I always have some mixed emotions around the 4th of July. I love our country, and I am proud to be an American. But some of the 4th of July rhetoric is really over the top. I do not espouse the rather simplistic thinking which says, “My country – love it or leave it.” I do believe that one of the most important characteristics of patriotism is loyalty, but it is also important to love my country enough to want it to be better. So simply waving the flag and overlooking the failures of our nation is not a sign of patriotism. True patriots love their country enough to offer criticism, hope for a better future, and willingness to work for change.

Likewise true patriots give credit to the worthiness and positive characteristics of other nations. Just because we love the USA that does not mean we have to impugn the value of other nations. In my travels to over 25 countries, I have found much to appreciate in other nations. I am always glad to come home and be greeted by US Customs saying, “Welcome home,” but that does not negate the positives that other countries have to offer.

I have also run into some of the typical “flag controversies” that have plagued some congregations. I remember one church I served where the sanctuary remodeling resulted in our moving the American flag and the Christian flag to a new placement – off to the side of the chancel and with a nice spotlight on the flags. Most people in that church saw the new placement as an improvement to having the flags on each side of the altar table, but some seriously objected and wanted the flag (mostly the American flag) back in the center of the chancel. We survived that disagreement, and in fact it provided a good opportunity to discuss the centrality of the Cross, rather than the centrality of the Flag in worship.

All of which leads me to affirm this week that I am so glad to live in a country where both the Cross and the Flag are important. The Flag reminds us of our loyalty to our USA, and that loyalty is something which the Scriptures affirm. We are urged by the Apostle Paul in Romans to pray for our nation’s leaders, to submit to the government, to pay our taxes, and to be good citizens. That is important to remember as we celebrate the 4th of July. The Flag deserves our pledge of allegiance for what it symbolizes.

As Christians we have another loyalty – to the Cross – which calls us to another allegiance. We are not just citizens of the USA, we are also citizens of the reign of God. Most of the time those two loyalties are complementary, or at least not contradictory. Sometimes even here in America, those loyalties do conflict – and that calls us to remember our higher allegiance as Christians. Sadly, many Christians today live in places where simply to be a Christian puts them into direct conflict with their government.

Living in the USA we can take for granted the wonderful blessing we have: we can pledge allegiance to both the Cross and the Flag.

Happy 4th of July.