As we celebrate the Fourth of July, Frank Wright, director of the Center for Christian Statesmanship, took a few moments to share with Crosswalk.com his thoughts on patriotism. He also told us a bit about the center's work in ministering to Congress. Officially known as the D. James Kennedy Center for Christian Statesmanship, the center is an interdenominational, nonpartisan, spiritually based outreach to our nation's leaders in Washington, D.C.
"Should Christians be patriotic? That's an interesting question," Wright responded. "Well, patriotism comes from the same root word as 'pater,' which means father. Patriotism has to do with remembering the things of our fathers."
The answer unfolds as we talk. "And the Old Testament contains numerous references to 'resting with the fathers,' particularly in the Book of Kings.
"There's that association of those that have gone before us, the sacrifices they have made," Wright continues. "So, yes, I think Christians should be patriotic. And secondarily, God has a great deal to say about nations. The Bible says God sets up kings, and brings them down, and it says God has a great deal to do with the life of a nation."
However, Wright adds, we should be patriotic in the right way. "We shouldn't be jingoistic or nationalistic to the extent of thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought, but we ought to look at God's providential care in the life of this nation. We ought to look at the blessings that He's bestowed on us, and look at the sacrifices of our fathers and realize there's a lot to give thanks for, and there's still a lot to fight for."
He points out that one of the central tenets of the Protestant reformation is that there is no separation between the sacred parts of life and the secular parts of life. "The reformers said all of life is sacred for the Christian. And wherever you serve, that service is sacred if it is rendered unto the Lord. If you take that definition, then it becomes very simple. Everything is sacred - medicine, law, government, education, politics. So engaging in the culture is sacred if it is done unto the Lord."
Wright embraces those ideals at the Center for Christian Statesmanship. Its mission is to restore a vision for Christian statesmanship, starting in the nation's capital. "We have this great and godly heritage as a Christian nation, and that has unfortunately been lost to our history and among our political leaders."
So the Center was established to bring Christ and the gospel to our leaders, proclaim Christ to those who don't know him, and strengthen the faith of the Christians who are in leadership, explains Wright. They will disciple them, mentor them, encourage them to go deeper in their faith. And they try to get congressional Christians to apply their faith to public life.
"We remind the political leaders of the responsibility they have to give an account to God for their service and to turn to God for His providential provision for all that we need as a nation."
It is a unique ministry for Capitol Hill, says Wright. "This place is populated with every sort of organization that seeks some favor from our government. They want influence, they want a vote, they want a bill, they want some answer from our bureaucracy."
The Center's staff is different in that they say to Congress: "We want nothing from you. We are here to serve you and we care about your spiritual welfare." Wright laughs. "Our mission is so counter to this place that we get funny looks sometimes."
He clearly enjoys his job, especially mentoring and equipping the young staffers. "We invest in them and pour our lives in these future leaders," he adds.
When Wright was first asked to serve as executive director of the Center for Christian Statesmanship, he admits he was a bit "surprised." At the time, he was operating a successful property management business, had just completed his doctorate. in finance, and was poised to enter a teaching and research career in higher education. But he was "open to God having a different plan," and that plan led him back to the nation's capital, where he was born and raised.
An active elder for many years at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Wright directed the church's outreach programs to the poor as well as a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating local municipalities on the impact of pornography. In addition, Wright served for eight years on the board of a crisis pregnancy center and served on the board of Knox Theological Seminary.
In wrapping up the conversation, we return to the theme of patriotism. Wright points out that Washington, D.C., where the Center is located, helps stir a sense of patriotism. He said he recently visited Arlington Cemetery to lead devotions for a Christian tour group. "You just see these cascading tombstones, coming down from the hills. It's crying out with a very important message: Freedom is not free. There was a price that was paid.
"I think that the Fourth is a good time to be reminded that diligence is the price of liberty," Wright concludes. "And our liberty ultimately comes to us from God."