Yesterday in the Sacrament Meeting I attended, we closed singing the Star Spangled Banner (I managed to suppress the urge to yell “Play Ball” at the end). While going through the typical sacrament meeting in the U.S. before the July 4th Independence Day holiday, I couldn’t help thinking about what role patriotism should play in my life.
Like many Americans I’ve always loved my country, and I generally enjoy the 4th. But on the other hand, I also feel strongly on April 25th (Liberty Day in Portugal) and somewhat on the three other days associated with Portuguese liberty and independence—June 10th (Portugal Day), October 5th (Proclamation of the Republic) and December 1st (Restoration of Independence). Perhaps when the U.S. has a nearly 900 year history we will have 4 liberty-related holidays also. I also have strong feelings about September 7th, Brazilian independence day.
So, is my patriotism impaired?
As exhibited in the U.S., patriotism is caught up in the idea of American exceptionalism—the idea that the U.S. is better than other countries, or that it has a unique and vital role that we alone can fulfill. But when I was in Portugal on my mission, I learned that Portugal was also exceptional, that it also has an important role to play. Can both be true? Isn’t there equality of opportunity for salvation?
At this point, my best attempt at reconciling my various patriotic feelings and understanding scriptural and prophetic claims about the U.S., the Americas, Portugal, etc., is to look at them like I look on callings. For whatever reason the Lord calls or allows to be called individuals to fill positions in the Church. Those called serve for a time, fulfill (we hope) their role, and are released and asked to fill another role. If we look at those callings as some indication of who one person being better than another, or more worthy than another (beyond the Temple Recommend minimums), I suspect we are doing wrong.
Just as the release of a Bishop and calling of another doesn’t necessarily mean that the second is now better than the first, so too the Lord calling one group as his chosen people doesn’t mean that group is better than others, or that the Lord loves the others less. It just means that the group has a role to play—a calling to fulfill. Nations, to the extent that any nation can be exceptional, are only so because of their actions and the role that they can play in the world. The Lord doesn’t love their people any less.
By saying this, I’m not trying to suggest that all countries are the same, or even equal on important measures like liberty, effort or righteousness. But I do want to suggest that nations are made of people, including both righteous and unrighteous, lazy and hard-working, who are entitled to an equality of treatment, love and respect. Sure in many ways the U.S. is more free than other nations, but in some aspects of freedom we may be behind other nations. While we are more righteous than some nations, I’m not at all sure that we are more righteous than every other nation.
I do believe that the U.S. has a role to fulfill, although I’m certain we don’t know all the details. I’m also certain that other countries, like each of us individually, all have their roles to fulfill.
So, on this 4th of July, I’ll look for what role the U.S. should be playing, raising my voice to help and support our country on to further righteousness in the world, while celebrating my connection to this great nation. And at least 5 other times during the year, I’ll look for what the other countries I love should be doing, and I’ll celebrate my love and connection to those countries also.