Patriotism and the gospel in American churches: 8 suggestions

May 27, 2016

I was raised in a patriotic family. My Dad is a retired Marine. My father-in-law is a decorated Vietnam Vet. My brother flew B-52's in the War on Terror. When the flag goes up or passes by, I stop what I'm doing and put my hand over my heart. I know all the words to the “Star Spangled Banner,” and I sing it proudly when it’s played at sporting events. My son is a cadet at West Point. All that to say, I'm patriotic, proud to be an American and pro-military.

I grew up going to patriotic churches in the South. We always made a big deal out the Sunday before the 4th of July. There were American flags in the auditorium, recognition of veterans, patriotic music and, occasionally, pledges in these special worship services. Most of the people in the churches I grew up in were white, and nearly all (if not all) were American citizens.  Many had served in the military. These experiences seemed normal, natural and even spiritual.

But now these kinds of worship services and patriotic elements have been called into question by many on social media and in other platforms. Should American Christians bring our patriotism into our churches and worship services? Does “Old Glory” in the auditorium necessarily detract from the King of Glory? And what about the increasingly multicultural makeup of our churches and our society? Could brothers & sisters find our patriotic displays off-putting, or even offensive? Should we be concerned about confusing our people by focusing on American patriotism when God beckons us to long for a better country?

I serve as a pastor in a multicultural church in a multicultural city where many attendees are not American citizens. While I still want to incorporate patriotic elements in our worship services from time to time, I want to be careful not to explicitly or implicitly conflate American patriotism with the gospel of Jesus. Over the years, I have developed some thoughts about how to do this in an appropriate way. Perhaps you will find the following to be helpful:

  1. We should pay attention our cultural context. I pastor a church in the United States of America. So occasionally, we acknowledge and celebrate (or lament and mourn) national milestones, triumphs and tragedies. As a pastor, I want to take advantage of the natural opportunities that these holidays and cultural events provide to teach people about the intersection of the gospel, patriotism and citizenship.
  2. We should give honor where honor is due. In the U.S., we have religious freedom that has been purchased and protected by the blood of patriots. It is right to honor that resolve and sacrifice, even in church. That's why, in my church, we sometimes recognize veterans, gold-star moms and others who have served our nation with distinction. But this principle is not uniquely American. Christians in every country should give honor to the things about their nations that are honorable.
  3. We should acknowledge the role that Christians played in the founding of our nation. Many of the founding fathers were professing believers in Jesus. Some were not. All of them were flawed sinners. We should celebrate the influence of those believers, much like we celebrate the place of believers in the Civil Rights Movement or the movement to abolish slavery.
  4. We should point out that the most important American idea is really a Bible idea. The assertion that all men are created equal and are endowed with unalienable rights comes straight from the Christian Scriptures. Even though our nation fails to live up to this ideal in many ways, it is nonetheless an aspirational belief that is central to the Christian worldview.
  5. We should remind American believers that Jesus isn't an American and that his eternal government will be centered in a new Jerusalem (not a new Washington, D.C.).  In many churches, there is often an unspoken cultural undercurrent suggesting that America has a special place in God's plan—almost like America is a "new Israel." That belief cannot be biblically supported and caters to an unhelpful arrogance toward believers in other nations. Our preaching on patriotism should involve a healthy dose of biblical eschatology that could be appreciated and embraced by Christians from every country.
  6. We should remember that the United States of America is only a temporary institution. The Bible teaches that all kings and kingdoms will pass away. So, whether Americans turn back to God or not, our government (like all current governments) is destined to give way to a better government with a better King.
  7. We should look forward to a better city and a better country. Abraham and the children of Israel were given the promised land. But they still longed for something better. The gospel promises believers a world where sorrow, pain and death have been eradicated and where our tears have been wiped away. That is the country we should be preaching toward and longing for with all of our hearts.
  8. We should teach American Christians to desire a free nation, not a Christian nation. We should be careful not to assert or affirm that America is uniquely for Christians. It's not. Believers should want to keep America free so that religious beliefs and expressions can compete in the open marketplace of ideas. We want to allow people of all faiths to worship, demonstrate, articulate and live out the implications of their religious beliefs. Christian pastors should teach our people to be confident that the gospel and the Christian worldview is powerful and persuasive.

Some preachers will choose to completely do away with any mention of patriotism in their services or sermons, eschewing these elements as crass revivalism. But, in my view, it would be a shame to ignore these easy cultural opportunities to connect the gospel of Christ to the lives of everyday Americans. Finding the right balance isn't easy, but gospel preachers have a responsibility to engage cultural issues, offer biblical encouragement and critique to government leaders, and to teach our people about a biblical stewardship of our citizenship.

But, most importantly, we all should preach about the day when government of the people, by the people and for the people will permanently yield to government of Jesus, by Jesus for Jesus. Our people need to hear that our true citizenship is in heaven, and our true King is Christ.

Jimmy Scroggins

Jimmy Scroggins is a husband, father, pastor, teacher and coach. Jimmy and his wife, Kristin, have 8 children—James, Daniel, Jeremiah, Isaac, Stephen, Anna Kate, Mary Claire, and Caleb. Since July 2008, he has served as the Lead Pastor of Family Church—a network of neighborhood churches in South Florida. Jimmy is … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24