I have always been bothered by churches that display the American flag along the Christian flag. Some churches have gone even further, hosting something called a Freedom Sunday, along with fireworks, patriotic music, and an address by Oliver North. One is forced to ask, "Who is Caesar here?" It doesn't feel right, not because I do not have an affinity for the USA in many respects, but because it really has nothing to do with our Lord and Savior, and his message of love for the world, and because it has absolutely no place in the worship of that Lord. It all boils down to lordship.
This post was spurred by a tweet (see above) I came across today, and the "amen" that unconsciously came from my mouth on reading it. It also reminded me of a quote by Sinclair Lewis: "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross." It's a prescient quote, especially since America's more "patriotic" churches are the ones who most align themselves with the political Right.
One of the reasons this is crucial to understand has to do with empire. From the start, language about Jesus (lord, savior, messiah/king, kingdom, et al) signaled a collision of claims. For his followers, Jesus, in contrast to Caesar, is lord and savior (these were terms used of Caesar Augustus). In The Death of the Messiah, Raymond Brown points out, “in first-century Palestine the charge that Jesus was claiming the ‘king of the Jews’ title might well be understood by the Romans as an attempt to re-establish the kingship over Judea and Jerusalem exercised by the Hasmoneans and Herod the Great.” John 11:45-53 seems to imply the fear of imperial powers some Jewish leaders who were allied with the Roman empire had.
Also, and more to the point of the title of this post, patriotism (or allying oneself to national identity) is not congruent with a Spirit-filled life. According to Galatians 5:22-23, "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." Any identity that supersedes that found in Christ, including patriotism, is opposed to life in Christ.