I’ve grown tired of those who claim to be more patriotic than the rest of us while working to destroy democracy – or more Christian while largely ignoring everything Jesus said and did.

Faithfulness takes more than laying claims to titles, and then redefining and misrepresenting the very essence of their meanings.

In fact, those who wave the biggest flags and display the largest crosses (or hoist borrowed Bibles) often confuse the two allegiances and rarely represent the best of what either means.

Those who position themselves as the best representatives of America and Christianity are the ones we most need to watch. Rather than living up to the ideals of such identifications, they are often mislabeling them for their own selfish and manipulative benefits.

It is easy to repeat patriotic slogans and hawk national symbols (though there’s nothing wrong with that if consistent with one’s values and behavior). But it is more challenging to work for liberty and justice for all.

It is easy to proclaim one’s Christian virtue with coined phrases and religious imagery; it is more challenging to deny oneself and follow Jesus to places of self-giving.

And it is particularly misguided and harmful to conflate those two commitments in ways that present a false narrative of the nation’s founding and its unfolding history that turns Jesus into a national mascot who justifies discrimination and other abuses.

It’s been said that winners write the histories, but losers have some ink too. “Lost Cause” narratives have largely shaped the South — and, therefore, southern religion. But the self-preservationist civil religion of Americanized Christianity knows no regional bounds.

Our true values are revealed through words and deeds, not show or tell. In 1 John 3:18, the writer put it succinctly. “Your actions speak louder than your words.”

Humility, sacrifice and service speak louder and truer than bumper stickers, T-shirts and political talking points. Devoid of love and empowerment for all those God loves, any proclamations of virtue are simply the empty and annoying echoes of what Paul called a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

Sticking a label on something doesn’t necessarily describe its contents accurately. Who knows? That tuna salad sandwich might not even contain tuna. The same goes for many Americanized iterations of Christianity in which Jesus’ DNA is undiscoverable.

Distinguishing between what someone claims and what someone is actually advancing requires discernment over gullibility – and a mature understanding of the importance of evaluation over defensiveness. Otherwise, it is easy to buy, or buy into, a duplicitous misrepresentation.

Such wisdom, discernment and critique are particularly needed in response to those who keep ratcheting up fears and favoritism with false claims of “Christianity” being under attack.

Carlos Rodriguez, founder of a Puerto Rico-based nonprofit organization called The Happy, put such undeserved defensiveness in proper perspective.

“The target is not Christians; it’s Christian Nationalism,” he wrote on Twitter. “The target is not men; it’s patriarchy.”

“The target is not white people; it’s white supremacy,” he continued. “The target is not heterosexuals; it’s homophobia [and I’d add, discrimination].”

“Don’t take it personal[ly],” he concludes. “Join the work and dismantle oppressive systems.”

We seem to have things backward. The unfair power structures and religious/political authoritarianism that Jesus faced and challenged – and ultimately led to his death – have become the favored fortresses of Americanized Christianity.

So often those doing the most harm to American democracy and to the advancement of the Christian faith (two separate things, but often by the same people) are those claiming the strongest allegiance to – and being the best representatives of – both.

We need the wisdom and courage to speak truth to such nonsense – and to counter these gross misrepresentations. These intentional misrepresentations of civil and religious allegiances are destructive forces to life and witness.

To claim to be an American patriot but divert from the ideal of liberty and justice for all is fraudulent.

To bear the name “Christian” while advancing a self-serving political agenda at odds with the life and teachings of Jesus is to participate in his ongoing crucifixion.

Jesus and his early followers conveyed clearly that one’s identity is not ultimately revealed in slogans and symbols but in the clear, demonstrative evidence of sacrificial love and those identifying attributes called fruit of the Spirit.

By exhibiting Christ-like love and service – not a lot of hype and hoopla – we will be known as his disciples. Be assured, however, there is another popular and conflicting definition of “Christian” being cheaply sold in bulk today.

We can stand by and watch – in the name of keeping the peace – or we can be faithful to the Prince of Peace who still calls those who dare to walk in his footsteps down a path away from power and self-advancement at the expense of others and the values long claimed.

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