We should recall that, unlike Christ, we are ourselves sinful, each of us actively contributing to the faults of our own societies. So we should judge our nations, present or past tense, modestly and reluctantly. Smug contempt for our own people can be self-righteous.
Recently I had the pleasure of presenting a paper on “godly nationalism” at the annual meeting of the Wesleyan Theological Society. This gathering, with its many scholars and students committed to Methodist theology, is greatly encouraging. My paper compared John Wesley as loyal Englishman to Pope John Paul II, who equally loved his native Poland. Both understood that nations were divine gifts with providential purposes, but neither of course was naive about national sins. Wesley especially expressed his patriotic love by denouncing Britain’s many sins, even as he thought his country blessed and great.
Several questions I got afterwards from young people in the audience were revealing. One asked if Christians must love countries like America and Israel founded on “stolen” land. Another similarly asked if American Christians must love their country built on greed. Still another skeptically asked about loyalty to a racist nation like America. An older man, who identified as a chaplain in the National Guard, interjected he would die and kill in defense of the Constitution, provoking visible horror from the negative questioners.
All nations are drenched in sin, I responded, yet we are called to love and serve the community where God has placed us, just as Christ Himself did. And we should recall that, unlike Christ, we are ourselves sinful, each of us actively contributing to the faults of our own societies. So we should judge our nations, present or past tense, modestly and reluctantly. Smug contempt for our own people can be self-righteous.
Contempt specifically for America, including among many Christians, especially in academia, reflects partly the dominance of the Howard Zinn perspective, which chronicles American history as primarily a catalog of repressions. These recalled injustices are often very real, but the distortion is tagging America as uniquely perfidious, racist, sexist, greedy, militarist, etc. America is sinful, like all nations, but it never had a monopoly on sin. And more often than not, American ideals have provided a level of human justice unusual in world history.