Jun 30, 2015

Patriotism and Parenting (Q and LA)

Compiled by Anna

I wish I could get together with a group of theologically-minded Lutheran ladies for a big coffee date. I would ask them for their advice and opinions on a whole range of subjects. It would be amazing! Unfortunately, a lot of the Lutheran ladies I know are scattered across the country. This Q and LA article (questions and Lutheran answers) is intended to be an informal, virtual version of the party I would love to host in real life. It's a place to chat and hear each other's opinions.

Reader Question:

How do you handle the "issue of patriotism" as a Lutheran family? I'm attracted to the idea of a good, old-fashioned civic training that involves memorizing the Declaration of Independence, studying the Constitution, and reading lots of stirring biographies of American heroes. I like the idea of small children being pleased that they are American and feeling that this identification connects them to admirable people in history. I want them to appreciate the blessings that we enjoy in this country with the knowledge that many people do not experience the same freedom. Yet this mid-twentieth-century-style love of America feels outdated in an age when our country is increasingly guided by values that are at odds with both old-fashioned liberty and, more importantly, with basic Christian morality. Is there any point in kids "loving" the history of a country that is trying to leave that history behind? How would you summarize how (and what) you teach your kids about their country? What kind of an attitude are you trying to create? As a minor detail, how do you celebrate the Fourth of July as a family?


Heather Judd (Lutheran schoolteacher)

"This foundation of honor for authority (“good” or “bad”—Saint Paul commends honoring the emperor when Nero was ruling) rather than national pride also makes it easier as children mature to discuss the history of our nation and its current departures from its foundation." 

As Lutherans we find comfort in the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms.  In the Kingdom of the Left, we have the Fourth Commandment to guide us:  We are to honor our government as the authority God has purposefully placed over us.  In the Kingdom of the Right, we find assurance when that God-ordained government seems to be straying from the good and true:  We know our true citizenship is not in this world but in the Kingdom of God. 

This doctrine is our starting place and touchstone for understanding the “issue of patriotism.”  The patriotism we instill in young children should always lead them to a deeper honor for authority, not really to a pride in country.  This latter idea—within Christian circles, at least—tends to come out of Reformed denominations that are looking forward to an earthly reign of Christ or some form of aligning “holy” nations against “unholy” ones.  When Paul speaks of the “holy nation” in the New Testament, it is obvious that he is talking about the Church, not a socio-geographic group. 

This foundation of honor for authority (“good” or “bad”—Saint Paul commends honoring the emperor when Nero was ruling) rather than national pride also makes it easier as children mature to discuss the history of our nation and its current departures from its foundation.  It may be comforting to remember that America is not unique in this moral decay. Read the Roman historian Livy with older children as you discuss these issues; the Romans, too, saw and lamented a decline from the good old days of their republic’s founding. 

The freedoms and blessings we enjoy in America should be emphasized to children, and they should understand the history of how these were established in our nation’s founding, but they should also be led to praise God for both the blessings themselves and the people through which He wrought them. 

Although I don’t have children of my own, I have certainly confronted this issue as a teacher.  I do have my students memorize portions of founding American documents and study with reverence the lives of significant Americans.  I also insist on respect for our current government.  Most students follow the adult trend of referring to Presidents only by last name; I find this is usually disrespectful and correct them to speak of “President Obama” rather than “Obama.”  Nevertheless, in history class we point out that America is not a Promised Land or a religious nation, and in theological discussions we talk about changes in our government’s policies and how we as Christians must stand against those things that challenge God’s Word.   The hymn stanza comes to mind:

Trust not in rulers; they are but mortal;
Earthborn they are and soon decay.
Vain are their counsels at life’s last portal,
When the dark grave engulfs its prey.
Since mortals can no help afford,
Place all your trust in Christ, our Lord. 
Alleluia, alleluia!    (LSB - #797, st. 2)

Dana Palmer (mother of school-age and adult children)

"Perhaps by encouraging more people to aspire to the ideals we were founded upon, there may be hope of returning to them."

As Lutherans we hold fast to the concept of objective truth. The Christian faith not not depend upon feelings or experiences, but upon facts. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are objective standards that our country was founded upon. While we don't treat these documents as sacred, the principles embodied within them are largely based on Judeo-Christian ideals, widely held by the culture of the time as a proper moral compass (even by the Deists among the Founding Fathers). As our children have matured, I have gone into more detail with them, such as telling them that the checks and balances in the government are in place to guard against man's sinful desire for power.

Children can benefit greatly from reading about American heroes, which teaches them about morals and American ideals. You can point out to them the ways in which these heroes served their neighbors, and the values they based this service on. I also like to point out that there is nowhere else in the world that I would rather live than in America. We try to create a love of our country's great ideals, while being realistic about the failings of its people (since young children are very black and white in their thinking, I did not discuss many of the failings with them when they were small). Perhaps by encouraging more people to aspire to the ideals we were founded upon, there may be hope of returning to them. John Adams (signer of the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, and our second president) said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

As to celebrating the Fourth of July, when the kids were little, I would get books from the library regarding Independence Day. For example, we read America, A Patriotic Primer, by Lynne Cheney.

