Popular Reformed theologian John Piper warned Christians about being too patriotic and placing their loyalty to the “fatherland” over their loyalty to Jesus Christ.
In an episode of the podcast “Ask Pastor John” posted before Independence Day, a listener named Matt asked Piper about how patriotism fit in the Christian life.
“Obviously, as Christians we are to live as strangers, exiles, aliens, and pilgrims on this earth. Is there an appropriate place in the Christian life to be patriotic? If so, what is it? And at what point does our patriotism go too far?” inquired Matt.
Piper responded that patriotism, a love for one’s country, “can be right and good” even as Christians should identify as “exiles, refugees, sojourners.”
He believes that the Bible condones “special affections” in the life of a Christian, such as for a particular city or tribe or nation, in addition to the general love for humanity.
“For example, Paul says in Galatians 6:10, ‘As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith,’” explained Piper.
“So it’s as though there is this specialness about those who are close to you and like you. There is a kind of affection for them that’s different.”
However, Piper also said that such affections should only exist “up to a point” and that Christians should “never give them absolute allegiance.”
“Never feel more attached to your fatherland or your tribe or your family or your ethnicity than you do to the people of Christ,” he continued.
“Everyone who is in Christ is more closely and permanently united to others in Christ, no matter the other associations, than we are to our nearest fellow citizen or party member or brother or sister or spouse.”
Piper bemoaned the “many horrible indignities” that have occurred because Christians failed to realize that “we are more bound together with other believers — no matter their ethnicity or their political alignments or their nationality — than we are to anybody in our own fatherland.”
“In the end, Christ has relativized all human allegiances, all human loves. Keeping Christ supreme in our affections makes all our lesser loves better, not worse.”
The extent to which churches, especially those in the United States, should observe patriotic sentiments has been a source of much debate among clergy and laity alike.
Some, including First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, annually hold a patriotic-themed worship service every Fourth of July weekend.
FBC Dallas Senior Pastor Robert Jeffress has defended the practice, explaining in a 2018 interview with conservative columnist Todd Starnes that it is about worshiping the "God Who has blessed America” and not America itself.
“I believe there's nothing wrong and everything right, according to the Bible, for expressing gratitude to God for His blessings upon our country,” he said at the time.
Also in 2018, Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and the Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners released a Reclaiming Jesus statement, which denounces concepts like “America first” as a “theological heresy for followers of Christ.”
“While we share a patriotic love for our country, we reject xenophobic or ethnic nationalism that places one nation over others as a political goal,” reads the statement in part.
“We reject domination rather than stewardship of the earth’s resources, toward genuine global development that brings human flourishing for all of God’s children. Serving our own communities is essential, but the global connections between us are undeniable.”