Here is my unpopular opinion for the day: Patriotism is an overrated value. Especially for Christians.
Before I tell you what I mean by this, let me tell you what I don’t mean. I don’t mean that the United States doesn’t have much that is great and wonderful to offer me. I don’t mean that I wish I had been born elsewhere. I don’t mean that I hate my country, or don’t appreciate the role it has played in my having the opportunities I have. I acknowledge all that.
Here is what I do mean: As a Christian, allegiance to country is a lot less important to me than allegiance to the Kingdom shown by Jesus, a kingdom focused on love for people, not flags or anthems. I take very seriously Paul’s universal message from Galatians, that there is no longer Jew or Greek, that we are all one. It’s the same reason I don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance: because I don’t pledge the allegiance of my heart to an earthly empire. I don’t put love of country over my duty to God, which is to love other people. America first? No no, human beings first.
That is why I kneel in solidarity with black and brown America right now. Because the very same United States that has given me -a straight, white, middle class male- such wonderful opportunities, has not done so consistently for Americans of other races and nationalities throughout history. Instead, it had enslaved them, murdered them, forcibly removed them, segregated them, sought to ban them, lynched them, redlined them, arrested them, shot them, scorned them, hated them, forgotten them, made them second-class citizens, and killed them. Not as a by-product of some other goal, but as the primary goal of dealing with their existence. All the while, Old Glory was waved about and they were told it represented the very country that was oppressing them. So yeah, they probably don’t have good, positive associations about the flag.
This is why courageous powerful individuals like Colin Kaepernick kneel. For four hundred years, black, brown, and immigrant America has been trying to get the attention of white America, to get us to respect their humanity, admit our wrongs, and treat them as full human beings. They couldn’t get our attention by crying out, by marching, by sitting in, by writing, by singing, by showcasing their humanity to us. But they figured out how to get our attention, by interrupting our own gladiator games, by kneeling in front of the opium we use to ignore the injustice of the world. They got your attention. And yet you think this is about a flag, or a song. News flash: it’s not. But it was the only damn way to get your attention. Wake up America.
Patriotism is overrated because patriotism has done very little to improve the lives of the human beings who have for too long been under the heels of the powerful. And so when I say patriotism is overrated, what I mean is, I put myself on the side of my fellow human beings well before I put myself on the side of a flag. No matter what that flag has done for me. Because every advantage it brings me rings hollow as long as I know that somewhere, someone else is getting worn down by it, that my success comes at their expense and that flag tries to tell me that’s ok. Nope, it’s not. I’ll be a proud patriot when that flag admits the wrongs it has done and does real, tangible work to rectify and repair them.
That’s why I kneel in solidarity with those across the country who are sick of seeing black and brown bodies bleeding out in the street, who are sick of hearing the president defend white supremacists while calling athletes “sons of bitches.” Make me choose between the flag and other humans, and I’m gonna pick humans every time, and I don’t even feel the least bit bad about that. Jesus didn’t teach me that the greatest commandment was to love my country. It is to love my neighbor as myself.
Note: I wrote this on Facebook the other day, and get an overwhelmingly positive response. I’m happy to share it here for those I’m connected with on Facebook.