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From the Editor

American and Christian, both

Most of you reading this email are both Christians and Americans, two realities you inhabit as naturally as you breathe — even if it doesn’t always feel that natural. I know this pretty well. Mine is the group of Christians who complain about American flags being on display in church sanctuaries. No small number of us remain befuddled by the interplay between Bible stories and patriotic lore in Sunday school. And we’re the ones who now are so often so uncomfortable — disenfranchised? — by a certain variety of Christian political rhetoric that we shy away from the whole thing.

But what if, in attempting faithfulness, obscuring the American part leads us to neglect Christian duty?

Thankfully, we have thinkers like Richard Mouw to help us. In this holiday week edition of Common Good Monthly, we picked 10 insightful quotes from Mouw’s 2022 book, How to Be a Patriotic Christian: Love of Country as Love of Neighbor, that each give a lesson in how we can be patriotic Christians. So as you gather and grill and swim on Thursday, let these thoughts shape how you — how we — pray and thank and serve. — Aaron Cline Hanbury, editor

“I don’t know how to get the folks on those opposite ends of that spectrum to listen to each other. But I take comfort in the fact that they do represent extreme ends of a spectrum and that there is considerable room between the extremes. I find it helpful to explore the spaces between the extremes, in the confidence that the Christian message gives us resources for that kind of exploring.”
How to Be a Patriotic Christian: Love of Country as Love of Neighbor, Page 2

“Now here is for me a basic point: being patriotic is much more about having an affection for the nation rather than for the state. We can see this clearly in our patriotic songs. For one thing, they are most frequently sung in nonpolitical settings: athletic events, concerts, school classrooms, community organizations, Scout camps, military academies. And these songs are in turn connected to many other “peoplehood” phenomena: parades, city parks, monuments, flags, pledges, portraits of past leaders, national holidays, and civic celebrations—and more. All of this is meant to sustain an enduring experience of national identity.”
Page 29

“Earlier, I mentioned Aristotle’s important observation that we first learn to be bonded to others in kinship relations, with that soon expanding to friendships with people with whom we have common interests. All of that is, in turn, crucial preparation for civic kinship/friendship. The family meal, then, is a necessary learning experience in our development as social beings. The dinner table is our first workshop in learning manners. And it gives many of us our first experiences in sitting for forty minutes with people with whom we are irritated! This is necessary developmental preparation for later getting along with fellow citizens with whom we disagree about important matters.”
Page 41

“Earlier I mentioned the importance of undergirding our patriotic commitments with a sense of civic kinship. I am very fond of that concept. That notion of kinship can take us a long way in understanding our bonds to other human beings. We have strong family ties to other Christians, wherever they are. But we also have deep bonds with all human beings—persons who, whether they acknowledge it or not, are created in the image and likeness of the God and Father of Jesus Christ. Attending a baseball game at Dodger Stadium, visiting a tourist site in India, shopping for groceries—these too are, in the broader human sense, family visits.”
Page 47

“Another important element of this Romans 13 passage has to do with the counsel for believers to actively ‘do right,’ which has a meaning that is independent of mere obedience to governmental dictates. It is not up to governmental leaders to decide what counts as doing ‘right’—we know that by consulting the will of God. This means actively doing that which is good in the Lord’s sight. The active dimension is important for Christian patriotism. Truly showing love for the United States of America is not simply learning to ‘live and let live’ while periodically doing one’s duty by paying taxes and remembering to vote. Loving one’s country must take the form of actively engaging in doing ‘right.’”
Page 61

“In attempting to apply to present-day United States what Old Testament passages have to say about government, we obviously have to acknowledge that we do not live in a monarchy. America has a more complex arrangement; our ‘king’ actually consists of three equal branches of national government—the president and cabinet members, the Congress, and the courts. Even so, we need to think about what it means for this government to exhibit a nurturing spirit that cares about the well-being of all the people, with special attention to ‘the needy.’”
Page 74

“To be patriotic Christians, then, is to love our government in the right way, and this means being sure to pray for it.”
Page 78

“Our prayers for government should also include expressions of gratitude. This may seem a bit of a stretch for some of us, given the much-discussed divisiveness these days in the halls of power. But it is important to think more broadly about the ways in which governments serve us.”
Page 80

“When I first started studying Christian political thought as a college student, I remember being given by one of my professors a decidedly ‘necessary evil’ perspective on American democracy. Our democratic system, he argued, is really not very good—but it does have the virtue of not being quite as bad as any of the alternatives. Our system manages, he said, to prevent a large number of sinful people committed to their own selfish purposes from doing as much harm to each other as they otherwise would.

“I found that viewpoint to be a bit of a downer. I wanted something more positive. And over the years I have come to cherish some valuable aspects of our diverse culture in America, as well as our way of going about the tasks of governing ourselves. There is no need for me to go into academic detail here about the merits and demerits of the American political system. We Christians can foster a healthy spirit of patriotism without each citizen being required to grasp the philosophical basics of democratic theory. I do want to emphasize, however, that we ought to celebrate the benefits of living our lives as citizens in the kind of diverse culture that we experience in the United States.”
Page 86

“Simone Weil wanted a love of country that had deep roots in a sense of belonging. She came to experience that belonging, that rootedness in French peoplehood, by being open to feeling genuine pain on behalf of her country. She realized that the love of nation will often bring sadness to our souls.

“That being patriotic might bring genuine sadness into our lives should not surprise us. We can see this by thinking about how the capacity for sadness is a key element in our love of our families. If having a loving relationship with my kinfolk can only be sustained by my being proud of them, or by my needing the stimulus of family celebrations, then my sense of belonging does not go deep. To be sure, being proud of the accomplishments of people we love and enjoying family gatherings are good things. But being a healthy family member also means hanging in there with loved ones even when they bring me grief. Sadness is a necessary element in compassion.”
Page 136