The Idolatry of Patriotism

I am thankful to live in a country that acknowledges people have rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” and that empowers citizens to influence how they are governed. I know how rare such freedom has been throughout history, and how costly it has been to acquire and protect. I’m also proud of many other ideals America stands for, such as the principle that all people are created equal (though, we’re obviously still in the process of living up to this one). So, I see no problem with an American Christian being patriotic.

At the same time, followers of Jesus need to be very careful. History shows us how easy it is for Christians to forget that the Kingdom Jesus came to establish is “not of this world” (John 18:36, TNIV). And it’s to His Kingdom we are to pledge our sole allegiance.

Throughout history we find Christians buying the age-old pagan lie that God uniquely favors their country, and their national enemies are God’s enemies. Believing that lie, patriotic Christians have tragically followed the orders of earthly rulers and marched into battle “for God and country,” rather than following the example of Jesus — who gave His life for the people who persecuted Him.

Ironically, in some cases, the “enemies” Christians have slaughtered have been other patriotic Christians who happened to be born in other countries or other parts of the same country. Few things have done more to discredit Christianity than the patriotic zeal with which Christians have participated in violence.

“Whoever claims to live in him,” John teaches us, “must live as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6). When we compromise our commitment to living and loving like Jesus, we’ve crossed the line between healthy and idolatrous patriotism. Jesus and Paul repeatedly command us to love, bless, pray for and do good to our enemies, and to never retaliate or resort to violence. It’s healthy to patriotically appreciate the positive aspects of our country and our form of government. But we’re putting that patriotism in front of God the moment our allegiance to our country motivates us to kill our enemies rather than to die for them. And anything in our lives that comes before God is idolatry.

The danger of idolatrous patriotism is not just about how we compromise our love for enemies. If we become too invested in our nation, we can forget our real citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 1:27) and our job is to live as ambassadors of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). Rather than manifesting the distinctive values of the Kingdom of God, we can begin to assume the ideals of our culture are Kingdom values.

I appreciate that America recognizes my rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” but there is nothing distinctly Kingdom about these rights. They’re nowhere to be found in the Bible. To the contrary, as a follower of Jesus I’m called to surrender my rights to life, liberty and happiness, and instead submit to the will of God. These rights are noble on a political level, but they can get in the way of my call to seek first the Kingdom. I’m grateful America extends these rights to people, for most countries throughout history have not. But my sole allegiance is to the heavenly Kingdom that calls me to surrender my rights. If I get too concerned with an earthly country that frees me to pursue my rights, my healthy patriotism becomes idolatrous. I’ve put my country’s ideals before God.

Along similar lines, history consistently shows when we forget we’re “foreigners” and “exiles” in this world, we can begin to associate our preferred form of government or politics too closely with the Kingdom of God. Here, too, it’s crucial we follow the example of Jesus.

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Despite the fact that He lived in an age when plenty of political and nationalistic issues were being hotly debated, Jesus never displayed the slightest interest in such matters. He didn’t come to bring us a “new and improved” version of the Kingdom of the world. He came to inaugurate a Kingdom that is “not of this world.” It’s a Kingdom that is no more Israeli than it is Palestinian; no more American than it is Iraqi; and no more socialist than it is democratic. Instead, it’s a Kingdom that encompasses people from every nation and political persuasion, for it puts on display the “one new humanity” Jesus died to create (Ephesians 2:15). In this Kingdom, Paul declares, there is no longer any Jew or Greek (Galatians 3:27-29). In our Kingdom, all national, tribal, ethnic, gender, social and economic distinctions are insignificant.

So over the election season—and all year—be appreciative of your country. Be patriotic. But make sure your patriotism pales in comparison to your sacrifice, commitment and allegiance to the Kingdom of God.

View Comments (15)
  • I must assume from this article that you are a pacifist. It is the only way it makes sense to me, for in nearly every battle or war there will be Christians on both sides.

  • It makes no sense whatsoever if you are not a pacifist. And one will only have the freedom to practice it if someone else fights the wars for you.

