Millennial Christians Are Often Wrong about Patriotism
“The Future of Patriotism”
There are a number of questions which animate the current political climate. They are age-old questions as to the function of nations, responsibility of citizens, purview of leaders, and mindset of Christians toward this world. The future of American vitality and its effectiveness in the world will be predicated on how the coming generation answers these questions. Providence exists to provide a forum not only to equip the American mind to engage the real world but also for the coming generation to debate these questions and concerns within the light of Christian convictional history. By having these debates and addressing these questions, it is our hope to be a light of certainty amidst the confusion of this present dark age.
To that end, we wanted to know, is patriotism wrong? Is nationalism valid? What role is there for religion in America? Is religious freedom at odds with liberal democracy? We challenged some leading millennial writers and thinkers to step into the arena and assess their generation and their nation in this current moment.
Other articles in this series include:
“Imagine Nations Were Selfless—It’s No Paradise,” by Brad Littlejohn
“Should Nation-States Be Thrown in the Dustbin? Five Issues to Consider,” by Barton Gingerich
“Freedom of Religion and the Christian Ethics of the Nation-State,” by Andrew T. Walker
“What the Bible Says about Nations and States,” by Taylor S. Brown
“The Nations after Christmas,” by Nathan Hitchen
“The Vice of Nationalism,” by Jared Morgan McKinney
“For God and Country, Part 1: Christian Patriotism,” by Mark Melton
“For God and Country, Part 2: Not Necessarily the Nation-State,” by Mark Melton
“The American Nation-State, Cosmopolitanism, and Identity Politics in the Millennial Imagination,” by Alexandra Nieuwsma
My generation is not very patriotic.
I feel mildly unpleasant adding my voice to another article concerned with the shortcomings of young Christians in the US. From their alleged poor work ethic, flightiness, and obsession with cell phones—every corner of the internet seems to offer comprehensive critiques of millennials. As my generation continues to age, I think both the sting and the social significance of these critiques will be lessened. However, one trend is particularly concerning. It has become more and more apparent to me that among some of my peers there is often a disaffection and sometimes even antagonism toward our country. For instance, according to Gallup, in 2003 70 percent of American adults considered themselves “extremely proud to be Americans,” while in 2018 only 42 percent describe themselves this way. Why the intense decrease? Millennials are bringing that number way down. I do not think this disturbing downward trend will be disappearing, and we have yet to see the significance of its full social sting.
As a millennial believer, I have an interesting career configuration as a defense intelligence contractor and an evangelical Baptist church planter in Washington, DC. Our church preaches the gospel and cares for the poor and vulnerable. We are a diverse bunch of people—racially, educationally, vocationally, and politically. I also care about the security and prosperity of the US homeland and other US interests. I enjoy both pursuits and feel a sense of personal accomplishment and God’s satisfaction. Nevertheless, not all of my peers would say these two pursuits are morally compatible for Christians. Why? In their self-enlightened minds, over the last few decades America has been exposed as a nation that never was “the city on the hill.” Rather, she is something much worse—a package of injustices, foreign policy mistakes, meanness, and abuses of power.
Particularly for Christians, millennial believers have been influenced by theologically progressive interpretations of the Bible’s teaching on the purpose and role of government and the relationship between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Man. Adding more fuel to the fire, these same Christians more often than not hold a viewpoint that frames most of the Republican Party, political elites, and sometimes simply majority-culture power brokers as collaborators and cogs in the “Empire,” a darker, more twisted version of the Kingdom of Man. The Empire, perhaps a Star Wars analogy or a signal toward Nero’s Rome, is code for their understanding of America and perhaps even the American project as evil. For many of these Christians, supporting and participating in the Empire—the current government, military, or political arena—is compromise and sinful.
American politics, of course, has been a major influence in the reemergence of the Empire viewpoint. Decreases in love for country are more pronounced among political liberal millennials (the majority of millennials), while there are almost no changes among conservative millennials. Barack Obama, critiqued heavily by conservatives, often seemed to have an apologetic posture on the world stage for the past transgressions of the US throughout his tenure. For many, his message seemed to suggest that America was a very defective nation needing redemption. Progressive and some conservative groups’ current embarrassment over Donald Trump and his representation of America on the national stage appears to be obvious factors in the decline of patriotism for some. Statistics and experience seem to suggest, however, the declines began long before Donald Trump or Barack Obama became president. Hot button issues involving the environment, race relations, guns, socioeconomics, equality, war, military force and projection, and changes in cultural norms have polarized our nation. The result is that we find an increasing number of citizens unwilling to associate or stand up for the country as a whole, as the other half of the population holds diametrically opposing values.
It is of course concerning that many millennial American Christian peers hold apathetic views toward patriotism and even worse advocate for the America as Empire perspective. Adopting a view that perpetually shames your own country and implicitly rejects any type of redemption seems like a very non-Christian posture. Encumbered with such views, I imagine it is quite difficult to rejoice in the service of our men and women in uniform, rank-and-file government workers, and national leaders. It must be emotionally taxing to wrongly contend that all our world’s evils are traceable to US policy, past and present. Intellectually, it must be tiring to constantly use a lenient standard to judge the moral character and culpability of Middle Eastern countries and use a completely different legalistic standard to judge and dismiss the moral character of your own country.
America is not an evil empire. Serving, defending, and celebrating your country does not make you less of a devoted Christian or a cog in a murderous colonial machine. According to the Bible, God does not hate national identity and feeling. Like it or not, we’re part of whatever family, community, or nation into which we were born.
Nevertheless, America still has a long way to go. Many millennial American Christians may receive the honor to serve God by serving country. Be encouraged: while the Bible encourages us to resist the domineering abuses of power and restore broken societal structures, there is never a prohibition against participating, immersing, and serving in your nation.
America is imperfect, but she is a huge gift to the world. We should rightly find hope that we have a great future home in heaven. We also should find hope that America is our homeland. We have the tremendous opportunity and freedom to continue making her better—for us and our world.
Benjamin Palka graduated from the State University College at Buffalo State with a bachelor of arts in communication and earned a master of theology from Southeastern Baptist. He works in the defense industry and also serves as a church planter at King’s Church in Washington, DC.
Photo Credit: By Paul Noble Photography, via Flickr.