God Bless America! (and other dangerous prayers)

I love America.

I love her mountains and her National Parks. I love her North Atlantic coastline and her national anthem. I love her freedom of speech and her universities.

As an attorney, I especially love her Constitution and her history of Law.

God bless America!

But that’s a dangerous prayer, because often, with the same tongue that we mouth “God bless America!” we spit “God destroy Iran!” Or North Korea. Or China. Or whatever.

We want to bless America and curse our enemies. And while that kind of talk is certainly in the Bible, it’s not very Biblical. It is not the way of Jesus.

As believers in America, we’re taught, often accidentally, that to be a Christian is to be American, or at least to look Western. But Jesus, the guy from the Middle East, would disagree.

We’re taught that the prototypical American is a salt-of-the-earth, hard-working, white Christian. Thomas Jefferson would disagree. Benjamin Franklin probably would too.


Patriotism vs. Nationalism
When nationalism starts parading as patriotism, you end up with a riot.

The patriot says, “I love my country, my homeland, my people!” And that’s great and not necessarily inconsistent with the way of Jesus.

The nationalist on the other hand says, “I love my country, my homeland, my people! And I think our culture and our values are better than everyone else’s!”

The patriot says “God bless America!” but would be thrilled if God blessed Algeria and Russia too.

The nationalist says “God bless America!” but would be thrilled if God absolutely destroyed all the “bad people,” convincing the world that we really are superior. Obviously.

Now, there is nothing particularly surprising (or wrong) about a country wanting to make itself great again. Several countries are predictably trying to do that very thing right now. But while the desire for national greatness is not necessarily evil, it is necessarily secular.

And when the line between patriotism and nationalism gets blurred, we must speak up. As followers of a Refugee who grew up in occupied territory where public executions and infanticide happened, we must speak up and call patriotism good and nationalism evil.


Under His Banner
As followers of Christ, our great desire is that he would be made great. We desire that his greatness would be known everywhere, not our country’s. We want the banner of our God to be raised up, that his Love would be seen, and that all those who see it will run to Him and be saved.

As citizens of America, we should celebrate and honor and cherish the United States. She remains a fantastical experiment in human government, bought with blood and sacrifice. (She is far from perfect, of course, and some of her story is violent and abusive and should be labeled as such. But that is an article for another time.)

As citizens of the Kingdom, we should celebrate and cherish and love the global Church, the Bride, wherever she may be found. Her flag is our flag.

And she is not just in America. She’s in Algeria and Russia and Brazil. There are millions in the Kingdom who speak Arabic and Urdu and Mandarin. Our fellow citizens live in the jungles of the Congo and the Amazon.

And everyone who’s not already a part of the Kingdom of God? Well, we want them to know they’re invited!

So may God bless Algeria and Afghanistan and Argentina.

And may God bless America!

We should pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. We should pray for justice to run down like a mighty river. And we should pray for a heart like His that wants no one to perish, not even ISIS soldiers.

Is it unAmerican to talk like this? I hope not, but maybe.

Our first allegiance is not to Rome, or Washington. It certainly must not be to elephants, donkeys, or three-lettered news agencies. This was settled long ago; our first allegiance, our deepest love, is towards the King.


I do hope God blesses America. I pray that He blesses America with peace. I pray that we would learn to love one another, and perhaps even our enemies.

I pray that more and more people would meet Christ, and be changed.

I pray for the religionists like Paul, that they would meet Christ and be forever changed.

I pray for the government contractors like Zacchaeus, that they would meet Christ and be forever changed.

I pray for the militant nationalists like Simon, that they would meet Christ and be forever changed.

I pray for the white collars like Nicodemus and the blue collars like Peter.

I pray for the rich women like Joanna, and the used women who show up at the well at noon.

I pray that they would all meet Christ and be forever changed.

Will you join me?


After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar, 

“Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!”

(Revelation 7:9-10)


Our last Sunday at church before moving to Thailand. The church was decorated in "The Lord's Army" VBS theme.
Our last Sunday at church before moving to Thailand. The church was decorated in “The Lord’s Army” VBS theme.
I think we’re sending the wrong message here.

