July 5th, 2013
05:40 PM ET
Mourn on the Fourth of July: Inside the Christian anti-patriot movement
By David R. Wheeler, special to CNN
(CNN) - Like many congregations, The Mennonite Worker Community of Minneapolis held a worship service and picnic this Fourth of July - but instead of extolling the virtues of America, they called attention to its faults.
The annual service is “a sort of anti-patriotic holiday,” says Mark Van Steenwyk, whose community focuses on simplicity, prayer and peacemaking. Singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” is out. Reflecting on the contradictions between the gospel and the American Dream are in.
“We thank you, O God, for the good things we enjoy in our lives," reads a prayer the Mennonite community recites each year, "but lament that our abundance has brought destitution to sisters and brothers throughout the Earth.”
Anti-patriots like Van Steenwyk say their movement, which has grown more vocal in recent years, is simply an honest way to read – and live out – Jesus' teachings on nonviolence. But it's hard to look at groups like The Mennonite Community and not see an implicit criticism of God-and-country cheerleading by mainstream Christians and ripples of centuries-old church-state tensions.
Some anti-patriots come from pacifist Anabaptist traditions, such as the Mennonite Church. Others come from evangelical backgrounds but have rejected their counterparts' often unreserved patriotism and embraced liberal-leaning communities like Red Letter Christians and JesusRadicals.com.
They may differ on theological details, but they hold at least one belief in common: You cannot serve both God and country.
A Suspicion of the State
Anabaptists such as Mennonites and the Amish were persecuted by state churches in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries, and their descendants bear a lasting suspicion of human authorities.
Many an Amish and Mennonite home keeps a copy of "The Martyr's Mirror," a book thick with testimonies of Anabaptists burned at the stake of orthodoxy. The book's subtitle refers to the martys as "defenseless Christians," a nod to Anabaptists' belief that when Jesus called on Christians to turn the other cheek, he was quite serious.
For that reason, Anabaptists historically do not participate in warfare — or celebrate military victories.
American Anabaptists have been fined or jailed for their pacifist beliefs during wartime. Four Hutterites died from harsh treatment while imprisoned as conscientious objectors during World War I, Bach says. Anabaptists didn’t receive official permission to perform alternative service until World War II.
READ MORE: Bolivia’s isolated Mennonite community
“Some members of Anabaptist groups today are more acculturated and celebrate patriotic holidays just like the rest of the nation,” says Jeff Bach, director of Elizabethtown College's Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies. “None of the Anabaptist groups are anti-American. They are typically grateful for the religious freedom permitted in the United States.”
Still, in 2011, Goshen College, a Mennonite school in Indiana, banned the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at sporting events because, according to the college’s president, the lyrics were too violent.
Serving `the King'
It may be difficult for some Americans to understand why their countrymen would disassociate themselves from patriotism. What’s the harm in celebrating Independence Day, anyway?
But nonpatriotic Christians believe the burden of proof should fall on the other side: Why should peace-loving believers celebrate a bloody revolution? And American history after 1776 isn’t exactly pacifistic either, Van Steenwyk says.
“It is easy to judge Islam for the actions of a relative few militants. Yet when millions of Americans — a vast majority of them claiming the Christian faith — were complicit with slavery, indigenous genocide, and continued economic exploitation, we suddenly see them as separate from our faith,” says Van Steenwyk.
Jesus called his followers to Christian service and humility, which are the opposite of nationalistic rituals performed on the Fourth of July, says David Swartz, author of “Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism.”
“A heightened devotion to the nation can cause a lot of confusion abroad when people see claims of a Christian America alongside a long American history of slavery, economic inequality and overheated Hollywood sexuality and violence,” says Swartz.
Kurt Willems, who runs the progressive Christian blog Pangea, has also joined the rising nonpatriotic chorus. The Anabaptist from Seattle writes an annual post explaining why he no longer celebrates Independence Day.
“Each year I receive comments about how I should leave this country if I ‘hate’ it so much,” he says. “I love Americans, but I’m not willing to compromise my values as a servant of my only King, the nonviolent revolutionary — Jesus.”
Making Toby Keith Proud
Many Christians trace the latest wave of evangelical interest in pacifism to author and activist Shane Claiborne, who worked with Mother Teresa in the slums of Calcutta, ministered to Iraqis during the war in Iraq and now leads a Philadelphia community called The Simple Way.
