Wholly Living

What Does It Mean to Be a Christian & a Patriot?

God has given us a place to love like He does. A patriotic spirit comes from a heart that can love one’s country in four distinct ways. by M. William Ury, Ph.D

God has given us a place to love like He does. A patriotic spirit comes from a heart that can love one’s country in four distinct ways.

The first mark of Patriotism is the Love of Place.1

The first connection between America and I took place 8,000 miles away in Taiwan. As my mother held my passport, she talked about patriotism and the integrity and authority of the place that stood behind that document. That green book represented a place where freedom and security were enjoyed.

I have been a Salvation Army soldier in North Carolina for three years. Before that, we lived in Mississippi for 23 years. I came to love the south’s way of life; no winters to speak of, scorching summers, barbecue and sweet tea. I came to love the place.

God began His relationship with us in a garden. He gave Israel a land, a place that He chose for them. The land was inseparable from His blessing. He told them He wanted them to care for and cherish that real estate. Remember that Jesus was God incarnate as a Jew in Israel. Patriots never put any place before God, but we are placed in a land to receive His goodness and to offer our best back to Him. 

The most important thing about places is the people that reside there. A wise, southern friend taught me that “A Yankee will ask you what you do, but Southerners ask you where you’re from. That way they can connect you with somebody they know.” God reminds Israel of His gift of a land for them to live as a people in community, a holy nation (Exodus 19:6). Patriotism means I don’t live for myself alone. You can’t separate loving God in a place from loving our neighbor. 

The second mark of patriotism is a Love for the Past.

I will never forget what happened as I entered the canteen of an Air Force base in Taiwan in the late 60s. The crowded room went silent upon my arrival. Table after table of pilots turned to look at me. My friend whispered that these men probably had children my age that they hadn’t seen for a very long time. He told me that many of them would fly on a mission to Vietnam that day and that some would not return home, never to see their sons or daughters again. An awareness of being a part of something much bigger than myself broke over me. My freedom was based on a history of men and women, just like those Top Guns, who drank coffee before they confronted any assault on our freedom. They loved their country and their children so that boys like me might live without a care in the world. 

What a past. The crossing of the Delaware. Surviving winter at Valley Forge. Independence declared on July 4, 1776. D-Day–June 6, 1944. The brutal battle for Iwo Jima. 9/11. This history reveals unforgettable people. Even more, the past testifies to the ideals they lived and died for: justice, righteousness, freedom, republicanism, constitutionalism and virtuous citizenship. These are founded on the Old and New Testaments, the Magna Carta and constitutional principles. Not all that has transpired since the first settlement was established in Jamestown, VA in 1607 inspires pride. We have sinned as a nation. Patriotism is neither self-deceived nor haughty. To flourish, we must learn from our past. Without considering the past, there is no future. 

The third mark of patriotism is that it is Principled. True love of country is always moral.

Every good leader of Israel mentioned obedience to the Law of God issuing out of love. The Ten Commandments produced the moral grounding for our culture. Our freedom has biblical roots. I never hear a siren without thinking that my country is based upon the Bible and Christian principles that produced personal concern for others, where men and women would risk their lives for me. 

Thomas Jefferson said two things make a great American. One is talent. The other is virtue. Too often we focus on the first and forget the second. There are two more that form any virtuous land: God and liberty. It is these two foundational principles that explain America’s greatness. 

If patriotism is not moral at its core, it can become a perverted kind of love. A mindset of superiority can produce narrow opinions and self-centered actions. The best way I know of to avoid turning one’s country into an idol is to look at citizenship as a duty and not a right. Although someone else has legislated for my basic rights and offered to die for my freedoms, my citizenship is best demonstrated by living principally. Living with a sense of gratitude, not victimization. Pursuing productivity rather than demand. Morality and tenacity, not self-gratification and laziness. Love for country is only as pure as the virtue of its citizens who apply the blessing of liberty by choosing to keep to the moral high ground.

None of our nation’s patriots lived perfect lives. But our republic is based upon the premise that there are extraordinarily virtuous possibilities in ordinary people, if they are willing to look outside themselves for the standards of life. Patriotism is not something I do only; it must issue from who I am.

There are no clearer voices than our founders in attesting that without the Bible. America has no other lasting source for virtue. Why are there over 8,000 volumes and 10,000 pamphlets written about Abraham Lincoln? He rose from simple beginnings to become wise and resolute, thanks in part to his thorough understanding of the enduring word revealed in the Old and New Testaments.

I am amazed at the consistent call to holiness in the Bible. Our God offers everything we need to live moral lives of holy love in the place He has ordained for us ordinary folk, in concert with the people He has given us. 

The fourth mark of patriotism is a Personal Pledge. 

If we only love when everything is going our way, then love ceases to be love at all. True love is never a quick fix or promise of immediate gratification. Patriots persevere.

Duty for the patriot is not like loving a person only when they are good, which is not love but manipulation. A person really loves their country when they choose to do so in the midst of possible ruin. The challenge for the patriot is to be willing to live sacrificially for the good of his or her country, even as earnestly as those who have died for it. 

During the Revolutionary War, an officer passed some exhausted soldiers trying to rebuild a wall as another officer on horseback yelled at them mercilessly. When the officer passing by asked why the boisterous man was not helping, he retorted, “Why, I’m a corporal!” The visitor dismounted and helped the beleaguered soldiers finish the task. As he left, he said to the abusive corporal, “Next time you have a job like that, instead of exhausting your men, go to your commander in chief and I will come and help you again.” And away rode General George Washington. Patriots faithfully serve even when it is undeserved. 

We are patriotic because of a past which imposes on us an obligation. Let us not fall below the standard set for us by our forefathers and mothers. Loving this land means that I am accountable. I do not want to let my predecessors down. People like you are what give meaning to America. There is nothing quite like a true American patriot.

1 The beginning portion of this article is deeply indebted to several insights given in the second chapter of C.S. Lewis’ “The Four Loves,” 1960.

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