Patriotism vs. Nationalism in a Mormon Context

By Armstrong, John | Deseret News (Salt Lake City), October 4, 2017 | Go to article overview

Patriotism vs. Nationalism in a Mormon Context


Armstrong, John, Deseret News (Salt Lake City)


Editor's note: This essay is part of an ongoing Deseret News opinion series exploring ideas and issues at the intersection of faith and thought.

Patriotism is affection for country. In the United States, it’s about fireworks and Fourth of July, serving one’s country, participating meaningfully in politics, and valuing liberty and justice for all citizens. Nationalism, on the other hand, is the zealous identification with a cultural group, and it often devolves into an unrighteous sense of superiority over others and breeds a desire for dominance.

At the October general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, senior Church leaders warned against the spiritual and social dangers of this kind of nationalism. The last time an LDS apostle expressly condemned nationalism was in 1993 when, at the Parliament of World Religions, Elder Russell M. Nelson said, “We see evidences of increasing ethnic strife and hatred. Nationalism seems to be taking priority over brotherly love.”

I live 75 minutes from Charlottesville, Virginia. On Aug. 12, white supremacists went there for a rally. One of them drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer, a Charlottesville resident. I know that racism and nationalism are problems worldwide, but the brazen racism of that day surprised and appalled me.

From the belief that “all are alike unto God” to the parable of the Good Samaritan, Christ’s gospel teaches that we should not let differences of national origin, sex or color lessen our love for our fellow humans. If God loves all his children, then so should we.

But can we? It seems natural to love our benefactors and ourselves more than we love non-benefactors. If my country benefits me, patriotic feelings naturally follow. The same could potentially be said for my nation, should I have one. Also, contributing to a larger whole gives a sense of purpose, and my country or nation might be such a whole, even if most people on earth do not belong to it.

A country is a state, a political entity that, among other things, settles disputes among citizens, makes laws for their common life, and protects them from hostile individuals and countries. In the Latter-day Saint tradition, we believe that the United States, with its guarantee of religious freedom, provided fertile ground for the restoration of Christ’s gospel.

A nation is different from a country. A nation is a group with a shared ancestry and often a shared culture that may include a common language, religion and history, as well as shared songs, cuisine and art.

A person can be patriotic without being nationalistic, or nationalistic without being patriotic.

Many countries are nation-states — countries with populations drawn mainly from one nation. …

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