“My philosophy on patriotic things would be: A love for the people of our country is not a bad thing, but why should love stop at the border?” says Claiborne.
There have been some nonpatriotic gatherings in major cities, such as the Los Angeles Catholic Worker’s “Mourn on the Fourth of July” peace march in 2008.
Still the nonpatriot movement remains small, and finding local communities can be challenging, Van Steenwyk says.
“Everyone knows that other folks think like them, but it isn’t like there are a lot of congregations that self-identify as being nonpatriotic.”
That’s especially true for evangelicals, who lead the country in patriotic fervor.
More than 80% of white evangelicals believe that God has granted the United States a "special role" in history, according to a survey released June 27 by the Public Religion Research Institute.
In a stat that would make Toby Keith proud, more than two-thirds of white evangelicals say they are "very proud" to be an American, outstripping every other religious group polled.
So it's not surprising that some conservative Christians find the nonpatriotic alliance of progressive evangelicals and Anabaptists troubling — even dangerous.
“All Christians everywhere are called to love and serve their nations,” says Mark Tooley, a president of the Institute on Religion & Democracy and a United Methodist.
READ MORE: Celebrating the Fourth of July
“The stance of some evangelical elites influenced by neo-Anabaptist beliefs is often one of ingratitude, and whining, while ignoring the teaching of the universal Church, which has always recognized the God-ordained vocation of the state, and the Christian’s calling to serve as responsible citizens,” he says.
Tooley also disagrees with the nonpatriotic Christians on about military force, which he says is required to maintain order worldwide. Nonpatriot Christians are naïve not to consider the ill effects should the United States abdicate military power, he says
“What would the alternatives be if the USA didn’t exist or withdrew from the world stage? Almost certainly a more dangerous, more anarchic, more repressive, less prosperous world with less opportunity for the poor to escape poverty,” Tooley argues.
No Middle Ground?
Some patriotic pastors argue for a middle way: honoring America without succumbing to chauvinism or ignoring the country's wrongs.
“Do I agree with every major policy of our government? No way,” says Kyle Vanover, pastor of Cyrus Chapel United Methodist Church in Catlettsburg, Kentucky. “But I’m proud to be an American, and I believe God has truly blessed this land.”
Van Steenwyk, however, says there is no middle ground.
Jesus’ identification with the poor, love of enemies, and refusal to take power are incompatible with the “entire political and economic system” of the United States, he says.
“Let’s face it — the Sermon on the Mount makes for lousy foreign or public policy. We can’t have it both ways.”
David R. Wheeler is a journalism professor and freelance writer living in Lexington, Kentucky. You can follow him on Twitter at: @David_R_Wheeler
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.
Their beliefs are every bit as legitimate as the far right Christians who have no problem entering into war against Muslims, indiscriminately killing men, women and children with smart bombs launched, aimed and controlled by soldiers in some facility in Nevada. In calling for Christ's admonition to turn the other cheek, they truly follow His teachings. If this makes them anti-patriots, then the definition of what a patriot is must be pretty damning.
Yer confusin' Christians with overpaid PUblic Servants where the prosperity runs deep.
Circle of Hope in and around Philadelphia is a community of Anabaptists who would agree with quite a bit of what these Mennonites are saying. http://www.circleofhope.net
Should I "turn-the-other-cheek" in the face of genocide? I'd rather fight. Eventhough I agree with Jesus' non-violent approach. But Jesus is advertised as 'God' or the "Son Of God", so dying would be different for him than for us. So although I respect the Anabaptist stance, what do they do in the face of genocide? Should I turn the other cheek and have scores of people die?
Historically, Christians were not pacifist. If they had been, they would likely be a minor religion or non-existent.
It is a nice luxury to live in a country that provides you the freedom and protection to be pacifist.
Actually, pacifism was a given for all Christians until the fourth century, when Saint Augustine made the first (notable) attempt to reconcile Christian War with the New Testament. Whether that was an improvement or not is up to you.
Gen 6:1 ¶ And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them,
Imagine that! Men bearing childbirth with other men? Good lordy! Such gayety from our lots in long forgotten sensualism!
Gen 6:2 That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they [were] fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.
So the sons of God took the ladies from the then men who they bore thru manly child-birthing.
Gen 6:3 And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also [is] flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.
The clincher here is that even God has truthfully reconciled that even God cannot overtake death's sentencing ways. Go Figure!
