I’ll never forget the feeling of visiting Washington, D.C., as a 10-year-old boy. I couldn’t believe I was standing in the historic place. I still get that feeling when I hear the national anthem or when I see one of those videos of a soldier coming home. I love America. I love being an American.
But I’m also a Christian who serves a King who commands us to love all the nations and to take the good news of the gospel to the farthest corners of the world. Can these two things coexist? Can we be both patriotic and missionary-minded?
I believe we can. As Christians, we should love our country and seek its welfare while we also hold our American heritage loosely, saving our highest allegiance for the kingdom of God. (See Jeremiah 29.)
I’ve seen two temptations for American Christians. One is the tendency to be more American than we’re Christian. To resist God’s call to love those who live outside our borders or disdain those whom God is bringing here from other nations. We can allow our politics to overtake our evangelism, our status as American citizens to be above our citizenship in heaven. I’ve also seen the opposite tendency. Sometimes we’re so fearful of being too patriotic that we’re afraid to love the country where God has sovereignly decreed we be born. But if we’re to properly love our neighbors, to seek the welfare of our cities, to understand the importance of place, we will love our country.
The best way to hold these two values in tension is to know our priorities. The best kind of citizen is one who so loves his or her neighbor that he or she is actively involved in shaping the policies that will affect him or her. One who uses his or her voice to stand up for those who have no voice. One who loves people enough to share with them the good news that they can be reconciled to the God who loves them.
Loving our country also means being honest about its faults. We should know our history, understand the deep national sins that have plagued America, and be willing to speak out against injustices that hurt the vulnerable today.
As you gather with your families this July and celebrate, do it without apologizing for your love of country. Honor the brave men and women who gave their lives so you might live in freedom. Commit yourself to using your freedom to follow Christ, to build His church, and to love your neighbor.
You do this knowing that as you serve your country and love your community, you’re ultimately serving Jesus.
Daniel Darling is the Vice President for Communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (ERLC). He is the author of several books, including Teen People of the Bible, Crash Course, iFaith, Real, Activist Faith, and his latest, The Original Jesus. He and his wife, Angela, have four children and reside in Nashville, Tenn.
This article originally appeared in HomeLife Magazine.