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July 4th: Loyalty and Gratitude

"A Scout is loyal: a Scout is true to his family, friends, Scout leaders, school, and country." This is the second point of the Scout Law. I may have mis-remembered it slightly, but it went something like that. I thought the concept of loyalty was pretty straightforward. All it says by way of explanation is that a Scout is "true to." As I matured, I understood more about the nuances. At various times in my life, I have found that I have given away my loyalty too easy and held onto it too fiercely. What does it mean to be "true," anyway?

July 4th celebrates the birth of our nation. We show our pride and patriotism. We try to express our loyalty to this nation. In some corners of society, the loyalty is held too fiercely. Pride and patriotism are used as tests of trueness. For people like this, you can't be true to the nation if you're not wearing your pride on your sleeve. This approach leaves very little room for criticism of the nation. This is a great example of nuance: can you be loyal and critical at the same time? Is being critical of your country a symptom that there is something you're more loyal to than your country? Are you more loyal to Justice than to the United Stated of America? Are you more loyal to Compassion?

Psalm 146 says, "Do not put your trust in princes." Only God "keeps faith forever." It is misplaced loyalty to put your faith "in mortals, in whom there is no help," nor institutions created by mortals. God executes justice for the oppressed and gives food to the hungry and sets the prisoner free and makes the blind to see. God was faithful to Israel and Judah, but when they did not stay faithful to God, God was free to let them be taken into exile in Babylon. Is it misplaced loyalty to trust in a God who lets such things happen? No, God was still true to them, even when they were in exile. God stays true to them and is critical of them at the same time.

As an acid test, some might require a loyalty oath in certain situations, but aren't we supposed to be loyal to God first? Being loyal or true to someone or some organization is not about the object of your loyalty; it's about you. Stay true to yourself and your values and your God, but if you declare that you're loyal to someone or something, staying true to them proves YOUR morals, not theirs. This leaves room to be critical and still stay loyal. For us, that means God is loyal to us even when we are not true to God.

Our loyalty to our nation is not absolute. The Barmen declaration was written in response to a point in history when the state went too far. The German Christian movement had gone too far in it's loyalty to the German state. They wanted this to be an acid test of Christianity: loyalty to the Nazi regime. The Lutheran, Reformed, and United churches were more loyal to God and God's values than to Nazi Germany. They were critical not only of the state, but also of the part of the church ("alien principles" in the church) that believed in subordination to Nazi rulers. The expression of their loyalty to God and the limits of their loyalty to the state is the Theological Declaration of Barmen, the eighth of our confessions in the Book of Confessions.

What does this mean for us in America? I can be thankful for those who have sacrificed to make this a great nation of justice and equity, and at the same time I can know that "if it had not been the Lord who was on our side," our enemies would have swallowed us up. I can salute the flag, say the pledge, and say God bless America, and at the same time I can point out the injustice that remains. I can celebrate the freedom of religion in America and at the same time know that true freedom is only from trust in the grace of Jesus Christ, and that all Christians thus have a more profound freedom than any government can ensure.

I would say that instead of an acid test of loyalty--instead of requiring absolute loyalty regardless of whether our nation is right or wrong--we should shift to tests of gratitude. I DON'T think we're perfect or great or even necessarily always deserving of loyalty. I DON'T assert that God must be on our side. Instead, I am grateful for the things our nation gets right. I am grateful for the values we hold dear, even when we don't live up to them. I am grateful that it seems like God has been on our side--so far. I give thanks to God for what good this country has achieved, and I pray that God will bless it to achieve more good in the world--not for our sakes, but to bring more glory to God as God uses us to set prisoners free and end oppression and bring justice into the world. I don't trust princes or presidents or politicians, but I do trust God, and I know that God is always loyal to the people that God loves.



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