NFL Thanksgiving as a Cultural Liturgy of “God & Country,” Nationalist Militarism (James K.A. Smith)

As always, James K.A. Smith is equally perceptive of cultural habits as he is insightful in his analysis of them.

In today’s The NFL’s Thanksgiving games are a spectacular display of America’s ‘God and country’ obsession, published over at the The Washington Post, Smith plays on a common thesis in his writings:

Whereas many see our culture’s habits, traditions, and institutions as mundane, non-religious affairs, James sees much more at stake. They are competing rituals, or “religious” liturgies competing for our worship and shaping our loves.

Christian worship is formative — forming us into a people who love Christ and his kingdom. Our competing cultural “liturgies” (e.g., here: a traditional NFL Thanksgiving; or in other places in Smith’s writing: e.g., the mall as a house of worship for consumerism — quite relevant for tomorrow’s Black Friday) have a deformative power, pulling on our affections and, in the process, misplacing them (idolatry).

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How to Relate to the State as Sojourners & Citizens of a Different Kingdom (1 Peter 2:13-17)

How to Relate to the State as Sojourners & Citizens of a Different Kingdom (1 Peter 2:13-17) — Part 1
South City Church
May 7, 2017

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How to Relate to the State as Sojourners & Citizens of a Different Kingdom (1 Peter 2:13-17) — Part 2
South City Church
May 14, 2017

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See all sermons from this series on 1 Peter.

Question: Should Christians Pledge Allegiance to a Flag?

Recent events have rekindled an old question:

Should Christians — whose ultimate and only unqualified allegiance is to Christ — pledge their allegiance to a national flag, or similarly (but maybe a little different) participate in a national anthem? This in light of the fact that a nation’s interests and activities may — and quite expectantly will — in ways conflict with one’s Christian convictions? But also this in balance with Biblical imperatives to submit to our government and give honor and respect to whom it is do (e.g., Rom 13)? (But even this — at least the imperative to submit — is not unqualified [see, for example, Acts 5:29]).

And, to nuance this properly, if Christians were to abstain from such activities, would they do so as an absolute principle (e.g., never pledging due to its inherent inappropriateness, like many anabaptists hold) or only in particular cases and for particular reasons? And if the latter, in what incidences should we abstain (e.g., one could think of a nation’s legalization of the killing of the unborn as a potential legitimization)? What criteria should we use to determine these sorts of incidences?

It would seem that most Christians would draw the line somewhere. (For example, I can’t imagine that many of us would be comfortable giving our allegiance to Nazi Germany.) As such, I’m not sure we can blankety reject the idea out of hand. We can debate the when and where; but I’m not sure we should debate if or whether.

In other words, if our response is an unthoughtful, gut reaction of “[Bleep] no, ’cause… well, ‘Merica! I’m a patriot, gosh darnit!” I’m not sure that’s the best ethical system. These are definitely things to be thought through. And — personal confession — I’ll admit, I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with these things (i.e., pledge of allegiance, national anthem) out of principle.