The Fourth of July, the independence day for the United States, landing on a Sunday this year allows for a unique opportunity for American Christians to evaluate our own personal relationship between both the flag and the cross and make adjustments as necessary. An inescapable reality is that our identities as Christian and our identities as American exist in a complex tension that is critical for us to understand as both a body and as individuals. The founding of our country was a Christian missionary endeavor. The justification of everything that our founders did to the native and indigenous communities that were here before us was plastered with “Manifest Destiny,” quite literally the belief that genocide was not only inevitable but God-ordained. This is our inescapable legacy that we cannot change. The foundation of our religion in this country is built on unmarked graveyards.
This is not to say that the Fourth of July has no meaning whatsoever, or that Christians can’t or shouldn’t celebrate the holiday. A few weeks ago, I celebrated Midsummer, partly to honor my Norwegian heritage and partly to honor the liturgical celebration of John the Baptist’s birthday. The holiday has come to mean a great deal to me. The secular aspect encourages us to celebrate the passing of winter and the arrival of summer both literally and figuratively. The religious aspect encourages us to look forward to the coming Son and the promises of liberation he carries with him.
The Fourth of July can mean many things. It can be a rallying cry against all other countries and people that we are here and we are the best. It can be an honoring of what goes well and a reflection on what we need to change. It can be about family and friends, honoring and recognizing the communities we find ourselves embedded in. It can be an opportunity to engage in our culture, connecting our individual selves to a larger, meaningful collective. Like Midsummer, the Fourth of July has a lot to offer me. I spent this year’s holiday on a lake with three great friends and three new ones. We celebrated the beauty of each other and the beauty of the nature we found ourselves in.
Much like the manifest destiny of our forefathers, Christians today often fall into a dangerous pattern of putting patriotism and nationalism ahead of our work as Kingdom builders. The scriptures are clear that heaven is a place of multiple tongues and nations. They often speak about the universality of experience, while marking the distinction of difference. There are Jews and Gentiles but the differences between them, the ethnic rivalries and the seemingly incompatible ways of life, don’t matter anymore. All have been welcomed into everlasting relationship with the Holy.
This Fourth of July, as the fireworks fade from the sky and your stomach finishes digesting the hot dogs and hamburgers you scarfed down, I encourage you to evaluate your relationship with the cross and with your country. Are you giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s or have we shifted that relationship and given to Caesar what is God’s – our unflinching allegiance, worship, and praise? Have we begun to hear “America is good” and answered “all the time” in our liturgies? Have we hung the flag from our pulpits and endorsed political candidates and signed petitions in our parking lots? Have we done what was best for our country at the expense of a child of God in another country?
We cannot build a Kingdom when we’re fighting our citizens for territory. We cannot love mercy when we love retribution. We cannot seek justice when we sweep injustice under the rug. We will never walk humbly until we have traded the weight of our pride for accountability.
Bryce Van Vleet is the #1 selling author of Tired Pages and Before We All Die Let’s Have One Last Chat by the Fireside. He also hosts the podcast Death in Dakota. You can support him by clicking through blog posts or donating (scroll to the bottom of the page). Like him on Facebook or follow him on Goodreads.
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