Disclaimer: I know not all our readers are from the US. I trust you can apply this in your context or you can just laugh at us.
Walk into a typical conservative evangelical church over a 4th of July weekend and you’re guaranteed to see one: a t-shirt declaring “JesUSAves,” “By His stripes we are healed” (this text over the stripes on the American flag), “God bless the good guys” (this with the emblems of the US armed forces), or “God bless the troops, especially the snipers.”
Maybe you’ve seen this type of thing so often that it doesn’t seem out of place. But it is out of place. Each of these t-shirts combines two different elements that don’t belong together. In the theological world, we call this “syncretism.”
Syncretism occurs whenever we mix Christianity with other things (usually some sort of ism). It is usually very difficult to recognize syncretism in our own lives because the thoughts that have gotten mixed in are usually deeply ingrained in our worldview (a later post on the sources of syncretism will explore that idea a bit further).
For now, let’s consider the simple message of these t-shirts. What do we mean when we say “JesUSAves”? If we take either element on its own, I don’t see any problem. I believe that Jesus saves, and I believe that the USA exists (I also enjoy living here). But what in the world does “JesUSAves” mean?
At best, a statement like this has no meaning. It really does not say anything. But American Christians like it because they like Jesus, they like the USA, so why not combine the two on a t-shirt (Christians also like Christian t-shirts)? But maybe the message is worse than simply being a meaningless statement. Maybe it’s a suggestion that Jesus saves the USA. But again, what does that mean? Maybe it means that Jesus saves the USA but no other countries? Some people seem to really like that idea because all those “other” people are so bad. This sentiment would match the “God bless the good guys” and the “God bless our snipers” t-shirts. Maybe it’s a statement that Jesus if Jesus were on earth, He would “gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today ‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land, God bless the USA” (lyrics from “God Bless the USA” by Lee Greenwood). Do we really believe that? Jesus would fight for the USA against other nations? What if there are Christians in those other nations?
The shirt that scares me even more is the “By His stripes we are healed” with the American flag in the background. What in the world can that mean? Is it a suggestion that America or its flag is the means by which Jesus heals us? I shudder to think.
To be clear, I am very thankful to live in America, I enjoy the freedoms we have as citizens, and I want Jesus to save American citizens. But I also want Jesus to save the citizens of every other nation in the world. I’m not pro-America in the sense that I’m anti-every-other-country. And neither is God.
God’s plan to redeem this world includes every nation. Even the ones you don’t like. Paul said that God preached the gospel to Abraham in the simple words: “In you shall all the nations be blessed” (Gal. 3:8, quoting Gen. 12:3). Notice that phrase: all the nations. Or look to the end of the story. Jesus is praised for saving people from all nations: “By your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).
I’m really not trying to pick a fight with anyone here, but I do want to call you to consider your assumptions. Does your American nationalism hinder your ability to see the world as God sees it? Should American nationalism really be married to Christianity? Or is Christianity about God’s heart for a bride from all nations?