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“…and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation.”
Acts 17:26 (NASB)
I distinctly remember celebrating Independence Day as a young boy growing up in the Dixie Hills housing projects on the west side of Atlanta. For black families in the 1970s, especially children, the 4th of July was, in many ways, a lot like Christmas.
It was a celebration not only of the birth of America as a nation, but also of family, friends, and God, whom we always credited with providing us the opportunity to live in such a free nation as the United States.
Poor But Proud
Despite the material poverty experienced by the majority of black families in the Dixie Hills community, and others like it, we never lost sight of the significance of having the God-ordained privilege of living in a nation where people are free.
Though my family’s economic station – the measure by which most Americans seem to define a “fair society” – may not have been on par with others we knew, it never negatively influenced or impacted the high view of America that had been imparted to us by our hard-working parents, each of whom had only a high school education.
The elation of celebrating Independence Day was a constant reality for me and my two siblings, as my mom, whose birthday happened to be the 4th of July, would accompany us on the Number 3 bus (we didn’t own a car) to the West End Mall where she would let us shop for new red-white-and-blue “patriotic” clothes to wear that day.
Poor as we were, to us, Independence Day wasn’t just another “holiday” that afforded us a day out of school or our parents a day off from work. It was an occasion that everyone celebrated because we were all Americans who were proud of America. Whatever apparel her spare few dollars could afford – be it a new t-shirt, a pair of jeans, a new pair of Converse® hi-top sneakers – my mother would buy for us.
And then there were the picnics at Washington Park.
Ribs, chicken, potato salad, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, and all the Big-K (Kroger® grocery store brand) soda you could consume. Not to mention the requisite Soul Train line dance that would ultimately – and hilariously – break out after everyone had had their fill of food.
Indeed, the 4th of July truly was a celebration for most black families back then. The level of excitement my brother, sister, and I had in celebrating Independence Day was as high as that of any child on Christmas Eve night.
But, as I said, that was then.
The Inevitable Assertion
These days it seems there is hardly anything of any redemptive value about America. It is as if all anyone wants to do today is complain about how oppressive it is to live here. Depending on who you ask, everything that was once celebratory about America now wreaks of racism (or any other “ism” you might care to invent).
Think about it.
In 2017 America it is now considered “racist” to: fly the American flag, support the military, cite the United States Constitution, quote any of the Founding Fathers (“because they were all racist slaveholders”), claim to be a Christian or attend a Christian church, pray at any public event, and recite the Pledge of Allegiance to name only a few.
All of the above are things I was not only encouraged as a child to do, but was expected to do as an American citizen.
Inevitably, there will be those who will read this post who, instead of taking the time to digest my comments in context, will instead resort to such knee-jerk responses as, “But racism still exists!” (as if I don’t already know that).
Though this blog post is not about whether or not racism “still exists” in America, my response to that statement is this: of course racism exists in America – Duh?! – and in every other nation on the face of the globe. I am not oblivious to that. In fact, during my lifetime I’ve probably read more on the subject of slavery, particularly in America, than on any other subject with the exception of theology.
Because there is a direct relationship between our innate condition as sinful human beings, and the enslavement of one person who is created in the image of God by another person who, likewise, is created in the image of God.
Racism exists because sin exists.
It is time we realize that racism will continue to be a reality in America, and in the world, as long as sin continues to be a reality in the hearts of people like you and me. In that regard America is no different than any other country on earth, because every nation is populated by sinners.
Why so many today want to isolate America as if it were a uniquely racist nation is beyond me. Take a census of any nation’s population and that is exactly the number of sinners you will find.
The only remedy for racism in America – or any nation for that matter – is the gospel of Jesus Christ. For only the supernatural power of the gospel can transform the hearts of those who espouse such God-dishonoring attitudes (Exodus 22:21; Ezekiel 36:26-27; Romans 1:16: 1 John 3:16-17; 1 John 4:7, 20).
I’m Not (Yet) Home
America has a tarnished history. Absolutely, it does. You will get no argument from me there.
Then, again, we should expect nothing less than that America would have such a tarnished history considering how the people who made that history were themselves tarnished by sin (Ephesians 2:1-3).
As Christians in America, we must be ever-mindful that our identity is found only in Jesus Christ, not in our nationality, and that America is not our home (Galatians 3:27-28; 2 Peter 3:13). With this reality in mind, any displays or expressions of national patriotism must be tempered by the understanding that our true home is in heaven.
“And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of the Lord has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” – Revelation 21:23-27 (NASB)
That said, notwithstanding its history of slavery and other civil and human rights abuses that have occurred – and continue to occur (e.g. abortion) – I consider myself blessed by God to live in this nation called America.
As imperfect as it is, and as imperfect as it undoubtedly will remain, to have been born and raised in America – despite the material possessions my family never had or the opportunities to which we were never exposed – is nothing short of an act of grace on the part of a sovereign God who, in His divine wisdom and omniscience, could have chosen otherwise for me.
If I had to do it all over again, there is nothing about my experience as a black American that I would change.
As a follower of Jesus Christ, who recognizes that my primary loyalty is to Him, I realize that I am to live in this nation as an alien and stranger (1 Peter 2:11-12). And it is against the background of those spiritual realities that I understand and accept that this temporal nation owes me absolutely nothing.
Contrary to what the mainstream media predictably and stereotypically portrays, I am not some “angry black man looking under every nook and cranny for evidence of racism by white people so I can hold them hostage to my own subjective social justice agenda.”
When considering the devastating effects of the fall of mankind into sin (Genesis 3), it stands to reason that instances of injustice, unfairness, and inequality will occur in a world and nation that continues to be populated by sinners. And yet, there are significantly more instances when justice, fairness, and equality win out than do not.
“Be glad that you are free. Free to change your mind. Free to go most anywhere, anytime. Be glad that your are free. There’s many a man who’s not. Be glad for what you have, baby, what you got. Be glad for what you got.” – Prince, ‘Free‘, from the album ‘1999′.
So, yes, I will continue to fly the American flag, support our nation’s military, cite the Constitution, quote the Founding Fathers, boldly declare that I am a Christian, attend church on a regular basis, pray at public school events, and proudly recite the Pledge of Allegiance when appropriate.
All of this with the full understanding that I am looking forward to a far better country than this (2 Peter 3:13), where I will be free to celebrate the greatest independence of all – freedom from sin – and to enjoy forever the bountiful and unfathomable wonders of eternal life that have been graciously and undeservedly granted to me through the atoning work of my Savior, Jesus Christ, by His sacrificial death in my place on the cross (Romans 5:6-8).
Looking back on my childhood, there are undoubtedly many who would say that America did not afford me much in terms of material prosperity and opportunity. But, I’m okay with that because, you see, the Dixie Hills housing projects is only where I was born. It is in Christ that I was reborn.
Which makes heaven, not America, my home now.
Is it yours?
Soli Deo Gloria!
Should Christians Be Patriotic? – Interview with John Piper (Desiring God)
The Home of the Brave – Jon Bloom (Desiring God)
Citizens of Heaven – Keith Mathison (Ligonier Ministries)
Thoughts on Christian Patriotism – Reformation 21
What Is True Liberty? – Gene Edward Veith (Ligonier Ministries)
Be Thankful For America, But Do Not Rest Your Hope In Her – Fred Greco