Originally published July 2017; updated July 2019.
"God bless America, land that I love..."
"America, America, God shed His grace on thee..."
"There ain't no doubt I love this land, God bless the U.S.A.!"
As fireworks illuminate the sky from sea to shining sea this week and as families and friends gather for barbecues, games, and revelry, we, of course, celebrate that fateful moment when a group of revered founding fathers authored and approved a document officially declaring our independence from England. It is a day decorated with red, white, and blue, sprinkled with stars and stripes, and steeped in patriotism.
The church in America seems to run the gamut across the spectrum of how we view our country. We've got fervid patriots who believe that America is a shining city on a hill, and we've got the disenchanted who are no less than disgusted with the direction of the nation and its leaders. From congregations who belt "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" to the pacifist Anabaptists, we've got a myriad of interpretations on how we, as followers of Christ, should interact with our country.
There are a few things of which we can all be certain will honor God and give apt honor to our country as well. As you celebrate this perennial favorite holiday with your family today, here are some things to keep in mind to help your children understand what it means to live in America and live out our faith "the land of the free and the home of the brave."
1) DO pray for our country and our leaders.
We can never go wrong in prayer, and as we are called to not only pray for our loved ones but our enemies as well, we must petition God for those in authority no matter whether they espouse our beliefs or not. Paul entreats in 1 Timothy 2:
"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." (v.1-4)
Teach your children to buck the trend of political shaming and politician slamming. When you disagree with something our elected officials are doing, pray for them. When someone makes a decision that's in line with Scripture, thank God for them. Pray that the Lord would soften the hearts of our leaders to his guiding and that He would grant them His wisdom.
Even praying for our country as a whole is biblical. When the Israelites were in exile in Babylon - a nation wholly opposed to the holiness of God - the Lord advised his people to not only settle in, build houses and families, and in essence get comfortable, but also to "seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare." (Jeremiah 29:7)
2) DON'T act or speak with disrespect to our leaders
Regardless of how much you may disagree with the decisions of our leaders, there is a way to do so that still honors them and the position they are given. Thankfully, we live in a country where we can express our discontent freely, but this is a prime opportunity to also teach our children how to respectfully disagree, and how to take a stand for their beliefs without degrading another person.
Paul urges believers in Romans 13:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (v. 1-7)
If believers were to honor their government in Paul's time - a Roman ruler who slaughtered Christians and made worship of the true God a crime - how much more should we do the same now? Of course, Jesus also commanded to "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." While we are first citizens of heaven, we are also called to be good citizens of our temporary earthly home. Let us set an example that we may be found blameless.
3) DO be grateful for the blessings we have as Americans
The sheer wealth of our nation is undisputed. The freedoms we enjoy are vast and valuable. The resources at our disposal are abundant. As such, we can and should give thanks for living in the U.S.A. It is a privilege to be here, all shortcomings aside. Undoubtedly, the Lord has blessed this country richly over the years.
It is a mistake, though, to believe that we have earned these blessings. Yes, historically we may be able to say that God has rewarded our country for establishing itself upon and then following biblical principles. But there were (and still are) many times when our country has been guilty of great evil.
The Lord blesses those he chooses to bless, and uses the nations that he chooses to use for his purposes. We can be grateful that he has chosen to pour his favor on us for so long, and we can teach our kids to do the same.
4) DON'T confuse patriotism with nationalism
America first, at the expense of all other peoples, cannot be considered a biblical principle. Yes, we enjoy freedoms and wealth that few nations in history have. But as the rich man was admonished for hoarding his wealth in barns in Jesus' parable, so we ought not to encase ourselves in our golden tower and trample the needs of the rest of the world.
We, as Christians, are citizens of heaven first, where one day it will come to pass as John recorded in Revelation:
"After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:
Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb." (7:9-10)
It may be argued that we have more in common with a fellow believer in Iran, Honduras, or Russia than we do with a next-door neighbor who shuns the Lord and his Word.
Jesus died for all nations. As such, our love for God - and humankind in general - should supersede our love for country. As C.S. Lewis has said in his work The Four Loves, love of country "becomes a demon when it becomes a god."
5) DO learn your history, and tell the story to your children
The founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, in Philadelphia, and so our free country was officially born, right? It's that simple?
There's more to the story, believe it or not. The time leading up to and following the composition of this document was wrought with prayer, tears, sweat, and blood. It is said that on that fateful July 4, when the vote unanimously passed to approve the final version of the Declaration of Independence, the 56 men present sat for some time in a heavy, stunned silence - some praying, some weeping, all contemplating the enormity of what had just transpired and what was yet to come. These men understood what was at stake.
John Adams, Declaration signer and second President of the United States, revealed what he and many others were thinking as the colonies took this step toward freedom:
"It is the Will of Heaven, that the two Countries should be sundered forever. It may be the Will of Heaven that America shall suffer Calamities still more wasting and Distresses yet more dreadful. If this is to be the Case, it will have this good Effect, at least: it will inspire Us with many Virtues, which We have not, and correct many Errors, and Vices, which threaten to disturb, dishonor, and destroy Us. – The Furnace of Affliction produces Refinement, in States as well as Individuals…. But I must submit all my Hopes and Fears to an overruling Providence, in which, unfashionable as the Faith may be, I firmly believe."
Truly, the faith of our founding fathers is evident throughout the text of the Declaration. According to the Providence Foundation:
"The reliance upon God was so universally adhered to among those in America that the Continental Congress insisted it be made clear in this seminal document. When the draft of the Declaration was debated before Congress, they added the phrase, “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World, for the rectitude of our intentions,” as well as the words “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.” Thus, we see the Continental Congress declaring to the entire world their Christian convictions."
While the debate continues as to whether America is outright a "Christian nation," many of our first leaders were Christian and applied biblical principles in crafting the Declaration, Constitution, and other vital documents and decisions in the birth of our country. We can share several noteworthy statements made by our early leaders with our children, to help us all understand this rich heritage.
John Hancock, who famously affixed his oversized signature first to the Declaration of Independence, said in a 1774 Boston speech: "Let us humbly commit our righteous cause to the great Lord of the Universe…. Let us joyfully leave our concerns in the hands of Him who raises up and puts down the empires and kingdoms of the earth as He pleases."
On August 1, 1776, the day before the engrossed copy of the Declaration was signed, founding father Samuel Adams delivered an address in which he declared “we have this day restored the Sovereign to Whom alone men ought to be obedient. He reigns in heaven and… from the rising to the setting sun, may His kingdom come.”
And as for the traditions surrounding the celebration of Independence Day, John Adams foresaw them in a letter he wrote to his wife Abigail on July 3, 1776, though he predicted July 2 to be our official holiday, that being the day the Continental Congress voted to officially declare our independence from England (July 4 was the day that the final version of our official Declaration was approved). In his letter, Adams wrote:
"The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.
"You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. -- I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. -- Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not."
And so, friends, do commemorate this "Day of Deliverance" with pomp, parade, and illuminations...as well as "solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty," who orders all things and granted us freedoms beyond what any government could ever establish.
Here at Veritas, we delight in modeling and teaching our students how to think critically about tough issues, seek out and stand upon Truth, and how to dialogue with others - especially those with whom we disagree - with respect and clarity. If you'd like to see how this works and learn more, we invite you to come for a summer tour and discover the rich traditions & deeply joyful learning of Classical Christian Education.