We made (and still make) patriotic desserts, and watch the fireworks. By expressing our own patriotism, we guide our children to appreciate the gift from God that is our country.

Allison Kieselowsky (mother of small and school-age children)

"God places us as citizens of America and calls us to live out that vocation." 
 "Loving the nation means praying for leaders and lawmakers, calling people to repentance, and speaking the gracious words of Christ." 

I am very happy to have been born and raised in the United States where I have enjoyed great freedom and have lived in relative peace.  I appreciate each calm voting season, peaceful transitions of power, paved roads, public libraries, and indoor plumbing.   I get to drive vehicles, raise my children as Lutherans, and wear new clothes without anyone blinking an eye.  I’ll happily wave a flag to show my gratitude for all of God’s abundant grace toward us. 

God places us as citizens of America and calls us to live out that vocation.  Christ Himself tells us to “render unto Caesar” (Matt 22:21; Mark 12:17; Luke 20:25), and St. Paul admonishes us to honor and pray for our leaders (Rom 13; I Tim 2:1-4), even a leader is as maliciously anti-Christian as Nero was in the time of St. Paul.  So there is certainly a biblical mandate to participate in the civic realm. 

At the same time, children can appreciate honesty about what it means to be American. Americans tend to struggle with separating patriotism and divine right.  As my international friends remind me, Americans tend to view themselves as God’s gift to the world.  Displays of patriotism probably should not reinforce the stereotype of the loud-mouthed, pushy, assuming American who barges her way through life demanding her rights.  I try to extol the benefits of American living without communicating to my kids that Americans are innately virtuous. 

That includes Founding Fathers.  They were not any more virtuous than any other person.  They were well-read (sometimes self-taught), thoughtful, ambitious, principled people, and we read about them looking for virtues we want to see in our children.  I think Americans should know American history, but we should talk to our children about it with candor.  To be honest, in theory, my husband and I likely would have been Loyalists, or at least sympathizers, at the time of the American Revolution because we question whether it is right to rebel over taxes.  But that doesn’t mean that we’re monarchists now.  We were not born under a monarch; we were born under a president.  God calls us to live in this time and place to the glory of His name. 

Questioning policy, the changing norms of society, and our concerns about American culture should also be part of our conversation with kids. If parents don’t question cultural trends, we are not helping our children grow into thinking adults.  But children should learn to vote without placing their faith in popular opinion.  Loving the nation means praying for leaders and lawmakers, calling people to repentance, and speaking the gracious words of Christ. The Gospel of Christ changes hearts, not laws.  While our concerns motivate our votes, they should motivate us to pray and speak the Gospel even more. 

To answer your final question, we usually celebrate July 4th with a family picnic at the family cabin.  It’s on a small lake, so the vacationers organize a boat parade each year.  Each cabin decorates a paddleboat or rowboat, and we snake our boats around the lake in a lazy parade, singing patriotic songs and laughing.  Then we eat lots of food and blast fireworks because, after all, we’re Americans.  

Cheryl Magness (mother of school-age and adult children)

"As much as we may think we are as a country straying from our Judeo-Christian foundation, that foundation has always been an ideal rather than a reality." 

I absolutely think that even in this mixed up, postmodern time there is a place for continuing to teach our children to love our country's history. As much as we may think we are as a country straying from our Judeo-Christian foundation, that foundation has always been an ideal rather than a reality. As Christians we believe that every life is a sacred gift, equal to every other in the eyes of God. And yet in our individual lives we never live up to that ideal. Every time we harm our neighbor through the breaking of one of God's laws we demonstrate our willingness to depart from it. Our country has likewise shown its willingness to depart from a respect for life in myriad ways, not the least of which is the overlooking of the evils of slavery in our past and abortion today. That does not mean we should not continue to teach that "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." (Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence) If anything it means we need to redouble our efforts and return to our roots, teaching more emphatically than we ever have.

Our Lutheran understanding is a great blessing in this regard. The doctrine of the Two Kingdoms reminds us that while we are citizens of an earthly state to which we are called to do our duty, we are also citizens of an eternal kingdom with a much greater calling and reward. In that knowledge we can take comfort that even as we fail daily to respect one another as individuals and our country fails to guard and protect our liberty as it ought, our Heavenly Father does not fail. In Him we find our true freedom, a freedom which this current vale of tears cannot provide. So as we continue to teach our children how all those years ago "our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal" (Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address), we should also teach them to "Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation" but in "the God of Jacob . . . who keeps faith forever" (Ps. 146).  

Aubri Hale (mother of young and school-age children)

"Many civil ceremonies almost feel like a worship service and will in fact get a large turnout of so called Christians who alternatively won’t darken a church door on Sunday morning."

