Over the years we have been blessed with freedom of religion. When church and country share common goals, they form a powerful and mutually sustaining partnership. Yet occasionally the government takes a turn in opposition to church teachings, as it did in legalizing abortion.
Then there is the divisive case of the war with Iraq. Can an American oppose U.S. policy without being called a traitor? Can a church member take exception to the church's declared position without being called a heretic?
No institution can escape human weakness and sinfulness. Over the centuries, the church has made serious missteps, such as the Inquisition and the Crusades. Our country too practiced inhumane policies it later regretted, such as slavery, segregation, the internment of Japanese-Americans and our treatment of Native Americans.
Neither church nor country corrected its faults voluntarily. It took prophetic witnesses such as Francis of Assisi and Catherine of Siena to spark spiritual revolutions that called the church away from corruption and back to Gospel basics. Similarly, Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. displayed a down-to-earth patriotism that challenged our nation to live up to its own Constitutional premise that "all are created equal."
We need both patriots and prophets if we are to survive, much less improve. Flying a flag is easy. How about studying the issues and voting intelligently? Serving on jury duty? Paying our fair share of taxes? Writing letters to the editor? Contacting our governmental representatives? Marching in demonstrations that oppose current government policies? Protecting the rights of others to express their opinions, even if we disagree?
Similarly, our church badly needs prophets in these dark times of scandals and disillusionment. Prophets are people brave enough to speak truth to power and, by their words and lives, make the rest of us feel uneasy. Their examples create controversy as they prick our collective conscience. They remind us of a more noble life God calls us to embrace, and they warn us of disastrous consequences should we stubbornly refuse to amend our ways.
We must avoid vilifying and condemning the true prophets and patriots in our midst. Without such people, both church and country are doomed. With such people, better times lie ahead.