I want to offer a brief commentary/follow-up on my earlier post about God & Country. I know that many of my 3 readers appreciate the argument that Christian worship should not be an exercise in flag-waving. But let me be clear: I am not an advocate of disengagement from politics, government and society, either. Rather, I think that churches should encourage their members to fulfill their vocation as citizens.
If you read the post closely, you see that the first three points relate to the removal of patriotic symbols and celebration from Christian worship. But you also see that the last three points relate to how Christians can and should engage politics and pray for our government leaders. My concern is not just about getting the flag out of the sanctuary and cleansing our worship of patriotism. My concern is also about the proper way for the church to encourage a strong citizenry and engage our society by praying for our nation and its leaders, by actively participating in civic celebrations, and by providing special occassions for worship and prayer that address national concerns.
If removing the flag from our sanctuary and God Bless America from our hymnody is the only response our churches have to the unholy medling of God & Country, then it is an insufficient response that smacks of superiority and disengagement. Yes, let us cleanse our worship of inappropriate patriotism, but let our churches also become places of prayer for our nation, deliberation on issues of national concern, and encouragement for Christians to actively pursue their vocation and duty as citizens. If we are true to our Lutheran Two Kingdoms tradition, we will rightly recognize that God blesses both the work of the Church and the work of the Goverment, and our ministries will honor God’s activity both within and beyond our church doors.
Addendum: Both my wife and Pounding Softly (in a comment on the Praising God, Honoring Country post) have expressed concern about how sticky this God & Country issue can be in parish life. Despite my passion about this issue, I never would advocate a rigid, iron-fist purity that dismisses the pastoral concerns of veterans, war widows, or others in the church who have grown accustomed to a long-standing (if ill-conceived) tradition of flags and patriotic symbols in worship.
Grace and mercy must guide all our practice, but "pastoral concern" cannot become an excuse for a failure to teach on these issues or for allowing a small but vocal group of leaders to demand their way. As Derek wrote in a comment on a previous post about Christian worship, "Good Christian Education/Formation is an essential part of this process." We owe it to ourselves to provide our congregations with strong ministries of education and formation as a basis for our deliberation on important issues – particularly issues related to how we Christians live as disciples of Jesus Christ Monday through Saturday, not just in worship on Sunday mornings.