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Home/Rod Dreher/Should Churches Be ‘Patriotic’?

Should Churches Be ‘Patriotic’?

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I was driving around Baton Rouge this afternoon and saw a billboard advertising this upcoming event at a Southern Baptist Church in town. It reminded me of yesterday’s (really quite good) discussion here about why the Southern Baptist Convention is losing so many members.

My first reaction upon seeing the billboard was, “Man, how 1980s can they get?” I remember driving around Baton Rouge back in the Eighties when I was a college student there, and being shocked by passing a Baptist church that had a Howitzer on its front lawn, and a sign advertising an upcoming speech by Col. Oliver North. I was startled that a church would be so nakedly political and militaristic.

This “Celebration” event doesn’t appear to be nearly as militaristic, and not politically charged, but it struck me as a real throwback. Yet this is happening at the Baptist church near the LSU campus. Maybe they know their audience.

Still, this kind of America-worship inside a church makes me extremely uncomfortable. There is nothing wrong with a Christian being patriotic, but I find it highly problematic for a church to identify the Gospel with nationalism. Why is a church offering a “salute” to America? This razzle-dazzle conflation of Christian piety with nationalism is terrible for the church, I think, and would put me, as a religious conservative, off from attending a church that believed in doing so, because it strikes me as dangerously close to idolatry. But that’s me.

Will churches like University Baptist keep doing this when the American government begins to take away religious freedom, which is a very big deal historically to Baptists? What will Baptist leaders tell their congregations when the country towards which they have encouraged a worshipful attitude starts to identify Baptists and other Christians who don’t agree with government policy and mainstream opinion as “un-American” and “un-patriotic”?

It’s not the Eighties anymore, brethren and sistren.

UPDATE: This comment just came in from a member of UBC:

As a long time member of University Baptist Church, I feel it is appropriate to make some comments. First, there is a vast difference between a Southern Baptist Church and a Baptist Church which happens to be in the South. For example, our church allows women to serve in all leadership roles available to men. We are open to all who would worship God with us. We have no flags of any kind in our sanctuary except on very rare occasions and we certainly do not equate loyalty to God with loyalty to country. The messages we hear on Sunday are not to worship our country but to change it by making it more just and more tolerant. This is reflected in our ministry to international students who attend our local university and by our involvement with a neighborhood school which services children from a low income area of our city. It is easy to stereotype churches but this has about as much validity as stereotyping races of people. This program of patriotic music is our way of showing our appreciation of those, especially those from our church family, who have served and are serving in our armed forces. My father served in the military and my uncle died serving his country. I am proud of them in that they willingly made sacrifices for our freedom and for the security of our country, a country that allows people to criticize and stereotype others without fear of persecution. I invite Mr. Dreher to attend, and any others who would like to show their appreciation for this great gift we have been given.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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