Emily Bazelon, a writer for one of my most favorite (and oft-quoted) websites, slate.com, recently wrote an article describing her fear that her environmental responsibility was turning her children into eco-snobs. Relating her quandary, she says (italics mine):
According to a marketing survey (which the Times ran in a graphic I couldn’t hide from), more buyers bought the Prius this year because it “makes a statement about me” (57 percent) than because of its better gas mileage (36 percent) or lower carbon dioxide emissions (25 percent) or new technology (7 percent). If I’m being honest, I’d answer “all of the above” in response to that survey. It also made me worry about how my kids perceive our family Prius ownership. Do they think we’re doing our small bit to save the Earth, or are they imbibing a look-at-me smugness? This is a problem that can arise in many contexts—nationalism and religion spring to mind. There’s a fine line between pride in one’s identity and unearned moral superiority.
I was completely fascinated by this concept. Of course, snob that I am, I thought of other people — Christians whose parochial, jingoist, rah-rah Americanism-as-religion takes the place of their loyalty to Christ and his Church. I’m grateful for my brothers and sisters in Christ who live outside the US. They’ve helped me understand the unity and universality of the Church across continents. They’ve shown me the necessity of uniting under the essentials of the Gospel, lest our witness be utterly destroyed by factionalism.
But this deeper understanding of the Church as it transcends national boundaries has created a set of frustrations as I address and deal with the American church. I have a problem with the display of the flag at the front of a sanctuary, the singing of “patriotic” songs in church, obsession over one political party or another and its supposed power to “bring America back” to its ostensibly Christian roots, etc. All those things drive me crazy and I think it’s high time pastors refused to settle for syncretism within their flocks.
And yet, even thinking about these issues immediately takes me to a place of pride and self-righteousness. You see, my church doesn’t get all fired up about those sorts of things. We don’t display American flags, sing patriotic music, obsess about God blessing our nation — several of our pastors are pretty politically agnostic, and all of them recognize that the Kingdom of God will not ride in on the train of a president.
Back to the quote: isn’t that precisely what Ms. Bazelon was discussing? There is indeed a fine line between, as I would put it, gratitude for what the Lord is doing in my church community and, as she put it, unearned moral superiority.
So I would offer my thanks to Ms. Bazelon for the (unintended) reminder that I am not morally superior to the woman who tearfully warbles “God Bless America” at her church’s Fourth of July picnic. I haven’t earned a higher moral standing. Christ fulfilled all the requirements of the law and was perfectly righteous before God. In Christ, I have that perfect standing as well.
How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance — now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. Hebrews 9:14-15