Pastoral Reflections on the August 12 Elections #2 - For the Love of God and Country

“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7)

One of the most corrupt, infamous, contemptible, and disgraceful characters in the Bible is a woman named Delilah. Her character is accurately painted for us in the sixteenth chapter of the book of Judges. Despite Samson’s moral failings, we admire his heroic patriotism and devotion to the nation of Israel. Empowered by God, he defended his country and single-handedly defeated Israel’s enemies. On the other hand, Delilah, Samson’s mistress, betrayed Samson to the Philistines. 

We are told that Delilah was from the valley of Sorek, in the southeast corner of Dan’s territory, only a few kilometres from Samson’s home in Zorah. Whether she was a Philistine, or an Israelite is unclear. Was her motivation to betray Samson driven by Philistine ethnicity and loyalty or by her greed for worldly possessions? She was handsomely paid 5,500 pieces of sliver for her duplicity. Her unhindered contact with men probably indicates that she was a prostitute. If she was an Israelite, her ignominy is even far more serious that she could sell herself to Israel’s oppressors for money. Whatever the case could be, here is a woman of duplicity and a cunning mercenary spirit. 


What is Patriotism? 

As Zambia heads to the polls next week on Thursday (August 12th), Christians must rise up to the occasion and show their love for God and for this country. Above anyone else, we are the ones who must show greater patriotism to this country. Patriotism is simply love for your country. Zambia as a nation is a concrete, well-defined territory. We are a community of citizens created by political power but deepened in the development of a shared commitment to, and love of, this community we call Zambia. Such loyalty is not idolatrous; rather, it is a limited affection for a community of fellow citizens bound together for purposes of government and based in our defined territory. 


A nation cannot be unified on the basis of only the mutual satisfaction of utilitarian needs. It must rather be bound together by an active dedication to the maintenance of the body politic. To call this dedication love is quite proper if we understand that this particular form of love is distinct from that between close friends, husband and wife, or parents and children. Patriotic loyalty is thus inextricably tied to the shared commitment to do public justice within the context of political community.


I contend that there is a legitimate place for our loyalty and love to our nation in a modest and non-idolatrous sense. Our love for this country must flow from an ultimate love for the triune God and express itself to our various and diverse fellow citizens who, as defined by the Lord Jesus Christ in the parable of the Good Samaritan, are our “neighbours.” (Luke 10:25-37). It is God who has given each one of us this territorial setting in which we live (Acts 17:26). Christian citizenship is a good and important calling.


It is our calling as Christians to strive to maintain our patriotic feelings within proper biblical bounds. To show our devotion to Zambia in a godly manner is to want to participate in any way that would bring justice, love and mercy in the nation. It is to pray that “God’s kingdom come, and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. And one way we contribute to making our nation better is to participate in the electoral process.  


Unhealthy Tendencies to Avoid

Even as Christians, we are not immune to earthly tendencies and the appeal of ideologies, despite our commitment in principle to the exclusive claims of the gospel. Concern for one’s political community is, of course, right and proper, and Christians can hardly be faulted for wishing to correct their nation’s deficiencies. But we must be wary of the unhealthy variety of Christian nationalism masquerading as patriotism that errs on many fronts: 


1. We must be careful not to apply biblical promises intended for the body of Christ as a whole to one of many particular groups of people bound together under a common political framework. There is no single leader or political grouping that should claim to be God’s exclusive choice in the same way that God ordained and anointed kings in the Old Testament. I will talk about democracy in my next posting. 

2. We must keep away from the tendency to identify God’s norms for political and cultural life with a particular, imperfect manifestation of those norms at a specific period of a nation’s history. We must judge our nation’s present actions by transcendent norms given by God and not by precedents in our nation’s history deemed to have embodied these norms.  

3. We must refrain from too easily paying our nation a homage due only to God. We must not see our nation’s history, such as the Christian heritage bequeathed to us by many missionary agencies and the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation as somehow revelatory of God’s ways and making us a special country in the eyes of God. We are what we are as nation only by the grace of God. 

4. We must not make the mistake of conceiving of our nationhood as an undifferentiated community with few if any constraints on its claims to allegiance. Nationhood must remain within the normative limits God has placed on everything in his creation.


No country can legitimately make an absolute moral claim on the loyalty of the Christian or of any of its members. Christians and the nations are called to a greater love and an ultimate loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is identity in Christ and the gospel of the kingdom which offer hope and reconciliation in a divided world, not national identity and patriotism. And yet Christians and the one human race live in the context of a range of social, cultural, and political communities. That is an integral part of a God-given humanity as created social creatures. 


The gospel both judges and affirms the social context and cultural identity of human life within history, including the context of country and nationhood. Patriotism may be a worthy disposition for Christians in their earthly citizenship within the wider loyalty and horizon of the heavenly city. The love that Christians may show for their country must be discerning and discriminating. At its core, patriotism must be an affirmation of what is best in a country’s history and life, including the humane and creative achievements of its culture, its struggles for greater justice in human affairs at home and in the wider world, and the expression of certain moral values in its public life and institutions.  


The scale for assessing the worth of one’s country does not lie in some innate national spirit or genius, but in that human creativity and partial grasp of truth which remains open to all humanity even after its fall into sin and rebellious history.Each culture and country may express that creativity and grasp of truth in its own distinctive ways, but no mere country is endowed with a monopoly of wisdom or possesses some unique destiny. The church of Jesus Christ alone is the herald of the coming kingdom of God, a community which draws its membership from every country and culture. Only from within the loyalty and perspective of the kingdom can we exercise a true patriotism for country deserving of a penultimate loyalty and provisional commitment.   


At its core, a true Christian patriot must expose fully all that is evil and morally compromised in the history and identity of a nation in the light of the gospel, and still love that country. Christian patriots like the biblical prophet Jeremiah and the German Christian Dietrich Bonhoeffer show the cost, honesty and courage required for true love of God and country in Christ. 


How much do you love Zambia? How much do you want to see it prosper and put its fragmented past behind us? How much are you praying that God may use even your seemingly insignificant vote to shape a new and better trajectory for this country? Don’t be like Delilah and sell yourself to those who might not mean well for the country. Keep your national identity card and voter’s card safe. You have a patriotic duty to play on 12th August, 2021.    



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