In this wonderful month of July, when we celebrate both Independence Day and Pioneer Day, we are thinking a lot about heritage and about the blessings derived from this church and from this country.
But something troubles us. It is the confusion between patriotism and nationalism. We occasionally hear “patriotic” people talking about how much better Americans are than other peoples. And we hear others who feel a sense of entitlement because of where they were born and who think it makes them privileged and superior to people who were born elsewhere.
It is this type of people who don’t seem to feel that immigrants should be able to come here, even though they, and all Americans for that matter, are descendants of immigrants.
It seems that patriotism can branch in two different directions. One is toward gratitude and humility and responsibility; the other is toward pride, conceit, privilege and prejudice. When it goes that second way, it is nationalism rather than patriotism.
It was nationalism, not patriotism, that infused Adolf Hitler’s Germany and started World War II.
Real patriotism is essentially another word for thankfulness. Being truly thankful for our freedoms, for our heritage, for our constitution and for this extraordinarily beautiful land does not bring about pride or exclusivity — it brings humility and the desire to share what we have and to expand and export our freedom and opportunity to others.
We love the kind of patriotism we saw in the tiny town of Paris, Idaho, on the Fourth of July as we ate a chuck wagon breakfast, attended a worship and music assembly in the historic tabernacle and watched a parade of flag-waving and horses and drill teams going down Main Street. On the way home, we were trying to remember all of the words to "America the Beautiful," and as we consulted Google on our iPhones, we found that there are actually eight verses, rather than just the four we usually sing. Some of the little-known later verses express perfectly the gratitude and humility of true patriotism.
In verse five: America! America! God shed his grace on thee, Till souls wax fair as earth and air And music-hearted sea!
And in verse six: America! America! God shed his grace on thee, Till paths be wrought through wilds of thought, By pilgrim foot and knee!
And in verse seven: America! America! God shed his grace on thee, Till selfish gain no longer stain The banner of the free!
We need to express our true patriotism more from our knees and to rid ourselves of the selfish and prideful stains of seeing ourselves as inherently superior or privileged.
It is even more troublesome when that same type of prideful mentality is expressed with regard to the church. It is one thing to be deeply grateful for the gospel and the Restoration and for membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but it is something else again to feel we are better than others because of our membership or to feel condescension because we are lucky enough or blessed enough to have found or been born into the church.
The restored gospel is not exclusive but deeply and totally inclusive. All humans are children of God and brothers and sisters of each other, and that eternal siblinghood should be more than enough to wipe out prejudice and nationalism in all its forms.