idols. But what it patriotism but viewing the country into an idol that is worthy of worship.
These “patriots” are the same ones who spew hateful rhetoric towards Black people who demand justice and accountability of the country where they make their home. They say things like, “If you don’t like it here, why don’t you leave?!” This is because America is their god. And they take any criticism of the country as an insult to their god.
To have American iconography on prominent display in worship spaces is to hold the country in the same regard as God…and this is sin! Our churches are to remain open to all…ALL! Craig M. Watts said this…
“Regardless of the makeup of a local congregation, the church is multicultural, multiracial, and multinational by its nature.”