This morning, July 4th, we will worship God and we will do so without a single patriotic song. I feel strongly about this and my worship people have backed me up. But some will no doubt be upset. I discovered the following post on Brad Boydston's blog that stirred me and re-affirmed my conviction on this. I quote him at length, with his permission. Thanks, Brad...

It happens every year -- more so in the years when Independence Day falls close to a Sunday -- or even on Sunday, as is the case this year. Someone gets upset because we don't sing patriotic songs during worship. It's seen as a slap in the face of America -- an insult. Some people, I'm sure, think that I'm not very patriotic.

And I try to reassure people that such isn't at all the case. I love America. We as a church appreciate the liberties that we enjoy. We are supportive of our nation and pray weekly for those in public office -- especially the president. We pray for the safety of soldiers and sailors.

However, the problem with patriotic music is that it is -- well, patriotic. By definition it is about country and singing the praises of this great place where we live. In contrast Christian worship by definition is about God and singing the praises of the Creator and Redeemer. It's not that we dislike patriotic music. It's just that it's not appropriate for what we're doing when we gather to worship because it's not really about God. It's about country. And that shifts the focus from where it needs to be during those few short minutes that we give to collective worship.

Even the patriotic music which actually mentions God isn't really about God. It's about country and invokes the name of God to exalt country.

God Bless America.
Land that I love
Stand beside her, and guide her
Thru the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America
My home sweet home.

I'm still trying to figure out when some churches started to use patriotic music during their worship. It has got to be a fairly recent phenomena (the last 100 years?). And as far as I can tell it's only an American thing. Canadians won't sing "O, Canada" this Sunday (BTW, happy Canada Day, today). The Brits don't ever replace "O Worship the King" with "God Save the Queen."

The United States is a great place. Patriotism is generally a good thing. And patriotic songs should be sung. But not when we've come together for the purpose of honoring God.


At 6:11 AM, Blogger Joseph James said...

I posted some of this on Brad's page as well, but beacuse of time and other constraints, I didn't get it all in.

I am a United Methodist pastor; in my life before ordained ministry, I worked on an advanced degree in history. My long and boring thesis was entitled "The Celebration of the Fourth of July in South Carolina from 1850 to 1919." Later, after my call, I went to seminary where I learned the dangers of the flag replacing the cross, the country pushing aside the Christ. For the first few years of my ministry, I stayed away from the patriotic stuff on the Fourth.
What I discovered was, even if we did not sing a single patriotic hymn or wave the flag the thoughts of the Fourth were there among the people.

Rather than ignore it, why not use it to the glory of God? I found a service entitled, "A People Under God" (written by a UM clergyperson on the UM worship website)that provided communion liturgy, scriptures that dealt with the nation's responsibility to the poor and to the stranger, the abuses of freedom, and what true freedom is. We sang hymns (America, Battle Hymn, This is My Song) that were true prayers (I even pointed that out.
I used the Declaration of Independence as an illustration (you know the document that speaks of inalienable rights given by our Creator) because of its deep religious foundations. Specifically I used the last sentence of the document, where it speaks about our reliance on God and the mutual pledge to offer lives, fortunes, and sacred honor.

It was not a flag-waving, support-the-nation-right-or wrong-rally. It was a worship service that called us to remember and claim that we must rely upon Christ for our true freedom and the pledge we have as a community (and the larger community-the nation) to work for the benefit of all.

I placed this question on Brad's blog, if we can use the latest technology, media, and ever secular event to glorify God, why do we shy away from the Fourth? Especially if it is in the minds of those we serve and of whom we are pledged to help grow spiritually...


At 3:28 PM, Blogger Luke said...

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At 3:39 PM, Blogger Luke said...

Mr. James:

You said: “I placed this question on Brad's blog, if we can use the latest technology, media, and ever secular event to glorify God, why do we shy away from the Fourth? Especially if it is in the minds of those we serve and of whom we are pledged to help grow spiritually...”

