I am a news junky, but only when there is something big in the world like an earthquake, or a war. As I’ve tried to get as much real-time information on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I found myself in a Russian chat room. With the help of a good Russian-English translator, I followed the discussion including real-time Ukrainians reporting what they were seeing on the ground outside their windows. So, with Russian-speaking Ukrainians and Russians (both pro war and anti-war) being in the same virtual room, you can imagine that opinions were strong. And you thought that Facebook gets testy.
The most bizarre statements I heard were from a Russian man who was insisting that the war is all “fake news” orchestrated by America and the West. So, think about it, that there in that same virtual room were Ukrainian people living in the middle of the war in Kyiv. Such comments, of course, outraged them. Then, some anti-war Russians (living in Russia now) told the Ukrainians that they were in support of them. But then came the most interesting statement of the evening. A Russian woman, who had many patriotic statements in previous conversations said, “Real Russians support their leader (Putin) in all situations. If you don’t support our leader now, you are not a real Russian.”
I went to bed thinking about this type of blind patriotism.
In 1987 Denise, our two oldest children (then pre-school) were living out of a VW Van as we crisscrossed the country raising financial support to be missionaries to Muslims. We were exhausted and one church that I had high hopes of getting a significant amount of the needed financial support was a very large, conservative Presbyterian church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The church was well-known throughout the south for their TV church service and had plenty of resources. I was nervous because so much was at stake. With their support, we could finish our travelling and finally get to a new home, at that time was going to be in Cyprus.
To be interviewed, it was required that we attend a Sunday evening service and then following that service, meet with the elders of that church in the pastor’s office. Denise and I, with our two-year-old Daniel went up to the office after the service. We entered the plush office flanked by bookcases filled with thick, worn books. Seven white men, most with white hair, sat around in their shirts and ties. It was tense. As soon as we sat down across from these men, Denise had to leave with a crying Daniel. I had my spiel planned and on the tip of my tongue. After opening in prayer, the first man interrupted me before I had the chance to speak. Here’s the dialog:
“Son, did you serve in Vietnam?”
“Uh … Vietnam?” I asked with a perplexed look.
“Yeah son, did you serve?”
I thought, This was the question they were asking me? Nothing about our ministry in the Muslim world?
“Uh … I’m too young for Vietnam. The war ended before I turned eighteen.”
The balding thin man leaned back in his seat and then said in a booming voice, “Okay … you were too young, but would you have served if the war had continued?”
I had never seriously thought about this question and was very unprepared for the direction this conversation was going.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I would have to study the war and see if its purposed fit with my personal convictions.”
All the men were squirming in their seats and my interrogator seemed upset. The more he seemed upset, the more I sweated. He then asked, “So there is a possibility that you would not have served your country if called to do so?”
To make a long story short, the elders then concluded that I was not an American patriot, and they didn’t support unpatriotic missionaries. The group of men never asked me one question about our ministry, ourselves, or our financial needs. It was over and it ended on a sense of ill-ease in the air.
Keep in mind, this same evangelical denomination separated from the mainline Presbyterian Church because they sided with the “Rebels” of the confederacy and supported slavery, against the will of the American government.
I said I would try to avoid controversial topics in my written blog so I will not venture into the travesty of the white evangelicals blending their faith with American nationalism. But I will end this with a question. Is true patriotism, blind? So, good Russians follow their leader no matter what he does? Do good Americans do the same?
I think a real patriot is constantly asking the question, “Is my country as good as it can be? If not, how can we make it better?” It also has a truthful evaluation of its history, not with rose-colored glasses pretending their country hasn’t made mistakes. If you fail to admit mistakes, then you are bound to repeat them and you become caught in an endless cycle of underperforming as a nation. A good country learns from their mistakes with a vow never to repeat them.
But of course, the term “Patriotism” has become weaponized as tool to fight anyone who does not agree with your point of view.