  • First, I was very surprised, on this article. Rarely, as a Christian, do I agree with the articles posted on relevant magazine-the reason I rarely check the website. My personal opinion of the relevant magazine aside, I agreed with alot in this article.
    As Christians, the first thing we should always vote for-is freedom religion. What makes America great is that it is actually a reason available in our voting process. Our founding fathers wanted a system where everyone could have freedom of religion-whether Hindi, Muslim, Christian, even atheism (a belief in itself). But also, no establishment of religion as England had seen often-going from catholic to Protestant, as each reigning king/queen believed, killing everyone of the opposite faith. Our fathers wanted freedom from that.
    As we have seen with covid, in most Democrat run cities, freedom of religion has been curtailed, restrictions placed on them-sometimes to the point only churches suffered while public and private organizations did not have to abide by the same restrictions (like singing in church ??‍♀️). Although there are many reasons I vote how I do, I love our preacher spoke Sunday about our responsibility as Americans not to focus on America as a Christian’ nation (look at some of our leaders-on both sides of the aisle- I think we can easily conclude we are not a Christian nation) but to focus on keeping the freedoms that make America great. Freedom of speech (sorry snowflakes-that means all speech. I don’t believe it covers personal Verbal assault, nor playing music or protesting so another cannot be heard-that is suppression of speech), the right to say anything not vulgar or personal, aloud, whether you agree or not. An example (banned in the UK), a man standing on a street corner who says thieves, murderers, sexual sinners, liars, without accepting Christ will go to hell. In the UK this is hate speech. In the US, this is free speech. You don’t have to agree, or like, or support, but you don’t have the right to stop that speech, or fine or jail, or talk over, or verbally or physically attack.
    As Christians, we need to be sure the one thing we put first in our voting is freedom of religion. The right, given in our constitution and bill of rights, the right to believe, and act, supporting your belief-without fear of reprisals (fines, jail), and without government intervention (govt closing churches during covid, or a hurricane, or an earthquake. As long as the ACTION (not belief or speech) does not cause the verbal or physical detriment to your fellow man. In short, a church should be able to say-homosexuality is a sin, it’s wrong, repent, be forgiven. If you choose to continue, you will not be allowed in the church as an example to our youth-but cannot and should not, picket their home, call their employer, ostracize or ignore them or not help them in ways God has called us to help regardless (food, shelter, etc). By the same reasoning, the government is not allowed to close doors, put restrictions (face masks), not tell churches whom they can and cannot allow. This example is perfect, churches turned away people who showed up because they wouldn’t wear a mask, more afraid of being fined than in the constitutional law that the government cannot do that.
    Now, only thing-501(c)3. Churches have signed up for this -often without realizing they sold part of their soul to the devil.

  • I wonder dear author if you would have fought for the colonies in the Revolutionary war? Probably not. Would you have fought for the north in the Civil War? Likely no. Would you have fought in WWII against those who attacked then declared war on us or would you have fought to liberate the Jews from the Nazi death camps? I don’t think so. In all these, would you have fought, or let others do so in your place? It sounds like possibly the later. Also I think you need to learn the difference between nationalism and patriotism or you should define what you mean by patriotism first before you call it idolatry.

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  • Here’s my thought: In nations where Christianity is persecuted, do the Christians there see war as means for a better life? I would argue not. From the stories I’ve encountered – they are fully committed to the Kingdom of Christ (not to any earthly kingdom) and to spreading the Gospel as far and wide as possible. I think it’s only from a place of privilege, being in a free nation, that we can defend war as a necessary evil. If only we could commit fully to Christ as the persecuted do, and not be distracted by the things of this world. This is something that has convicted me much of my adult life as an American.

  • A couple of thoughts about this piece:

    I get it that patriotism can be equated to a form of Idol Worship. I agree. Where one’s treasure is, there will their heart be also. I further agree with Pastor Boyd that Jesus wasn’t a gun-toting wrap yourself in the flag patriot type the Jews were hoping for. But he wasn’t a bearded Marxist make love not war wannabe hippy type either. It cuts both ways.

    Pastor Boyd also says the right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness isn’t distinctly Kingdom and nowhere to be found in the Bible and as a follower of Christ, he’s called to surrender them. But in order to surrender one’s rights, this must mean said rights, if not expressly spelled out, are at a minimum implied by the scriptures. The part about Liberty, in particular, comes from Leviticus if my memory serves me correctly. I would draw the good pastor’s attention to the inscription found on the Liberty Bell. This does not mean I believe that America is a “Christian Nation.” To the contrary, I do not.

    On the matter of patriotism and Idol Worship, I’m reminded that the late Chuck Missler of Koinonia House Ministry, a former Naval Academy graduate, stopped wearing his class ring over the issue of Idol Worship. I’m also reminded that instead of condemning a Roman Centurion for being in the service of the hated Romans, Jesus commended him for his faith.

    Then there was a fellow named Desmond Doss of Hacksaw Ridge fame who went into battle unarmed. I was a “medic” (Navy Corpsman/Marine Corps “Doc”) too. I guess I didn’t have the same level of faith as Doss. I carried a weapon. Not to kill anyone mind you. It was for the same reason we stopped wearing Red Cross arm bands and emblems on our helmets, so we didn’t stand out from the other troops and become an easy target for an enemy. Perhaps just as importantly, to hand my weapon to any Marine who’s weapon jammed or ran out of ammo.

    So it was refreshing to see Pastor Boyd has no problem with an American Christian being patriotic. The question for me is, where does he draw the line. Having read him many times in the past, he seems to come down squarely in the progressive left camp. This piece is really no different.

  • I believe Jesus did speak about political things; that’s why he was crucified. As long as He just did healings and good works, He had no problems. It was when He said He was God and thus had authority, He became dangerous.
    Today we are seeing the struggle between political parties for power. We the people must know our candidates and vote for Biblical Truth.
    Every issue: (Life) Ps 139:13-15, (Religious Freedom) Jn 8:36, (Environment) Gen1:26 & Gen 2:15, (Marriage and Sexuality) Gen 1:27, Heb. 13:18 &Heb 13:4, (Health Care) Gal 6:2 & Jas 5:13, (Economy) I Tim 6:10, I Tim 5:8, (Racism) Acts 17:24-27, (Immigration) Zec 7: 9-10, Rom 13:1-3, (Education) Dt 6:6-7, Prv 22:6 & Hos 4:6 , (Israel) Ps 122:6-9 , (Gun Ownership) Ecc 9:18, Lk 22:35-39 and (National Security)Joshua 23:10 & Ps 144:1 has basis in the Bible. We should vote for POLICY not character. We have become a celebrity nation; we must be a TRUTH nation.

