What Amrith Lal calls patriotism in this piece from the Times of India is probably more accurately called nationalism, but the point is well-taken nonetheless. The brief essay begins:
As practised in our times, it is religion at its worst. The canons of morality and logic are lost on it. All that is expected of the patriot is blind devotion to an abstract entity called the state or whatever that symbolises the state. Needless to say, the state can never go wrong. Orwell’s Big Brother is morally permissible in the patriot’s idea of nation. All this is built into our understanding of the nation.
In this sense, patriotism/nationalism can clearly become a competing religion with biblical Christianity. And so often, the nationalistic impulse becomes expressed in partisanship (which I take a brief look at here).
This tendency should serve, I think, to temper the optimism of the growing movement among evangelical pastors to run for political office (most recently Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, has been rumored to be considering a run for Congress). Let me be clear: I’m not saying that pastoral ordination should necessarily disqualify a person from running for political office. I’m also not saying that Christian laypersons should refrain. It’s difficult, of course, to make universal rules about such things. Perhaps all I can say in general is that we need to guard against the conflation of Christian and civil religion.
As such, churches, and church leaders in particular, should be careful to test their motivations and intentions for becoming politically active. According to the evangelical outpost (no longer active), yesterday’s Justice Sunday II raised this question:
Do politics and local churches go together? Yes, says Ted Haggard, there is nothing that we believe that does not affect public policy. Haggard encourages Christians to get more involved in politics, learning the skills needed to run for public office if necessary. All it takes is a God intoxicated generation to influence a people, Haggard says, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Let’s hope it’s a “God intoxicated” and not a “power intoxicated” movement.