Rev. Matthew Holst, Pastor of Geneva Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Woodstock, Georgia, has written an article critiquing patriotism in general, and American patriotism in particular.
With the recent events in the Philippines—the endless corruption scandals among the top government officials, the monster typhoon that destroyed vast areas in the country’s midsection, and Manny Pacquiao’s victorious return—Filipinos have mixed feelings about patriotism. While all Filipinos know about the abysmal depths of corruption in the country, most are too “patriotic” to criticize the same abysmal response of the government to the typhoon disaster.
As a British implant in America, Rev. Holst’s observations every 4th of July celebrations are interesting. He starts with a thesis:
However, I feel uneasy when I read that Christians should love this country, or any other country for that matter… Again, someone replies, “You’ve already admitted you are unpatriotic; you wouldn’t understand what it is to be American.” Mea culpa. Notwithstanding such objections, I don’t see anywhere in Scripture which calls me, or anyone for that matter, to “love our country”.
This American “love for country” begins with the American notion that America started as a Christian nation and it ought to go back to its Christian roots:
However, the predominant opinion among American Christians is that America was a Christian country, and the way to return it to said Christian roots is to legislate that change… Has America really ever been a Christian country? Is there indeed such a thing in the new covenant era? If there were, one might, as a Christian, be able to stretch to the term “love” for one’s country.
If America is truly a “Christian” nation, and it ably demonstrates its Christianity by its beliefs, laws, practice, and culture, it might be reasonable for Americans to love their country. But what has America been like?
In a Christian country we might expect there to be a higher standard of public conduct. We might expect public and private morality championed and a measure of spiritual depth and progress. A Christian may well be able to love such a country. Yet is this the case with America? Are we talking of loving its history: the Fourth of July, revolution from tyrannical independence, etc.? … Can the history of this country be loved when much of it is built on the back of ungodly slavery? And what of the Civil War… when more Americans died than any other conflict before or since? Or what of the fifty million or so of the unborn who have been slaughtered here? Are we to love this?
The history of American leadership has mostly “assaulted the ‘values’ of Christians. In fact, Rev. Holst says:
My point is simple: when has there ever been a government which has refrained from opposing the church? More to the point, we should not be surprised by this opposition! Ungodliness always seeks to lord itself over others, especially Christians (John 15:18)… America, complex nation though it is, has not and cannot be a “Christian nation”. In this respect, there seems to be little to “love” about any nation in this age.
So in his concluding words, he argues that “love of country” is not commanded anywhere in Scripture:
The Biblical pattern for one’s relationship to his country seems more aimed at respect and honour, than love. In rendering to Caesar what belongs to him, we submit to God’s will in that He put in place the powers that be. Yet love does not seem to enter into this paradigm: indeed Abraham’s love was not for the earthly realm but the heavenly one (Heb 11:10). I simply don’t see in Scripture that the Christian is called to love his country. Yes, he is to submit, yield obedience, give honour, even die for one’s country in armed conflict. But love I do not see.
As a Balikbayan who has lived in America for more than half of my life, I’m also very critical of the culture of corruption and the great decline of morality in the Philippines. Like Rev. Holst, there are some good things. But I do not see much to praise and love in the Philippines: the blatant lawlessness, undiscipline, chaos, noise; the filthy neighborhoods; the sexual promiscuity; the bakla entertainment; over-glorification of celebrities such that most officials are movie, TV and sports personalities; “Filipino time”; the palusot culture, among many other things.
Just by saying these things, most Filipinos will say I’m “unpatriotic” and criticize too much, and has “crab mentality,” etc., etc. Because I have concluded even when I was in college that most Filipinos, like most other people in the world (especially Americans) are chauvinists, proud of everything they have, even the bad things—like jeepneys, noontime shows, and fiestas—because they don’t even realize that they are actually bad for their country.
More than this, most Filipinos are jingoists (again, like most people in the world), overly-proud of their country, even of the bad things that dominate their country. They’re so proud of being “the only Christian nation in Asia.” But is there anything Christian to be found in this country? And as Rev. Holst says, there is no such thing as God’s holy people on this side of the cross of Christ—except the church. And to criticize even these bad stuff is a capital offense. In the absence of preparation and response to Typhoon Yolanda disaster, many Filipinos were angry at those who were pointing out the chaotic, disorganized (actually, unorganized), and overly-delayed response, in addition to the more obvious shameless display of corruption among government officials and agencies.
But how would the government and the people change their ways if no one exposes them? If there was no one in the lower ranks of the government to blow the whistle on the plundering congresspeople and department and bureau heads, how would they be stopped? This was the great problem in Israel during the reign of their wicked kings, when the prophets were lonely, unheard voices in the wilderness that everyone ignored, so that everyone did what was right in their own eyes.
But like Rev. Holst, I can submit to the country’s authorities, whether American or Filipino, even give respect toward them. And taxes. And pray for its leaders, that they would not hinder the preaching of the gospel or persecute the holy nation. But ultimately, my “love for country” is reserved for Abraham’s “better country, that is, a heavenly one.” This is the only nation—with its citizens—that I ultimately love. Not America. Not even the Philippines.