Independence Day is a flag-waving, love-of-country time to reflect on everything good about America. So the recent Pew poll that asked people if they often feel proud to be American is well-timed. Fifty-six percent of us often do.
But thoughtful patriots pause before answering this question. What is it to be American? What is America? Can you be down on America but still proud to be American? Can you love your country if your country loves what it should not love?
I became a citizen in 2010 after studying and working in this country for 25 years as a Canadian. I am proud to be American, but not always proud of America. Consider the people who are dearest to us. We love them without fail, but we are not always proud of them, depending on how they use or neglect their talents.
The United States is a country founded on just principles: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” The nation is continually rising up to “live out the true meaning of its creed,” or on some points stumbling and falling backward. We cannot be proud of our stumblings.
America is a land of enormous creative energy: culturally, economically, and technologically. At home, we are generally decent and compassionate. We’re combative, but within limits. We are still a church-going, gospel-preaching, missionary-sending land of religious liberty—though we often mix the gospel with error, commercialism, and self-focus. Abroad, we feed the world’s people, aid them in disaster, and do what we can to relieve their all-too-often miserable estate. Even by simply pursuing our interests, we are a beacon of freedom, a constraint on tyrants.
But in America, it is a constitutional right to kill your baby in what should be the safety of the womb. Large and powerful segments of the population are passionately committed to this court-invented political right. Since 1973, we have murdered almost 57 million of our own people in this way. The Pew poll found that “about half of the public (51%) says abortion should be legal in all or most cases.” It is also telling that the especially barbaric practice of partial-birth abortion is even a subject of debate.
Add to this a national and culturally dominant war on manhood, womanhood, family, and marriage and it’s hard to glow about this “land that I love” without significant qualification.
America lives always in a state of aspiration, facing the gap between our practice and our principles. We are never fully what we want to be, not always mindful of what we should be, and sometimes shamefully in denial of what God, nature, and our forefathers have taught us.
Can we be proud while the gap exists? But it will always exist—at times larger, at times smaller. “Grateful” is actually a better word than proud. Pride is unjustly satisfied. Gratitude is humble and hungry to be always more worthy of the patriot’s love. It directs us to God, lifts us out of self and the narrow horizon of the present, and leaves us mindful of our shortcomings. Perhaps an annual Repentance Day—a day of silence and fasting—would help us.