Umm..duh, this is a "belief" blog numbnuts. How about you see yourself out of here.
Which GOD, the Roman/Greek such as Zeus/Hera/Pluto/Mars or the Christian God(s) such as Baal, Yahweh and his wife Ashwer or was it El? (remember dude the later GOD(s) are named in your Christian Bible), please pray tell us your GODS name? Sidebar note the word GOD come from the 6th century Germanic word Gott.....the plot thickens
My gosh, what a tool.
interesting. learn something new every day.
I have a greater respect for these Anabaptist Christians. At least they understand the magnatude of following Jesus' teachings. In fact, any Christian that is upset with them for not being 'patriotic', needs to re-read the Bible.
These anti-patriots better watch out. The treacherous to country end up in the 9th circle of hell. Right next to Satan.
Besides creating Satan, how many circles of hell did God create?
The 9 circles of Hell are not biblical. They are from Dante's Inferno.
JESUS CHRIST said "I and the Father are One." Father-Son-Spirit in unity as One. Christ fulfilled 108 specific prophecies in the old testament. Many OT prophecies in the psalms and Zechariah have not come to pass yet. Jesus will fulfill these prophecies in His 2nd coming. All 66 books are God's inspired and true word...
Except that Christ said he would be back in one generation...it has been 100 generations and still no jesus....what do you expect from a fictional character?
"All 66 books are God's inspired and true word...
So the long list of commands to kill people (including children) were God's wishes.
You are right they are Inspired and written by men both good and bad.
You better be careful lest your called an heretic…Athanasius declared that these and only these 27 books are allowed to read as canon!
I think jeebus's second coming already happened. He took one look and just went back without doing anything.
God has promised that His grace is sufficient for us. This is true for me. 🙂
That's fine for you. Just don't use it to hypocritically trash people like gays and pro-choice supporters.
You are not a hypocrite?
"You are not a hypocrite?"
Everyone is in some areas, but many Christians seem to have perfected it. They tell people they will go to hell for not believing all of a book that they do not believe all of.
Christians love to pick on gays even though the Bible says divorce and remarriage makes one an adulterer. There are far far more Christian adulterers than there are total gays, but you never see Christians trash their remarried adulterers.
Christians also love to pretend that the Bible says anything negative about abortion. Actually, it offers more to support abortion than to oppose it.
Dude, I didn't say anything about abortion, h*m*s*xuality or hell. Are uou sure you are not one of these Christians you profess to be superior to? Why do you act like one? Why are you so preachy?
You asked about hypocrisy and I answered. You have been on here preaching about God. I have discussed what God's book says and how many Christians don't follow it.
You are telling people what to do.
"You are telling people what to do."
And you and Christians are not?
Ok, like Christians, you like to tell people what to do and are hypocritical.
"Ok, like Christians, you like to tell people what to do and are hypocritical."
You are on here peddling that people should believe in God.
Everyone is hypocritical. Yes.
Are Christians very judgmental, like you, too?
They don´t believe in violence , that´s good but they let other people do their fightng .
The original headline was misleading. This is an article about a faction within the Christianity that opposes patriotism in the same way that there are factions that are blindly patriotic.
Bu then that's the media for ya! Bait and switch and hook em
Agreed. CNN is irresponsible in its t.itling practices. Many articles that are cleanly and sensibly written are given shrill, antagonistic headlines for the sake of baiting more mouse clicks.
If you read "Islam's mystical message" would you think it was about all Islam or that you were about to read about Sufism and other mystical sects? This can be read either way, and people nitpicking it seem to me to be just out looking for an argument.
Yes sensationalism rules regardless of the topic or media outlet.
It also proves that you can be Christian and also unpatriotic. "Christian" is a very, very large tent, contrary to what many Conservative talking heads would have us believe.
At least they aren't the kind of Christians who seem to think being patriotic and being Christian are synonymous.
It is the very ideal of Patriotism to this country to be able to follow one's religious beliefs, just as it is the very ideal of Patriotism to this country to be able to verbally express those beliefs publicly, even if those beliefs do not coincide with the beliefs of other citizens or adhere to some law. It is OK in this country to speak up.
It is NOT Patriotic in this country to suppress other's right to verbally express their opinions or their dissensions. It is NOT Patriotic in this country to impose one's interpreted 'morality' on others.
Yes, freedom of speech is an American patriotic ethic, but are you really free to speak your mind and contradict what's said in church, even if a flag is hung there?