I guess I don’t understand the objection. Using the latest technology and media is method, not content. I think we should use the best communications options available. So I don’t see the causation that if we use technology and media, we are inconsistent in choosing content other than the patriotic. I’m not sure what you are referring to, in how we use secular events to glorify God (besides the example of the fourth of July that you gave). And I feel like attempts to work the patriotic celebration into worship places us in the heart of Gospel co-opted by the political – the concept that to be relevant equates to specific political actions and stances. That further draws lines of separation among people, as it starts to imply that, because the Gospel supports specific political positions, the true litmus test of a person’s Christianity is their political positions on specific topics.

People have a lot of very different reactions to patriotism. People who have lost relatives in wars like Viet Nam may feel differently from those who lost relatives in WWII, or Desert Storm, or the current conflict in Iraq or Afghanistan. Some people are very negative about patriotism, as the country has, as a whole, been less than kind to them or their relatives or their home country or a country with which they feel an affiliation.

Why drag all the baggage associated with patriotism into the embrace between people and the Divine that we call worship? It doesn’t belong there.

In my opinion.


At 4:07 PM, Blogger Joseph James said...

Mr. Luke,

By media and secular events I mean everything from the latest movie, the Super Bowl, songs. Isn't it funny how we can reference those things in our sermons and worship experiences (with all of their baggage) and run away from one so obvious as the Fourth?

You are right that persons have different reactions to different wars and deaths in different wars; yet, I have persons who have different reactions to the 23rd Psalm. For some it brings back memories of Mama's funeral, others like it because it was read at their wedding... what do you do, avoid uses of the 23rd Psalm?

In no way am I equating the nation/patriotism with the Gospel/Christ. But I do not think we do ourselves, or the Gospel any good by running away from opportunities before us. I think a worship team/pastor worth their salt could make a worship service a redemptive experience around the Fourth of July. A worship experience that points not to nation but to the True Freedom that Christ offers.

I am not a flag waving guy, but one who seeks to meet people where they are and point the way to a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. Peace, Joseph

At 8:14 AM, Blogger Luke said...

Mr. James:

You are right, we do use references to the world around us. However, choosing not to use one is not necessarily “running away from it.” Everyone makes decisions about what to touch on and what not to touch on. Evaluating the impact of use of a particular secular event, and choosing not to use it, is not by definition “running away from it.” Were that the case, there would be literally thousands of events we would be running away from every Sunday.

The issue is that the 4th is a celebration of a country. A country is a political unit of government. All too often, celebrations of patriotism within worship tend to tie the political to the Divine. This can lead to a “deification” of political positions or systems of governance, which frequenlty results in demonification of other points of view. Further, patriotism is freqently seen as pride in country, and pride is not a virtue typically espoused in Scripture.

Of course I’m not saying NOT to use controversial passages of Scripture, or ones that may have baggage associated with them. Enlightening people on Scripture is part of the job of the church. Scripture is divinely inspired; political structures generally do not claim that distinction. To suggest that the considerations that apply to use of secular references also apply to Scripture is just the kind of elevation of the secular against which I’m arguing.

I think it is also possible that a worship team/pastor who is worth their salt could choose not to try to make a worship service around the Fourth of July. The choice made, to integrate the 4th into a worship service or not, is not the litmus test of whether a worship team or pastor is worth their salt.

Finally, Mr. James – I don’t care whether you are a flag waving guy or not. You are clearly someone who devotes a lot of time and thought to how best to meet people where they are, and point them toward Christ. For that, I respect you, and see you foremost as a brother in Christ. I believe you were able to design and present a worship service that was relevant and drew people toward the deeper relationship you so earnestly desire for them.

That is not a choice I happen to share – but we share far more in common than we disagree on. May God bless your efforts in every way.


At 9:39 AM, Blogger theultrarev said...

The Flag and our country are honored in so many places — schools, fire stations, office buildings, parades, etc. God isn't. Why can't we just let a sanctuary be a place of honor to him alone?

Further ...
The US doesn't give us our freedom to worship. God does.


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