It will always be important and beneficial to study history especially in an age when politicians and historians attempt to rewrite or reinterpret it to fit their moral agendas. As for the “issue of patriotism," for Lutherans it’s clear that we don’t allow ourselves to succumb to a worship of country over God. Many civil ceremonies almost feel like a worship service and will in fact get a large turnout of so called Christians who alternatively won’t darken a church door on Sunday morning. But as one definition I came across states, “Patriotism is the will of the members of a country to support the country and help it continue.” I think all Lutherans can heartily agree that this form of patriotism and a healthy amount of pride in our country is appropriate and good.

As I teach my children the story of this country I would like to instill in them an attitude of respect.  Respect for the governing authority and respect for those who have fought for this country to defend the freedoms we enjoy. Not only those who have fought in battle but also those who have fought in courtrooms throughout our history. I also hope they will learn to be thankful that God has provided a government that allows us, so far, to worship Him and live out our faith without fear of death or imprisonment.

As Lutherans, we teach our children about the two kingdoms to which we belong. For the time being we are citizens of both the left and the right. I will explain to my children that though our government grants us many benefits it is very much affected by sin. Sadly a lot of laws we see passing are evil but we should not be surprised by this. After all, as Martin Luther said, “the world is nothing but a mass of evil people.” When our government is no longer about keeping law and order but about furthering godless agendas, we continue to obey the laws we are able to in good conscience out of obedience to God and the good of our neighbor and let God administer His judgment on the nation that He allowed to exist and can bring to an end.

So how do we Christians live, honor and render to Caesar today as we are told to do in Matthew 22? As Christians we do as God says in I Timothy 2, pray for those in authority who make and exercise laws, Pay taxes, obey laws, vote or run for office.

To your final question, this July 4th my family will enjoy all the trimmings that come with that celebration, wear red, white and blue in a 4th of July Fun Run, have breakfast in the park, sing some patriotic songs and of course shoot fire crackers. Also, this year I’ll add a couple books to our home library about our country: Our Flag by Carl Memling and If You Lived in the Time of the Revolution by Kay Moore.

Leigh Spittel (mother of adult children)

"Children need to hear stories of heroism, for heroism is God working through sinful people to show goodness and mercy in times of distress."

Yes! There is a point in kids " loving" the history of a country that is seemingly trying to leave the values and principles that it once tightly embraced. The future of anything with lasting value begins with compassionate, knowledgeable and responsible citizens who seek to preserve its integrity regardless of the cost. Children who are taught compassion, integrity,knowledge of history, and patriotism will become those responsible citizens. Children need to hear stories of heroism, for heroism is God working through sinful people to show goodness and mercy in times of distress. Children need to learn America's story to be better equipped for their future as citizens. Children need to learn the guiding principles that the founding fathers incorporated into the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and fought hard to preserve through war and bloodshed.

The pendulum of change swings back and forth, sometimes wildly. Real and lasting change is made possible by people holding fast to solid, Christian values even when the present culture seems to be abandoning them. God promises His faithfulness to those who keep His Word. " In God We Trust" is still printed on our money, "God Bless America" is still a favorite among patriotic songs, and our laws are still based on the Ten Commandments even as plaques on courthouses are removed across the nation in favor of separation of Church and State. God's law is written on the hearts of sinful men and women, and it is most evident when they unite with patriotic fervor when disaster strikes or our nation is under foreign attack,

My children were taught American history through active learning methods since they were toddlers. Family vacations or day trips were often to historical sites, monuments, re-enactments and museums with interactive displays. They enjoyed books, videos and films on historical events from simple to more advanced as they matured. The public library was a favorite, bi-weekly destination!  Family genealogy was introduced in their late elementary to teen years with occasional trips to cemeteries to visually connect the abstract name to a physical grave. Patriotic spirit was regularly observed with flying the flag on every holiday and National Flag Day ( June 14), Independence Day was celebrated with decorating with red, white and blue, cook-outs at home with games on the lawn, or picnics in the park with games in tow,eating ice cream and watching the fireworks display. Scouting reinforced respect for the American flag and patriotism. 

The creation and maintenance of a healthy and positive attitude toward anything worthwhile  is a constant process that requires daily diligence with children as they grow and mature. I strove for these four:  Love of God, Love of Family, Love of Country, and Service to Others. Weekly church attendance and parish involvement, Maintaining strong and supportive family relationships and years of family involvement with Scouting helped to build all four of these positive attitudes for my children. My greatest joy was to raise four children to be trustworthy, helpful, kind, courageous, hard-working, reliable and responsible adults and citizens of the United States of America. This is a unique nation with tremendous potential that our founding fathers recognized over two-hundred and forty years ago when they began the process to govern themselves, Their love of God and country were intricately woven and America prospered. Let us not abandon our principles and heritage in search of things which do not please God.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post! Wow, so many thought-provoking ideas here for me to ponder as I teach my kids. Thanks!


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