By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
Tennessee veterans reflect on what it means to be a patriot
BRENTWOOD — Unlike oil and water, patriotism and Christianity can mix, agree three Tennessee Baptists with strong military ties.
Though culture is changing and the country appears to be drifting more each day from the religious freedom that countless men and women have given their lives for, a Christian can still be a strong patriot, says Bobby Welch.
“I don’t see how you can be a Christian and not be a patriot because of what Christianity has meant to this country,” Welch observed in advance of the nation’s Fourth of July Independence Day celebration this week.
Patriotism is generally the love one feels for his or her country, said Welch, associate executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention and a decorated Vietnam War veteran.
He does not see a conflict in loving his country which is drifting away from the Christian values and beliefs that he holds dear.
“The country today is the same one I defended and nearly gave my life for in the 1960s,” Welch affirmed. The country has not changed but leaders have, he continued.
Retired U.S. Army Colonel Bruce Condrey also is a strong believer that patriotism is not in conflict with Christianity.
“I think it is imperative that we serve as patriots and demonstrate love for our country while professing our faith as Christians,” said Condrey, who serves as chairman of deacons at First Baptist Church, Sparta. Condrey is a former U.S. Army Signal Corps officer with 29 years of active military service and a combat veteran of three foreign wars. Most recently he served in Afghanistan (2002-03) during Operation Enduring Freedom.
Condrey observed that “as we get closer to the return of our Lord it is clear Satan is getting desperate and is doing everything possible to disrupt God’s master plan. We see corruption in our federal, state, and local governments and we see depravity growing stronger as our nation deals with the issues of the day.
“Time is running out and so we don’t have time to be timid about expressing our love for our nation while actively serving our Lord,” Condrey said.
Condrey, former president of the Tennessee Association of The Gideons International and now a regional field officer for The Gideons assigned to Latin America Central, noted that the “liberal, secular world” would like Christians to “fade into the background, particularly on social issues.
“But we have an important mission as we respond to the Great Commission of Mark 16:15 and Matthew 28:19-20 in teaching and preaching the gospel and as we honor the work and intentions of our nation’s founding fathers,” Condrey said. “Too many have given their lives for our nation and the principles under which it was formed for us to be timid about demonstrating our patriotism to our nation and our allegiance to God.”
Tennessee Baptist Convention President Michael Ellis, pastor of Impact Baptist Church in Memphis, also believes Christianity and patriotism go hand-in-hand.
“I believe you can be a patriot and a Christian in spite of so many laws and challenges to our values and morals,” affirmed Ellis, who retired in 2000 after a 21-year career in the United States Navy.
“You just have to be consistent in being a Christian,” he stressed.
Ellis observed that the United States was “built on Christian principles and freedom of religion.”
While serving his country, Ellis leaned heavily on his Christian beliefs and principles.
“I spent more than 20 years of service to our country with my Christian beliefs and values as my guiding principles for all the decisions I made while serving,” Ellis said.
After receiving his doctorate from seminary while on active duty, Ellis actually turned down an opportunity to be a Navy chaplain because they were not allowed to end prayers with “in Jesus’ name.”
But because he was a preacher and those stationed in his command knew it, Ellis was frequently called upon to perform chaplain-like duties. Because he was not an official chaplain, he could end his prayers anyway he wanted.
“I believe God honored my loyalty to my religious beliefs while on active duty by giving me opportunties to minister even though I was not a chaplain,” Ellis said.
With the Fourth of July holiday fast approaching, Condrey encouraged Christians “to outwardly demonstrate love for our nation while serving as a witness for our Lord. I think we have to be firm but loving.
“Overbearing patriotism and witness may not serve us well in changing minds and hearts but both patriotism and serving God must be evident in our walk. We can be patriotic and a strong witness without driving others away. I like to think our walk (our witness) should be one that could be described as a ‘quiet professional,’ ” he observed.
“We should be ready to demonstrate our patriotism for our nation and ready to answer for our Lord without hesitation,” Condrey added.
Welch observed that that being a patriot does not mean you always have to actually go into combat. “A patriot is one who will do what’s right and what’s best for his or her country,” he said.
Welch, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said Christians must continue to stand up for their values and principles.
“Patriotism calls you to take a stand and do something,” he stressed, noting there appear to be an empathetic spirit across the nation today.
Like Condrey, Welch encourages Christians to be a positive witness.
“If Christians want to see the world/America changed, they must get out into the highways and hedges and share the gospel,” Welch said.
Condrey also challenged Christians to lean heavily on the Word of God.
“I think that as we serve our Lord, we are most effective when we use God’s Word to address the issues of the world.
“We should base our responses to the liberal, secular attacks with direct quotes and principles as stated in God’s Word. God’s Word is the authority and we can’t improve on it,” Condrey concluded.