I'm about half-way through a great book called Jesus For President by Shane Claiborne. I'll post more about it after I've finished it. It's one of those truly rare thought-provoking, personally-stretching books.
In one section on whether or not the USA is a Christian nation he prints the following quotes by politicians I'm sure you've heard of:
"There's power, wonder-working power, in the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people." (President Bush, 2003 State of the Union Address) Putting "America" in where the old gospel hymn places "the blood of the Lamb" is not only idolatry, it also just doesn't have the same ring to it; try singing it on Sunday morning. (Claiborne's commentary, not mine.)
"The ideal of America is the hope of all mankind. ... That hope still lights our way. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." (George W. Bush, Ellis Island, 2002)
And the recent words of Barack Obama on The Late Show with David Letterman (April 9, 2007): "This country is still the last best hope on earth."
Reading these quotes and dozens more like them just got me to thinking about how closely we associate patriotism with religion. I think the lines are so blurred that often we're blind to it. If you're like me, you hear patriotic, political statements like the ones above and at first you don't think anything about it. You even agree and swell with pride. It takes modern-day prophets to point out the error of such statements and the error of our own way of thinking to wake us up. Such prophets are difficult to hear, but necessary to keep us on the straight and narrow.
Don't get me wrong - I'm not suggesting that patriotism is a sin. I'm as patriotic as the next guy. I love this country and consider us blessed to have the freedoms we have. In fact, this last Sunday I played a short video to recognize our soldiers and highlight Memorial Day. The intent was only to remind the church to be thankful for God's blessings in our lives. Not to suggest that the USA is "God's chosen country" or to make any comment on the war or anything - simply a reminder to not take for granted God's blessings. But when we make or agree with statements like the ones above, it crosses the line. It turns "American ideals" into an idol. We have but one Savior, one hope, one power, one light - his name is Jesus.