(exceeding usual limits : surpassing; extending or lying beyond the limits of ordinary experience)
Life is more than ordinary for me. Thank God! 🙂
Misery, hostility and confrontation – the unholy trinity of the internet message board addict.
Misery, hostility and confrontation – the unholy trinity of hypocritical Christians.
Do not tempt Odin's wrath by mocking him with your impotent god. The Aesir are the only gods worthy of your fear...
Trans, please show how either of the posts above your reply to yourself showed misery or hostility or confrontation. Thanks.
However many holy words you read, however many you speak, what good will they do you if you do not act on upon them?- Buddha
Love how Transcendent is calling himself an internet message board addict. Truth in labeling, I always say.
So, are you saying that Christians are above claiming all the positive outcomes in this world for their god, knowing that other people usually feel that the god they pray to was responsible?
Nope. Len, that came from your mind, not mine.
So, what do you think happens when a Hindu gets what he prays for? Are his gods also answering prayers, or was that just a lucky coincidence, like we atheists think your prayers answered by God are?
Do Hindu's pray to get things? Is that what Jesus Christ asks us to do? Pray to get what we ask for? He was just joking when He said "Thy will be done"?
Last night I dreamt we lived in a Palin free world. And then I woke up...
Perhaps if you stop bringing up her name....
♰ ♰ ♰ Jesus Christ Is Lord ♰ ♰ ♰
God Bless The United States Of America
It is hard for an intelligent person to argue with that. Amen.
Vic, your god is not to be found, anywhere. It is a myth. It's all in your head, nowhere else.
"God, please bless this world for we know not what else to do!"
"God, please bless this world for we know not what else to do!"
Message undeliverable. Ent'ity "God" is not locatable.
Keep it to yourself. I love America!
It is quite easy for an intelligent person to argue with that...watch.
Since there is no evidence whatsoever that any gods exist, There is no reason to believe that god blesses anything at all.
See how easy it is?
I thank God for opening my mind and seeing his beauty in all of science, nature and human love. The evidence is overwhelming.
I'm not sure what method you use to qualify your evidence, but if the totality of your evidence amounts to "proof," then please present that proof in a way that can be verified. In doing so, you will win countless prizes (the Nobel, for sure) and save billions of people around the globe from believing in the wrong god/religion. I'm sure you want people to worship the right way, so please, let's see your evidence.
So to you a complete 100% total lack of evidence of any dieties is overwhelming?
Is that why you have chosen delusion instead, it is so much easier to comprehend your own imagination.
You cliam that there is scientific evidence, please...show your work.
@Trans – good weed will also open your mind, without all of the bowing and kneeling crap...
"I thank God for opening my mind and seeing his beauty in all of science, nature and human love."
It's a shame that you couldn't figure out all the beauty in science, nature and human love without being told.
Sorry for butchering your name. It was strictly a typing error.
"If God were small enough to be understood, He would not be big enough to be worshiped." Evelyn Underhill
Please God, save me from your followers.
blah blah blah....your evidence please...
"God Bless The United States Of America"
Until Jesus returns and ends our nationhood, right?
🙂 You must be privileged to be posting on a computer in the middle of the day when most people are working. What are you doing to make a difference in the world, besides insisting that people who trust and believe in God prove it to *YOU*.
trans end...you said " thank God for opening my mind and seeing his beauty in all of science, nature and human love. The evidence is overwhelming."
You are the one that brought up evidence....where is it?
May God bless planet earth.
As a Christian, if you saw someone selling people a product that you saw obvious flaws in and they couldn't actually demonstrate worked, would you just say to yourself "I'm too skeptical to buy it myself, but it's none of my business if people do and get cheated in the process"?
An intelligent person would say you cannot prove or disprove the existence of whatever god you believe in. The arrogant and delusional person claims to know there is or there is not a God as fact. I wish both sides would learn some humility.
If it didn't work, I wouldn't buy it. Jesus Christ's way works. Find out what He asks, do it, and look at the evidence.
Again you mention evidence, but then do not present any. Show your evidence or you will show you are just a poser, with nothing to back you up. Stop trying to tap dance around it.
Show your work.
Do you seek to know God; not just know about Him?
Yet their religion prevents them from defending the country they so willingly trash....
IN what way do they "trash" their country, again?
If their Religion urges them to fight or aid for another country then I would call that anti-patriot. However for the most part these peoples religion is against our current moral stances, and they are in full right to do so. However others are in full rights to disagree with them too.
