At the Frontline Experience in September, part of one of the sessions gave some history of the missions movement around the world in the past three centuries, and helped explain some of the reasons why some countries, particularly in Africa and Asia, resent missionaries so much. One of the main reasons: The cross was intertwined with the flag. Missionaries tended to go to places where the flags of colonizing countries went. Since the native people resented being colonized by European nations--they also resented the God of the missionaries who followed those flags.
With that in mind, I have thought about the practice that many churches, not just ours, follow of having special services for Veterans' Day, Memorial Day, and the Fourth of July. (This thought does not include schools - there is a place for emphasizing and teaching patriotism in all schools, private Christian ones included.) Yes, we should honor veterans and our country - but is the church the place in which to do this? I thought of this at a church patriotic service when some Indian people, complete with saris, were visiting. What did they think of a service where Christ was being preached, but where America was being honored?
Suppose you were in a foreign country, were searching for something to fill the hole in your heart, and had been invited to a local religious service of some type with which you were not familiar. Inside the meeting place you found the flag of that country being given prominence. Would you be drawn to the message of the church? Or would the flag be an obstacle?
One of the reasons that many Asians find it difficult to become Christians is because their religion is so bound up with their patriotism. Loyalty to their country's religion IS loyalty to their country. It is a huge difficulty for them to overcome.
Those of us born and reared in America don't think twice about the appropriateness of patriotic services. But we serve a God who transcends patriotism, and we preach that same God in our churches. If we say that God is for all - maybe we ought to rethink the emphasis that we place on honoring our individual countries in our churches.