|For S. Cooper Tilton (Papa).|
I am someone who is deeply skeptical of nationalism and patriotism. Affection for one’s local customs and traditions has its place, but I believe that place is not among the virtues at the core of Jesus’ Gospel. Indeed, natural affections and preferences are among those things that often cause disagreements and divisions, which I believe followers of Jesus are called to overcome for the sake of a much larger mission and a much grander purpose than the celebration of ourselves. That is why I have always been uncomfortable with the celebration of the Declaration of Independence as part of worship on the Sunday closest to the Fourth of July, and why I refrain from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag during religious gatherings. To my mind, these displays of nationalism and patriotism for a particular country—even for one as great as the United States—are in direct competition with Jesus’ invitation to participate with him in the Kingdom of Heaven. Perhaps the simplest way to explain my unease with mixing expressions of nationalism and patriotism with Christian worship is for us to consider the Lord’s Prayer together.
I regard the Lord’s Prayer as a kind of Declaration of Independence—though not for the establishment of any human government—and as a kind of Pledge of Allegiance—though not to any political system devised by flesh and blood. I understand the Lord’s Prayer in this way because when Jesus’ prayer is studied in relation to Second Temple Judaism and ancient Jewish sources it quickly becomes clear that the content of the Lord’s Prayer is not merely spiritual and religious, it is also concrete and practical, with social, political, and economic implications.