A reader recently asked how we- the people of Jesus- ought to approach the celebration of America’s independence on the 4th of July. This is an excellent question, so I decided to answer it here on the blog publicly instead of in a private message.
First, it is important to remember our calling as the people of Jesus. Scripture tells us that we are not citizens of this world but that we are citizens of God’s other-worldly Kingdom, and that our current residency status in our host country is that of immigrants and exiles (1 Peter 1:1, 1 Peter 1:17, 1 Peter 2:11, Philippians 3:20). As people who are immigrants and not legitimately citizens of any earthly empire, we must detach ourselves from finding identity in earthly citizenship, and must forsake any loyalty to our host nation so that we can pledge our allegiance to Christ and his Kingdom. On this principle alone, a Jesus person would be completely out of place celebrating a nationalistic holiday– whether a holiday to promote American nationalism or any other nation.
It is important to note that the United States of America and the Kingdom of God are not synonyms or even remotely similar. Jesus claimed that his Kingdom was “not of this world” and that it stands separate and unique (holy) in comparison to anything this world has to offer. As such, all earthly empires- including the United States- are hopelessly at odds with Christ and his Kingdom. Since Christ’s Kingdom and earthly empires are opposing forces, individuals must chose one to offer their allegiance and loyalty– it is not possible to pledge one’s allegiance to both.
Furthermore, one would need to consider exactly what they were celebrating if they were to celebrate Independence Day. July 4th marks the date when America’s founders signed the Declaration of Independence, a racist document which calls the Native Americans “savages,” and which marks the founder’s attempts to rebel against the king– willing to use bloodshed to achieve their goals. The document was signed by men who saw no moral issues with buying and selling human beings as a commodity, and who surely had no problem with genocide to expand the to-be-empire’s control of land and resources. In short, the origins of the 4th of July are nothing a Jesus person would want to celebrate, even if it were possible to give our allegiance to something other than God’s Kingdom.
Obviously, if one has pledged their allegiance to God’s Kingdom there is no room to celebrate the nationalism of our host country. However, acknowledging this could quickly lead to a rigid and legalistic way of holding the position, so let’s look at this practically for a moment:
Celebration is not so much of an outward action as it is an inner disposition of the heart. When we acknowledge that a Christian should not celebrate the 4th of July, this is not the same as saying a Christian should abstain from anything and everything which occurs on that date. It is possible to engage in some activities without adopting an inward heart-posture of celebrating national identity and without giving the outward appearance we are doing so. For example, if my family were invited to a BBQ at a friend or relative’s house, we would go– time with friends and family is important. Yet, if there were some type of specific, nationalistic activity at that BBQ (such as singing the National Anthem, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, taking a group photo with everyone holding an American flag, etc.) we would politely abstain from those activities in order to bear witness to the fact that we are citizens of God’s Kingdom and are simply temporary immigrants here in America. The same would apply to fireworks– firework displays are beautiful, so we’ll probably go. However, we will do so with the inward disposition that we are going to watch fireworks– not that we are engaging in that activity as a way of celebrating our host country.
There are however some activities that we would refrain from attending entirely. This category would include Independence Day parades, or any sort of nationalistic/political rally– things so overtly a celebration of nationalism that there is little conceivable reason why a Jesus person would want to attend.
The key of course, is finding a way to hold to a position with conviction, but not legalistically. For example, we approach Halloween in the same regard: yes, the kids can go trick-or-treating, but no, they cannot dress up like a witch or goblin. It’s all about finding balance while using caution in how we participate/interact with certain traditions in the culture around us.
Most importantly, when a Christian is faced with the issue of celebrating Independence Day, it is good to remember the damage nationalism caused/causes to the Kingdom of God and the Church that Christ established. (Just think about all the times Christians have gone to war with one another over nationalism!) Jesus invites us to go “all in” when it comes to giving our lives to this alternate Kingdom, and there’s simply no room for split loyalty and double allegiance. You can play for one team or the other, but you can’t play for both teams at the same time.
Remember: the Kingdom of God is made up of people from every nation, every race, and every language. It’s hard to have unity in his Kingdom when a handful of his followers are standing in the corner, waving a flag foreign to the Kingdom and shouting, “we’re number one!”
So, let us fire up the grill and enjoy the 4th of July– but let us do so without synchronizing ourselves with any identity other than that of a Kingdom citizen who has been temporarily exiled in a foreign land.