Monday, May 26, 2013 marks Memorial Day in the United States.  For those of you who may not be familiar with the U.S. holiday, it is day intended to honor members of the U.S. armed forces who have died in service.  The Sunday before, many churches all over the U.S. honor those who have died in service and who are currently serving.  It is often a tremendous show of people who are “Proud to be an American” and who call upon God to bless America.

It’s also a day that makes me feel very uncomfortable internally as I try to balance my own pride in country and the military history of my own family with the nagging suspicion that our glorification of the military may not always be appropriate.

I commented on a friend’s Facebook post (also a questionable choice on my part) after she posted this story about a teacher who made a statement with one of her lessons:

Back in September of 2005, on the first day of school, Martha Cothren, a social studies school teacher at Robinson High School in Little Rock, did something not to be forgotten. On the first day of school, with permission of the school superintendent, the principal and the building supervisor, she took all of the desks out of the classroom. The kids came into first period, they walked in, there were no desks. They obviously looked around and said, “Ms. Cothren, where are our desks?” And she said, “You can’t have a desk until you tell me how you earn them.” They thought, “Well, maybe it’s our grades.””No,” she said. “Maybe it’s our behavior.”And she told them, “No, it’s not even your behavior.”And so they came and went in the first period, still no desks in the classroom. Second period, same thing. Third period. By early afternoon television news crews had gathered in Ms. Cothren’s class to find out about this crazy teacher who had taken all the desks out of the classroom. The last period of the day, Martha Cothren gathered her class. They were at this time sitting on the floor around the sides of the room. And she says, “Throughout the day no one has really understood how you earn the desks that sit in this classroom ordinarily.” She said, “Now I’m going to tell you.” Martha Cothren went over to the door of her classroom and opened it, and as she did 27 U.S. veterans , wearing their uniforms, walked into that classroom, each one carrying a school desk. And they placed those school desks in rows, and then they stood along the wall. And by the time they had finished placing those desks, those kids for the first time I think perhaps in their lives understood how they earned those desks. Martha said, “You don’t have to earn those desks. These guys did it for you. They put them out there for you, but it’s up to you to sit here responsibly to learn, to be good students and good citizens, because they paid a price for you to have that desk, and don’t ever forget it.” (Taken from Snopes.com)

Like me, Ms. Cothren also came from a family with Vietnam and WWII veterans.  My comment following the post on Facebook however referred different heroes.  I asked, “Why do we honor soldiers above those who have fought for freedom through nonviolent means?”
Then I started thinking about those who live overseas.  What does the military mean to people of Europe?  Thailand?  Bolivia?  El Salvador?  Why are we able to celebrate the military of the U.S. in church, but churches across the world don’t?  Has God indeed blessed America more through the gift of a military that defends our freedoms?

Or did Jesus show us a different way that is more powerful no matter the role of the military?

This is where I tend to lose tracking with my American friends and family.  When I start to reveal my pacifist leanings and theories of civil disobedience, the head-shaking and thought bubble (“oh, boy”) pops up.

What should a church or Christian aid organization’s relationship be to the military?  Many of us coming from countries where the military is governed by the rule of law want to praise God for our freedoms and protection by (or from) the military.  But what about when we work in a country where the military rules by its own law?

If you find yourself taking for granted that the military exists to protect you, you may find it difficult to relate to people who take it for granted that the military exists to bully and exploit them.

A life led overseas often reveals the enmeshment between our faith and our nationalism.  And we begin to ask questions that we may not have considered, questions that we might not like the answer to.

This U.S. Memorial Day, let’s remember soldiers around the world who have died in service along with the many more civilians who have died from war, unofficial or not.  God bless the World.


What is your relationship to Memorial Day?  And how has it changed the longer you’ve lived overseas?  How do you see nationalism creeping into your church?

Justin Schneider — USA (until something better comes up), formerly serving in Thailand.

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