“[A]nd He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation.” Acts 17:26 (NASB)
I distinctly remember celebrating Independence Day as a young boy growing up in the Dixie Hills housing projects on the west side of Atlanta. For black families in the 1970s, especially children, the Fourth of July was, in many ways, a lot like Christmas.
It was a celebration not only of the birth of America as a nation, but also of family, friends, and God, who we always credited with providing us the opportunity to live in such a free nation as the United States.
Poor but proud
Despite the material poverty experienced by the majority of black families in the Dixie Hills community, and others like it, we never lost sight of the significance of having the God-ordained privilege of living in a nation where people are free.
Though my family’s economic status – the measure by which most Americans seem to define a “fair society” – may not have been on par with others we knew, it never negatively influenced or impacted the high view of America that had been imparted to us by our hardworking parents, both of whom had only a high school education.
The elation of celebrating Independence Day was a constant reality for me and my two siblings, as my mom, whose birthday happened to be the Fourth of July, would accompany us on the Number 3 bus to the West End Mall where she would let us shop for new red-white-and-blue “patriotic” clothes to wear that day.
And then there were the picnics at Washington Park.
Ribs, chicken, potato salad, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, and all the Big K soda we could consume. Not to mention the requisite Soul Train line dance that would ultimately – and hilariously – break out after everyone had had his or her fill of food.
Indeed, the Fourth of July truly was a celebration for most black families back then. It was an occasion that everyone celebrated because we were all Americans who were proud of America.
But, as I said, that was then.
The inevitable assertion
These days it seems there is hardly anything of any redemptive value about America. It is as if all anyone wants to do today is complain about how oppressive it is to live here.
Depending on whom you ask, everything that was once celebratory about America now wreaks of racism (or any other “ism” you might care to invent).
Inevitably, there will be those who will read this post who, as opposed to taking the time to digest my comments in context, will instead choose to resort to such knee-jerk responses as “But racism still exists!” (As if I don’t already know that).
Of course, racism exists in America and in every other nation on the face of the globe.
Racism exists because racism is sin. And since all people are sinners (Genesis 8:21; Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:23), it stands to reason that all racists are sinners (though not all sinners are racist).
It is time we realize that racism will continue to be a reality in America and the world, as long as sin continues to be a reality in the hearts of people like you and me. In that regard, America is no different than any other nation on earth because sinners populate every nation.
Why so many today want to isolate America as if it were an exclusively racist nation is beyond me. Take a census of any nation’s population and that is exactly the number of sinners you will find.
The only remedy for racism in America – or in any nation for that matter – is the gospel of Jesus Christ. For only the gospel of Christ can transform the sinful hearts of those who inhabit it (Exodus 22:21; Ezekiel 36:26-27; Romans 1:16: 1 John 3:16-17; 1 John 4:7, 20).
Not my home
America has a tarnished history. Absolutely, it does. You will get no argument from me there.
Then, again, we should expect nothing less than that America would have a tarnished history considering that those who made that history were themselves tarnished by sin (Ephesians 2:1-3).
As Christians in America, we must be ever-mindful that our identity is found only in Jesus Christ, not in our nationality, and that America is not our home (Galatians 3:27-28; 2 Peter 3:13).
With this reality in mind, any displays of “patriotism”, for lack of a better word, must be offset by the understanding that our true home is in heaven, the only place where perfect justice and righteousness dwells.
That said, notwithstanding its history of slavery and other abuses of humanity that have occurred and that continue to occur (e.g. abortion), I consider myself blessed by God to live in this nation called America.
As imperfect as America is, and imperfect as it undoubtedly will remain, having been born and raised in this nation is nothing short of an act of grace on the part of a sovereign God who, in His wisdom and omniscience, could have chosen otherwise for me (Acts 17:26).
If I had to do it all over again, there is nothing about my experience as a black American that I would change.
Not one thing.
As a Christian, I realize that I am expected to live in this nation as an alien and a stranger. As such, I fully understand and accept that this country owes me nothing.
Nothing at all.
So, yes, I will continue to fly my American flag, support our nation’s military, study the Constitution, quote the Founding Fathers, boldly declare that I am Christian, attend church on a regular basis, pray openly and audibly at public school events, and proudly recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
All of this with the full understanding that I am looking forward to a far better country than this one (Hebrews 11:16), where I will be free to celebrate the greatest independence of all, my independence from sin, and enjoy forever the bountiful wonders of eternal life that have been graciously afforded me by the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross (Romans 5:6-8).