I was browsing around some of the blogs that I regularly watch this morning and found Fleming Rutledge's most recent blog entry: Idolatry is alive and threatening the church. Have I mentioned how much I admire the Rev. Fleming Rutledge? She is articulate, thoughtful and puts the lie to the assumption that the only alternatives we have for the Anglican Communion are in the extremes. She is a conservative with a strong social conscience and I like that very much.
Her blog entry deals with the dangers of nationalism in the church. The particular subject of her reflection is a service at an unnamed Protestant church which had plenty of flags, soldiers and patriotism, but virtually no recognition of Christ or the mission of the Church in a recent service she attended. She, rightly in my view, condemns this kind of approach because it introduces idolatry into the church by making love of one's nation more important than worshipping God, which is rather the point of the church.
Nor is this phenomenon isolated only to the US. I know my former parish, on Remembrance Day, was rather heavy on the flags and military pomp, even though our rector usually wrote rather subversive sermons which stood the test of remembering our war dead without lapsing into an idolatrous nationalism. Yet, even up here in Canada, the idolatry of the nation sometimes rears its ugly head and it is an idolatry we can and should challenge. I think here Rev. Rutledge does that very well.
It isn't that love of country is necessarily wrong, it isn't. Rather it is a plea not to make this love an idol because, like all good things, people can and do raise patriotism into an idol which obscures the real object of our worship: Jesus Christ. As a Christian, Christ must come first, but I do wonder with services of this kind whether the planners remember that.
I take this as something of a challenge because, somehow, I have wound up being the keeper of the archives on the WWII war dead from my school (a long ironic story). This means that I will have a role in preparing the Remembrance Day ceremony at my school. That's fine in that I have no problem mourning the war dead or remembering that they sacrificed themselves for the freedom of our nation. Besides, I also know that these ceremonies tend to avoid overt nationalism and exulting in military glory, so my pacifist sensibilities are unlikely to be offended. That, in itself, is an irony. Why is it that a secular school can manage to differentiate remembrance and nationalism and we Christians have had a history of blurring that line continuously when the Bible itself warns us about the idolatry of the powers and principalities of the world?