Should churches be patriotic? I definitely don't think that a church should take a partisan political position, endorse candidates, or be involved in non-relevant issue advocacy, but does standard run-of-the-mill patriotism have any place at church?
One of the most direct references Jesus makes to our responsibilities to the state is really more of a challenge to give over to God everything that we owe him.
Matthew 22:15-22The focus of Jesus' teaching here isn't on what we owe the nation -- give Caesar what belongs to him -- but rather that we should be giving God that which bears God's image: ourselves. Nevertheless, if flying an American flag were required by law, then churches would be obligated to follow that law, under this teaching. However, in America we're free to display patriotism, or not, however we see fit.
Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. "Teacher," they said, "we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"
But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, "You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax." They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?"
"Caesar's," they replied.
Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."
When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
As I see it, there are two main factors to consider. First, God has laid upon government certain responsibilities; a just government that fulfills those responsibilities and works to spread God's common grace is pleasing to God. In the book of Romans we see a picture of how we as Christians should submit to a just government.
Romants 13:1-7I believe that these principles give government wide latitude, and that it's pretty clear that liberal democracy (as much as I like it) is not the only form of government that can meet with God's approval. In this passage, we are commanded to respect the authority that God has placed over us -- and considering the condition of the Roman Empire at the time, it's hard to really complain about most governments these days.
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
If a country and its government fulfill the responsibilities that God lays upon it, then we should be thankful, both towards God and towards the people who -- in a sense -- minister God's common grace to us: our government officials, our soldiers, our police and firefighters, our road workers, &c. Although all of these people are human and make mistakes, and even do evil intentionally, they are part of the system that God has put in place as his agent of common grace in the world.
As an American, countless men and women have given their careers and their lives to protect my freedoms and to provide God's grace to me, often unwittingly. I think it's fitting for me to be thankful -- first to God, for putting me in such an amazing time and place, but also to the men and women whom he has used to provide so richly for me. Just as we should be thankful for the teachers and servents God uses to administer his saving grace, we should be eager to recognize those who administer God's common grace.
However, that first consideration may sometimes conflict with this second: the purpose of a church is to spread God's message to people who haven't heard it, and to teach them about God. There are many people who don't like America (specifically), or their government in general, no matter where they live. Such people need to hear about God as much as anyone, but they may be turned away by displays of patriotism that they see as offensive.
Some people in some countries have excellent reasons to despise their government; some people in some countries may despise their government for foolish reasons. This question is not for the church to decide -- the church is called to spread God's message of love and forgiveness, not to make political disciples or patriots.
These two principles may live together in harmony under many circumstances, but when they clash I think it's clear that the first must give way to the second. It is fitting to give thanks publically for what God has done with a nation, but it is not required. What is necessary is that no mere worldly, temporal distractions cause anyone to reject the spiritual calling of God.
1 Corinthians 9:19-22
Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.