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Long Island

Asking the clergy: How is patriotism honored in your religious teachings?

Kevin O'Hara

Kevin O'Hara Photo Credit: Lutheran Church of Our Savior

The Fourth of July will be commemorated this week with parades, public ceremonies, (including fireworks) and religious services across Long Island. This week’s clergy discuss the ways in which people of faith express love of country.

Narinder Kapoor

Member of the board of directors of the Multi-Faith Forum of Long Island, Melville

In Ramayana, one of the greatest epics in Hindu mythology, Lord Rama states that the motherland is greater than heaven. We all aspire to do certain meritorious deeds in order to attain heaven. That is the highest goal of our life. One of the basic teachings of Hinduism is that the motherland is greater than any other thing in this world. Religion or God come after motherland and parents.

Patriotism is about fighting for one’s country, even against the government, if need be. Nationalism thrives on competition, a sense of surpassing other nations. In the Indian context, nationalism involves a necessary sense of having a national identity at the forefront over any other form of identity.

Being a patriot in the Hindu faith is a matter of personal pride and privilege. Hinduism profoundly believes in equality and love for its motherland. To defend the motherland even at the cost of one’s life is the most sacred duty of each and every patriot. Patriotism does not mean fanaticism.

There are countless historical episodes and examples of folklore authenticating the personal courage, sacrifice, and above all, the genuine passion to defend the motherland. Hindus believe that no particular religion teaches the only way to salvation above all others, but that all genuine religious paths are facets of God’s pure love and light, deserving acceptance and understanding. Therefore the Hindu faith does not promote aggression of any kind in the guise of patriotism.

The Rev. Kevin O’Hara

Pastor, Lutheran Church of Our Savior, Patchogue

When German Lutherans immigrated here in large numbers after World War I, the American flag became important in the sanctuary to calm others’ suspicions of these new immigrants’ loyalties. During World War II, Lutherans (and other religious groups) still living in Germany mistakenly aligned themselves with the ruling Nazi party. Between suspicion and alignment, there is a tension we find ourselves in. By and large, I haven’t yet met a Lutheran who isn’t proud to be living in the United States. This ranges from Republican to Democrat, activist to conformist, and everything in between. We live in two worlds: one that is the land we call home (the United States) and the other we are bound for (heaven).

In many ways, these two worlds seem comparable, but not completely. Knowing we have a place to go, we try as hard as possible to recognize who we are completely and to make our communities a better place. All this is to say: Our lives are complicated. I know many Lutherans who love patriotic music; others worry about unquestioning devotion. Some like the flag in the sanctuary; others think the flag is better represented on the front grounds, not in the sanctuary.

Still, Lutherans united across the nation to pray for our military, join the armed services, hand out service books, and pray for our elected officials no matter who they are. It comes down to choice, and in the end, I feel that this is the best option, for patriotism and for faith.

The Rev. Wendy C. Modeste

Pastor, United Methodist Church of Bay Shore

Our nation was founded on the principle of separation of church and state. Yet religion is deeply woven into our country’s fabric. A good example is Sept. 11, 2001. That horrifying day unleashed our nation’s unselfish patriotism. Church pews were packed for weeks; prayers were said for the victims and their families, as well as for first responders. We were praying for the sake of our country.

On a more personal note, Sept. 11 is when I heard God’s call to the ministry confirmed. I was heading into the office in the World Trade Center’s south tower for work. After I got off the subway at the WTC stop, someone yelled, “Gunshots!” We all rushed back onto the subway, which was still in the station. Tilting my head and looking up the stairway, it seemed quiet. So I cautiously walked up the stairs. In the concourse near the elevators, a security guard was shouting, “Get out of the building.” As I reached an exit, I looked up and flames were shooting up from the top of the building. Then I heard a distinct voice in my right ear: “Get out of the building. They are coming down.” I crossed Broadway. I knew that I needed to get out of Manhattan. There was a loud explosion, and I fell in the middle of the road. The second plane had hit the building. After walking awhile, I caught a cab to safety.

That voice — God’s voice — stayed in my ear. I knew my life had been literally saved. This miracle in my life led me to full-time ministry, where I can help people in need. Today our congregation celebrates Independence Day with special patriotic music, hymns and singing. We are still one nation under God, seeking the wellness of our nation.

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