  • Another intensely offensive article title from Relevant Magazine: “The Idolatry of Patriotism”

    “Throughout history we find Christians buying the age-old pagan lie that God uniquely favors their country, and their national enemies are God’s enemies. Believing that lie, patriotic Christians have tragically followed the orders of earthly rulers and marched into battle “for God and country,” rather than following the example of Jesus — who gave His life for the people who persecuted Him.”

    This is a terrible and frankly bone-headed accusation that has nothing to do with the circumstances we find ourselves in during this season of horrible Marxist anarchy against the United States of America.

    American Christians are voting traditional Christian values – many of which it appears that Relevant readers have abandoned in favor of their social justice definitions of morality and justice. Instead of embracing God’s Word which DOES give strong definition of right and wrong, moral and immoral, justice and lawlessness, holy and perverse, many of the “Relevant” generation apparently believe their own definitions are superior to God of their parents.

    So instead of dealing with that issue, Relevant rolls out a non sequitur dealing with an entirely different time and issue:
    THE MYTH OF A CHRISTIAN NATION: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church by Gregory A. Boyd

    Yes, older Americans are patriotic. We grew out of our ‘hate America’ revolutionary Baby Boomer stage. We matured and learned that we were blessed to live in a nation where the founders bent the knee to God and prayed in Jesus’ name to guide them in composing our nation’s founding principles. We matured and learned the sacrifice of our military and law enforcement was huge, and serving of honor. But that is not the driving force of Christians voting in this election. We are voting to hold back the spread of evil over this nation. We are voting for the Judeo-Christian morals and values to prevail over beastly anarchists who desire to burn America to the ground.

    When I read the words of Jesus, I see He is instructing us in how to be a human being. The Beast of Revelation, that is any nation, system or movement that intimidates and overpowers people in a beastly, inhumane way. Anyone that has an honest spirit cannot look upon what has been unfolding on our streets with the full complicity of the Democrat-led cities and states and the dishonest news media, and say all the rioting, arson, brutality and murders are not the work of brute beasts acting inhumanely against U.S. citizens just trying to live their lives.

    This article is bunk!

  • I see his point but being a pastor and retired military he is ignorant of patriot really means. I fight to preserve peace, Jesus said blessed be the peacemakers. I willingly give my life to protect my fellow citizens, no greater love than lay down ones life for another. Something to think about.

  • although i totally believe blind patriotism and blind cultish worship, like we are seeing by the followers of our current administration is ANTI- CHRITian.. and I appreciate this article, However, I was disappointed at the very begining when you stated the kingdom Jesus died for is in heaven and not of this earth.. The prayer Jesus taught us to pray is Our Father who art in heaven… Thy kingdom COME thy will be done ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN.. to me this prayer shows us not to be patriotic as it is not direceted towards any one nation, but of the entire in my opinion, only love and equality can bring an entire world together not ptriotism, war, division, white supremecy or nationalism.. I realize publications like this feel the need to be reserved so as not to offend people, but frankly, we need to start being honest about these so called evangelical Christians who call Trump the chosen one of God, that they are in fact not Chrstian, it isnt because of their patriotism, it is because of their total disregard of every single teaching of Jesus and instead their total devotion to a man who is the Anti-Jesus… or more bluntly, The AntiChrist. They are using a religion in order to gain power by brainwashing weak Christians, and particularly Prosperity Gospel beliving people. Thosr of us who see ehat is going on in the US and around the world and are disgusted, are so, because we understand and follow the teachings of Jesus and see that its not patriotism that is the problem, but nationalism.. which are two very different things.

  • Typical Democrat liberal propoganda I’ve come to expect from this publication. You enjoy the freedoms paid for by the lives of other, but you would never give your life to protect our freedoms. Fortunately for you, there are many ‘We the People’ who will do the heavy lifting, the struggling, the fighting and the dying so you can benefit off our sacrifices and live your life being nothing more than a leach.

  • This is a decietful, misguided, illogival article. Of course every real Christian knows that God must be first. To condemn every patriotic person as a lie believing pagan is just too much to stomach. If he is against violence, why does he denounce patriots and not the rioters? Why is being a patriot worse than bending the knee for BLM? He uses faulty and deceptive argumenets: A.  I appreciate all my rights B. I appreciate what they cost C. Violence is wrong D. no one should pay the costbecause it would take violence. He also seems very mixed up also in that he says that those who follow their leaders to die in a war against a country’s enemy are idolators . Instead they should die for their enemies. Huh?    This is a dangerous magazine that conceals liberal deceit under Christian ideas. I could but will not say anymore. 

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