In previous years it has been difficult for me to celebrate the 4th of July for a few reasons. First, I've become aware of the imperfections of our origins story. Second, I've come to understand that we've rarely been the sort of "city on a hill" that we've imagined ourselves. Our origins and our history are full of both great accomplishments and great atrocities. Third, as a Christian, I have had to become intentional about separating my religious confession from the civil religion to which it has been connected, unfairly. The United States is not a "Christian" nation in the purest sense of the word, i.e., a nation either (1) that somehow reflects the values of Christ into the world in a way that is easily differentiated from other nations nor (2) a nation with some sort of exclusive, even covenantal, relationship with the Creator.
We may use the language "God bless America" timidly, but American Exceptionalism, wherein we are "favored" by the Creator so that even our atrocities are excusable, makes no sense in light of the Christian Gospel. We are a nation that has done much good and much evil. We are a nation whose actions at times may please our Creator—as is true of any nation—and whose actions may disappoint our Creator—as is true of any nation. Our "freedom" as Americans is not the freedom given to us by the Gospel. We've "earned" our freedom through bloodshed and violence at times. Maybe one can argue that some of it was necessary, but we should avoid the illogical leap that it was divinely favored.
Since I was raised to swim in the waters of American Exceptionalism, and the mythologies of divine favor from the Christian God, it has taken much intellectual and emotional work to remove these falsehoods from my worldview. Therefore, the 4th of July hasn't always been my favorite holiday, especially when the nearest Sunday turned our common worship of Christ, the Lord of all, into a patriotic festival celebrating a country of some, some who have often done great damage to other people, including other Christians.
Yet it would be hypocritical of me to deny that I approve of the "idea" of the United States. I work toward a "more perfect union". Many of my values regarding equality for all can't be found in a Bible verse, but do derive from the (maybe utopic) ideals embedded into me as an American. When the United States does well I do celebrate, usually, depending on what we're discussing. I root for our teams in the Olympics. I hope the best for our soldiers at war. I want us to be an example of human rights to the world. I believe that we should be on the cutting edge of technology, including those technologies that will help us combat things like global climate change. Last month as many of the goals of our more liberal population were affirmed by our Supreme Court I was proud because many of those goals have been my own. When we do things that are ignorant or inhumane I grieve and expect better from us. So, in this sense, I'm obviously an American who wants the best for my country and wants my country to be a force for good in the world.
Whenever I travel abroad I think of the United States as home. I have no shame in this. I anticipate returning to this country. I'm proud to tell others that I was born and raised here. I share many of our civil ideals. So, I guess I do celebrate the 4th of July, just not as I used to celebrate it. I celebrate it as a nation with great potential, of which I am part, for which I hope the best. But I don't see our nation as perfect or guiltless. We have a ton of work to do. Even today our racist policies have become a bruise on the face of this nation, one that can be seen by all, that exposes that we are struggling and that we are far from a perfect union. But I recognize I am willing to fight for our nation to become better—something I can't say of say Russia or China, to which I have no connection—so I celebrate the common bond I have with other Americans recognizing we have a whole lot of work to do, but we have done some amazing things already that are worth celebrating.