What Does it Mean to be Both a Christian Citizen and a Patriot?

October 7, 2020

Most people are citizens of someplace, either by birth or by choice, and with citizenship comes certain responsibilities. But what does it mean to be a good citizen? And how should Christians balance their primary allegiance to the kingdom of heaven with their earthly obligations to their communities and countries? This six-part blog series, produced under the direction of David Closson, FRC’s Director of Christian Ethics and Biblical Worldview, aims to explore how Christians can best steward these responsibilities from a biblical worldview. Learn more at FRC.org/worldview.

This is part 5. Read part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.

Patriotism is defined as devotion and support for one’s nation or homeland. This national loyalty can result from a variety of factors, such as a person’s ethnic, cultural, political, or historical background. While a love of country can be a positive trait, we must remember that Christians are ultimately citizens of heaven; our earthly nations are not eternal. Therefore, we must recognize the line between appropriate, God-honoring patriotism of our earthly nations and idolatry.

Both extreme Christian perspectives on citizenship, previously discussed in this series, have distinct attitudes on patriotism.

According to the first, which views loyalty to the state as a primary good, patriotism is vital to good citizenship because it strengthens national unity and encourages a positive form of nationalism. Therefore, according to this view, anyone who is not patriotic is not a good citizen.

The second extreme perspective views the integration of religion and political power as the ideal government and sees patriotism as only good if (and only if) the state is guided by Christians. Those who hold to this view see patriotism for a secular or pluralist country as not good.

The first extreme is correct that patriotism strengthens national unity. The second extreme is also correct that we should support Christian leaders, values, and ideals. However, as we have discussed previously, the basic premises these two perspectives are founded upon are flawed. Both regard earthly kingdoms more highly than they ought. We must remember that we are still living with the consequences of sin in a fallen world; no earthly nation is perfect or can save us. Nations are temporal, and we must be careful not to put our ultimate hope in our governing authorities.

We must be careful that our patriotism does not become overzealous and slide into a type of nationalism that willfully defends one’s country even when it is in the wrong. Extreme nationalism can also lead to more insidious beliefs, such as thinking one’s countrymen are genetically superior to all others. This perspective led numerous countries throughout history to seek the eradication of different people groups in an effort to “purify” their race or country. This happened within the past century in Turkey with the Armenian genocide and in Germany with the Holocaust. It is happening today with the Uyghurs in China.

Christians must keep two things in mind in regard to patriotism.

First, we are ambassadors of Christ before we are ambassadors of any other country. Christians have a duty to represent Christ and the kingdom of heaven while on earth. As Paul reminded the church in Corinth, “In Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors of Christ, God making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20). Everywhere Christians go on earth, we represent the kingdom of God.

Second, we are called to be involved in our countries and communities. It might seem godly to completely reject earthly patriotism and only show affection and loyalty to the kingdom of heaven. But as we discussed in the part 3 of this series, we ought to seek the welfare of the place where God has situated us and pray on its behalf. Love of neighbor should stir up godly affection for one’s country that seeks its good rather than idolizing it. We are Christians before we are Americans, but that does not mean it is wrong to be proud of being American.

By engaging politically, contributing to the economy, upholding justice, raising a new generation that fears God, and appointing leaders who will uphold godly values and virtues, we represent Christ and promote the kingdom of heaven by being involved in our nation. As we go to the polls to vote this fall, may we vote for a patriot that does not place their ultimate hope in our nation, but loves our nation enough to defend its God-given constitutional freedoms.