It seems that they are reading only part of the Bible. Yes, Jesus was a peacemaker. Yes he said to turn the other cheek. However there are many parts of the Bible where God sends his armies to kill every living thing in during battle (men, women, child and beast). I do think protecting your nation is worthy of war. I do think that the president of the United States is there as part of Gods plan. Is Obama, horrible, yes. Is he the Anti-Christ, I doubt it, but maybe. If it weren't Gods plan for him to be there, he wouldn't. That doesn't mean that he isn't evil and bad for the country.
The Mennonites along with the Amish folks have become fathered generations and their children will have to bear their religious heritage and abide in their teaching ways and live it out to their fullest measures.
Trust in God (if you wish), but tie up your camel at night.
How exactly is Obama any more "horrible" than his predecessor, or the average holder of the Oval Office?
Please turn off Fox News and pick up a book.
Better make that a book you didn't buy at a church bookstore.
Obama is evil
Obama is president because of god's plan
Therefor god is evil
Think Leo Tolstoy or Mahatmas Gandhi. I also never understood how at church we read about Jesus' Commands to love your neighbor, we are all equal, and to turn the other cheek.
Then we pray God will kill all the Muslims and dark-skinned people in the world...
What church do you attend where that is prayed?
Yeah, that's how it works. Bush even told us openly that god told him to invade Iraq. Good thing he didn't add the phrase "over my pink, toy telephone" because then everyone would have laughed.
Pink toy telephone. *snerk*
A good afternoon to you Akira!
I'm truly sorry for my rant the other day. Sometimes I get so danged caught up in my trying ways and step over my own boundaries of intellectual mindedness and get so damned emotionally moved that I forget to take a few steps back and consider my words before I let them fall. 🙁 Forgive me.
And a good afternoon to you, also, Mr. Lamb.
Nothing to forgive...although it is nice of you to apologize.
You're in black today...what's up with that? I had almost thought it was an impostor, at first...
While they certainly have every right to their beliefs just as any of us do, Mennonites are not considered by most Christians to be representative of mainstream Christian ideals. ALL the Christians I know hold patriotism to be a major tenent of our beliefs and patriotism has always been taught in our churches. We don't appreciate being judged by the opinions of a few minority sects or denominations that don't represent mainstream Christianity. We respect their right to their beliefs but we don't embrace those same beliefs. The "WE" I speak of includes Christians from several differing denominations and groups, Catholic and Protestant. Respect the Mennonites by all means; but never assume they respresent the majority of Christians.
I have seen no one actually say that the Mennonites represent the views of mainstream Christianity. As a matter of fact, I think that this article was written to state emphatically that they don't represent mainstream Christianity.
I think people are smart enough to realize that.
And their views are not an attack on Christianity, either, as I have seen some posters assert. They're just one sect of thousands.
I have also not seen anyone call this group representative. I would also not argue that Christianity is inherently patriotic, although the Mormons, Baptists and a few other sects clearly are usually so (Mormons by fundamental belief). The largest Christian sect, Catholicism, has historically been so outside of nationalism that it is banned or regulated as a threat in several countries. I would hesitate to generalize much about Christianity in this area.
Afternoon Robyn Houp,
As I made mention in an earlier post, there are two types of Christians within the mainstream of Christendom. You have the emotionally charged and then you have the aristocratically sullen. The emotionally charged are those with little learned skills ever being emotionally transfixed and intellectually dumbfounded. Then these religious aristocrats are those religiously wary and economically forlorn ever looking for a better piece of the money pies.
There's a lot of Jewish patriotism in the Bible, where where are the verses that support a Christian patriotism to some other country? Isn't more fair to say that patriotism was an American ethic that churches adopted in order to fit into the culture, and isn't an actually "Christian"?
So, tell me what that has to do with our soldiers killing and being killed defending our economic advancement over the freedoms of people in another country? That's wrong, not even taking into account the fact that very few in the US actually benefit from such acts.
cosmic, i challenge this statement at the end of it.
do you think we barely benefit? I disagree, i say you benefit from the beginning from the economic advantage, and you are guilty by association for taking part in the bicameral democracy. with no yes or no, but yes and no at the same time, the insanity with world power is not innocent. . we have the best state of affairs here because we have always been the international benefactor and power. now if that becomes an oppressive machine, it does not matter if you are republican or democrat.