Be Careful, American Christians, Your Idolatry Is Showing

Photo Credit: Brook Ward — Flickr

Christians should be kneeling beside protesters during the national anthem. Not heaping condemnation upon them.

“Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part.” — Uncle Screwtape

Some context for the quote above, in the event you’re unfamiliar. In C.S. Lewis’ fascinatingly disturbing book, The Screwtape Letters, the narrator is a demon who communicates to his nephew many nuggets of advice to entrap his Christian subject.

Modern pastors don’t love demons so much, but they’re smitten with C.S. Lewis.

Some love to cite him out of context almost as much as they do the Bible. But though Lewis feared the idolatrous blend of nationalism and Christianity as he wrote under the guise of evil nearly 75 years ago, his principle concern nonetheless persists — and is even led, in many circles, by those same pastors.

This week it hit a fever pitch.

If you don’t want to stand for the national anthem, you can line up over there by the fence and let our military personnel take a few shots at you since they’re taking shots for you.

Those are the words from prep football announcer — and pastor —Allen Joyner, who leads Sweet Home Baptist Church in McKenzie, Alabama every Sunday in worship. His now celebrated comments were in response to the swelling national controversy of athletes like Colin Kaepernick kneeling in protest, rather than standing, before the national anthem. Naturally, the pastor’s not-so-Christlike words were met with applause, and even the defense of his church.

Nothing says “walk as children of light” quite like the threat of a firing squad.

But however maddening, profoundly heretical and scripturally-obtuse as this pastor’s words is the very troubling foundation upon which they’re fostered and shared. He said them because he believed them to be true, as he would any statement before the pulpit. And the broader evangelical community supports him — precisely because, like him, they can no longer differentiate between their faith and their country.

This is “God and Country” run amok.

This all despite the fact each of their two sacred texts — the United States Constitution and Bible — advise against such alliances.

(It’s at this point a hyperbolic Calvinist — yes, that’s a stereotype — feigns incredulity, and stammers on about Romans 13. No, Paul didn’t want us to submit blindly to governing authorities. Even John Calvin knew that).

Anyway, back to Lewis. His daunting pursuit to linguistically embody evil reveals at least two obvious Christian realities: the first is that whether it’s the pledge of allegiance, or a blind devotion to the national anthem, any nationalistic ritual is little more than a modern retelling of the golden calf.

Principally speaking, idolatry is a sign of unfaithfulness. It is a breach of the metaphysical covenant that binds the believer to a greater truth. Certainly, at least for a Christian, this truth isn’t only an enduring reality to be acknowledged — it also requires participation. We’re image-bearers of Christ, not Uncle Sam, and should approach the world as such.

Thus, if our country launches, say, drone attacks that kill innocent civilians, we commit idolatry every time we defend its actions and ignore our own complicity in violence.

The second reality, as inferred through Lewis, is related: it’s that living as Christ should usurp any call to nationalistic devotion. In fact, if your brand of Christianity doesn’t appear to conflict with your allegiance to the United States, you’re doing it wrong.

And though some squalid corners of the internet may attempt to convince us otherwise, there is an oppressed within this country. Unless you’ve been living under a Trump sign for the last year, you’ve witnessed rampant prejudice in the form of anachronistic attacks on Native American protesters of the Dakota Pipeline, omnipresent videos of police brutality, and a Presidential nominee’s disparagement of an entire religion (and culture); oppression is a ubiquitous and frightening reality faced by millions.

All within the supposed land of the free.

Thankfully, we can take our lead from Jesus, who is perpetually with the oppressed. Our marching orders are fairly simple: we’re to lift those on the fringes, even if it means loving whom we perceive to be enemies.

Even if it means social ostracism — like kneeling when everyone else is standing.

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