In Colossians 2:7 Paul encourages Christians to be “rooted and built up in [Christ] and established in the faith.” The American Patriot’s Bible, edited by Gerald Lee and published by Thomas Nelson, connects this verse to part of a speech by John Quincy Adams, America’s sixth president, concerning the significance of the Fourth of July. Adams says that “next to the birthday of the Savior,” the “most joyous and most venerated festival” is Independence Day. For “the birthday of the nation is indissolubly linked with the birthday of the Savior.” Indeed, Adams contends that “the Declaration of Independence…gave to the world the first irrevocable pledge of the fulfillment of the prophecies announced directly from heaven at the birth of the Savior….” The birth of America, in other words, is the beginning of the fulfillment of Jesus’ mission in the world.
Several things are interesting about this passage. For starters, it’s a little surprising that the Fourth of July beat out Easter for second place in Adams’ rating of “venerated” holidays. One might have thought American Christians would find Jesus’ resurrection a bit more “venerable” than the fact that we violently emancipated ourselves from British rule. In fact, while I fully appreciate that many Americans are grateful to no longer be subject to the throne of England, I’m puzzled about how the Fourth of July could appear anywhere on a Christian’s list of “venerated” holidays. How can a holiday that celebrates one group of mostly professing Christians violently overthrowing another group of mostly professing Christians be venerated by people who are called to love their enemies and to be peacemakers, even if they happen to find themselves on the side that won?
But the most remarkable aspect of Adams’ speech is undoubtedly his depiction of the violent birth of America as the beginning of the fulfillment of Jesus’ mission. Let’s overlook for the moment the systemic and barbaric injustices done to Native Americans and Africans by Europeans as they conquered and developed this land. And let’s agree that the political freedoms to enjoy “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are among the noblest in history. Still, on what basis could Adams or anyone else claim that the birth of this nation has anything to do with the mission of the Savior?
As he made clear to Pilate, Jesus came to establish a kingdom that is “not from this world.” The kingdom Jesus came to establish is not a “new and improved” version of the systems of the world. It’s something altogether different. For example, while all versions of the kingdoms of the world resort to violence against enemies when they deem it necessary, citizens of Jesus’ kingdom are called to imitate him by sacrificing themselves out of love for their enemies.
As noble as America’s ideals are, followers of Jesus must never buy into Adam’s delusion — repeated throughout history and still widespread today — that political ideals are a formula for the Kingdom of God. For the Kingdom is not about enjoying “life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness.” It’s about looking like Jesus, dying out of love for the very people who crucified him.
Do you agree with Boyd’s perspective? Should Christians think more critically about how we express patriotism?