Nationalism, the Olympics, and the Gospel

I just told my wife last night that one day we should write a book together about her thoughts of being an American who lived in Canada (when we were first married) and mine as a Canadian living in America. Despite jokes about Canada being the 51st state or “America Jr.”, there is a vast difference between both countries originating back through history to both of their foundings. She noted that no matter how long she lived in Canada, she would always be an American, and I noted that no matter how long I lived in America, I would always be a Canadian. 

That’s one of the major differences between the two nations. The two formative ideological events in Canada demonstrate who we are today. The War of 1812, where Canadians, pre-Canada, decided it was better to side with Great Britain rather than an invading force from the south (I jokingly call it the “War of Southern Aggression”) helped to begin to cement an identity that Canadians were not Americans. That cemented during Confederation in 1867 when Canada, wary of Great Britain’s pulling out of North America, and wary of the growing republican influence from the United States (what Canadians considered a “radical democracy”), decided it was in their best interest to unite a disparate group of colonies into one nation. So, if you ask a Canadian what makes a Canadian, the clearest answer is, “we’re not Americans.” 

Now, that’s not to say we don’t appreciate many wonderful things about the United States, but ideologically Canadians will always be different. And we find, when in the US (as any ex pat finds in a new country) that we become more patriotic in order to defend what makes us unique. This has been the hallmark of Canadianism from the beginning in emphasizing a mosaic of a culture which sees the value of everyone’s differences rather than the American melting pot which sees being American, above all else, the priority. 

Some of these things come out when the Olympics are on. While Canada is much stronger in the winter Olympics (I mean, we all know it snows 100% of the time in Canada) I certainly feel the need to cheer on my Canadian athletes even in the summer Olympics. I am glad when my adopted country does well too, but I secretly (and not so secretly), want Canada to do better. It’s again, part of our mosaic understanding of culture that sees our identifying difference as a Canadian as being different from everyone else. And the Olympics feeds on that. What was designed as being an event which would unite different nations together ultimately is the biggest expression of how nations are different, and the resulting competition often fosters disharmony rather than unity.

My current reading on the two formative historical events of the development of Canadian culture and watching the Olympics in the evening has made me ruminate on our nationalities, patriotism, and the Gospel.

There’s nothing wrong with being patriotic or loving your country. Americans are naturally patriotic, so much so that they sometimes find patriotism for other countries odd (I’ve been told I can go back home if I want on more than one occasion). I love my home country AND love my adopted country. But nationalism and patriotism can go too far (think Nazi Germany). Some of the current rhetoric about closing borders that we’re hearing in the political arena also is a little concerning. Here’s the thing, as Christians, we all need to remember that these countries that we live in or are from are not our homes. I’m not really Canadian. You’re not really American. We’re actually citizens of heaven, and simply sojourners here on earth. 

Our nationalism and patriotism can blind us from the needs of those around us that are different from us. We can forget that the Gospel is for everyone, and as Christians we are obligated to reach everyone, those who look and sound like us and those that don’t. And yet we continue to emphasize these things in our churches. We have black churches, white churches, Asian churches, etc. While there’s nothing wrong with appreciating our cultures, there’s everything wrong with elevating our cultures over the Gospel. If Galatians 3:28 is true, then we need to remember that in the Kingdom of God and in the Church, there is no Jew or Greek, Male or Female, Slave or Free, American or Canadian, Black or White, etc. There is just those who have been redeemed and are now standard bearers of the Kingdom of God.

So, cheer on your Olympians. Fly your flag. Honor and teach what you find great about your culture and nation. But remember, in Christ Jesus, all those other things disappear. We are then ONE; servants of the King of the Universe.  

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