This year’s July Fourth celebration will likely look like the ones before it: we’ll wrap our kids and grandkids in red, white, and blue; take in a local parade; grill burgers with friends; and watch fireworks light up the night sky.
But under the surface, something feels different. Patriotism feels different. What does it mean to be a patriotic American in today’s divisive climate? What are our values as a nation? How should we treat each other and those outside – or at – our borders?
It’s an understatement to say we don’t all agree.
The only way I can cut through the confusion is to cling to my identity in Christ. I love this country and have always felt blessed to live here. But I’ve seen enough of the rest of the world – more than 60 counties – to know that people outside of America face hardships we can’t even imagine. And I wonder just what God expects from us when so many are suffering.
Jesus didn’t care about politics; he cared about people. His love for little children is clear. His regard for women is well-documented. When he saw someone in need, he stopped what he was doing and responded with compassion. He treated everyone with dignity…
Here’s what helps me navigate these realities: My true citizenship is in heaven. I’m a Christian first and an American second.
If you’re a Christian, too, this is a great time to lean on your faith. It might sound clichéd, but there’s no better way to think through the hotly debated issues of our day than to ask, “What would Jesus do?” Through that lens, we can sort out what’s biblically correct vs. politically correct.
Jesus was one of the least politically correct people of his day. He abided by Roman law but eschewed legalistic interpretations of Jewish rules, as when he healed people on the Sabbath. He defied cultural taboos by touching lepers and dining with shady characters.
While he could have had earthly power – his followers yearned for him to become king – he instead claimed only spiritual power, believing that the best way to change the world was by changing the human heart, one person at a time.
Jesus didn’t care about politics; he cared about people. His love for little children is clear. His regard for women is well-documented. When he saw someone in need, he stopped what he was doing and responded with compassion. He treated everyone with dignity, no matter their choices or circumstances.
Best of all, Jesus was clear about priorities. When religious leaders tried to trap him with questions about the law, he boiled it down for them – and for us: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:36-40).
Let’s not forget, the “neighbor” Jesus commands us to love doesn’t only apply to citizens of our country. The parable of the Good Samaritan is Jesus’ timeless lesson on who our neighbor is: anyone in need.
So what would Jesus do with unborn children? With immigrant families arriving at our border or refugees seeking safe haven? With people of different races and religions? With disadvantaged children in the U.S. lacking basic necessities?
These are complicated issues. But following Christ means rooting our response in love – love for God and love for people in need.
We have to remember that the church and the government have very different roles. The government’s job is to help prosper and protect citizens, while the church’s job is to demonstrate love for all people. We need to let the government be the government. And the church must be the church.
As citizens of God’s kingdom, we’re called to stand apart and resist cultural and political influence. But that doesn’t mean we hide in our churches. No, God expects us to engage in our communities, country, and world – not to embrace politics but to speak out biblically to our political leaders.
So what does it look like when the church leads with love? The results are powerful. As CEO of World Vision, I’ve seen the impact of donations and prayers from millions of Americans who chose to love their global neighbors: wells drilled for the thirsty, hungry people fed, young girls freed from slavery, schools built. I’ve met children who have grown up to become leaders and change agents. In Houston last year I saw churches living out their call to care for and comfort families after Hurricane Harvey.
And in Lebanon I met pastors who had every reason to hate the former enemies swarming their country – Syrian refugees – but instead they responded with compassion. Those pastors chose loving their neighbors over national identity.
When we wield spiritual power rather than political power, Christians become a force for good – in any country. We can unify rather than divide, heal rather than hurt, and glorify God rather than elevate ourselves. This can happen here in America, if we choose biblical correctness over political correctness; if we follow Christ, not the platform of either political party.
Richard Stearns is president of World Vision U.S .and author of “Unfinished: Filling the Hole in Our Gospel,” “The Hole in Our Gospel: What Does God Expect of Us? The Answer That Changed My Life and Might Just Change the World.” Follow Rich on Twitter at @RichStearns.