JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–America’s awareness of world events certainly is heightened as many throughout the land have watched close friends and beloved family members ship out for military service overseas. In many church and civic gatherings, mention is often made of soldiers or their families who are being remembered in prayer. A Sunday afternoon drive through most any town will reveal patriotic banners, waving flags and yellow ribbon-wrapped oak trees — all of which serve as reminders of those who are serving so sacrificially. Indeed, the groundswell of American patriotism among young and old alike is encouraging.
Christians in America have every reason to be patriotic. The United States of America is a wonderful nation that has undoubtedly experienced the providential blessings and divine favor of God Almighty.
People all over the world are envious of the opportunities afforded to American citizens. No doubt, God has been good to America. Its heritage is rich, and without His providential grace and favor America would not own such a wonderful tradition or enjoy its present blessings.
The danger that American Christians can face in times of international conflict is the blurring of boundaries that exist between nationalistic patriotism and Christian faith. Along a country road in Tennessee, this blurring is evident on a sign picturing an American flag-filled icthus (the Christian fish symbol) and creatively emblazoned underneath with the phrase “JesUSAves.”
At the very least it is catchy, and upon immediate passing most people probably experience positive emotional responses. But it causes one to question whether those good feelings may be related to the fact that one may live in the USA or to the fact that Jesus saves. While appreciative of the painter who sought to communicate his Christian faith along with his patriotic fervor, such communication also is a cause for concern.
The difficulty with “JesUSAves” lies not in the truth of its declaration, but in the message of its implication. Indeed, Jesus saves. Christians agree here. However, red, white, and blue letters which include the capitalization of USA within “JesUSAves” seems to imply that the United States of America is in some way central to or at least a fundamental part of God’s salvation plan.
Certainly Christians are thankful for the USA. Of course, believers hold firmly to the conviction that Jesus saves. However, when patriotic passion becomes synonymous with the understanding of and love for God, Christians are tempted to think that God’s working is in some way related to or dependent on the United States of America.
Do Christians see this sign and think that America is God’s favorite country and that they have preferred status in his Kingdom family? Do those Americans who are not Christians pass by thinking that by right of their national citizenship they also are entitled to heavenly citizenship? Would the Apostle Paul, who when speaking of salvation, stated that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female” (Galatians 3:28) allow such a sign in his first-century yard? A sign like this seems to communicate more than its painter might have intended.
While readily admitting that America has and continues to experience God’s blessings, it is important for Christians to understand that history will one day come to a halt and eternity will roll on around a throne and not a nation.
An American will not be sitting on that throne. Neither will there be only Americans around that throne. People from every nation, tribe, people and language will join together there worshiping God forever.
Until then, American Christians can be thankful for their earthly citizenship. Moreover, Christians everywhere can be even more thankful that God’s saving work through Christ does not hinge upon national identity.
Todd E. Brady is minister to the university at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.