Did Your Church Have Patriotic Worship on Sunday?

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Did your church have a patriotic service yesterday?  Did you sing any patriotic songs?  My church did not.  I came in a few minutes late, but I don’t think the 4th of July was ever mentioned.  This does not mean that the leaders of my church are unpatriotic.  It means that they probably realize it is a bad idea to mix civil religion in the form of patriotic celebrations with Christian worship.

Over at The Washington Post, Michelle Boorstein has a nice piece on the debate over whether to bring patriotism into church.  The piece quotes my recent History News Network piece on the topic.

Here is a taste:

In 2016, LifeWay Research, an arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, found that 61 percent of Protestant pastors agreed that it was “important for July Fourth worship services to incorporate patriotic elements to celebrate America. Fifty-three percent of pastors in that survey agreed that their congregation “sometimes seems to love America more than God.”

The context of 2018 may be new — rapidly changing religious and racial demographics in the United States, growing secularism, the explosion of Web-based faith — but debates about how churches handle July 4 began surfacing early in American history.

Catherine Brekus, a Harvard University historian of U.S. religion, noted that in the early 1800s, Methodists opposed Fourth of July celebrations on the grounds that they were not Christian. By the 1850s in Cleveland, Protestant ministers “usually took the lead in organizing 4th of July activities, and speeches were given in churches. After the 1850’s, ministers still gave benedictions, but the ceremonies were usually held outdoors, and commercial leaders and businesses were prominently involved,” she wrote in an email, noting historical accounts.

John Fea, a U.S. historian from Messiah College who just published a book about Christian nationalism, wrote in June for the History News Network about why activities such as July 4 services are being debated anew:

“Ever since the founding of the republic, a significant number of Americans have supposed that the United States is exceptional because it has a special place in God’s unfolding plan for the world. Since the early 17th century founding of the Massachusetts Bay colony by Puritans, evangelicals have relished their perceived status as God’s new Israel — His chosen people. America, they argued, is in a covenant relationship with God,” he wrote. Today, the anxiety about how to be Christian and American is high because history is being reexamined.

“The United States Constitution never mentions God or Christianity but does forbid religious tests for office. The First Amendment rejects a state-sponsored church and celebrates the free-exercise of religion. This is hardly the kind of stuff by which Christian nations are made.”

Read the entire piece here.

5 thoughts on “Did Your Church Have Patriotic Worship on Sunday?

  1. My church had a very patriotic service. There were flags lining the walkway to the doors. Flag bunting draped on the lectern just behind the cross, and across the front of the organ. We sang the Star Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful and a couple other patriotic songs. The worship leader referred to them as hymns but I am not sure if that is what they all are.
    Someone read the preamble to the Declaration of Independence and explained some things about it, especially how that was an expression of a unified and devout people. The front of the bulletin was a flag and a verse about a nation whose Lord is God being blessed.
    They played a video with patriotic images with the song Proud to Be An American. A few people stood with the words “and I proudly stand up next to you…”.
    There was some confusion in the message that I hear all over between the freedoms recognized by the constitution that we do enjoy and the freedom and liberty we can have through Christ. People think because the words “freedom” and “liberty” can be used in discussing our government and nation and the Kingdom of Jesus Christ they are the same thing. When I tell people they are different and that a person living in a North Korean internment camp or some oppressive Muslim country can receive and enjoy all the same freedom that Christ offers as we do they obviously think I am wrong and or nuts.
    When I say His Kingdom transcends these earthly ones they sometimes make an intellectual assent because they have to admit Christ Himself said so. But they immediately fall back into firmly linking His Church with our country as if they are one and the same.
    And when I hear the references to the land of the free, having read pretty significantly about our history, and think of many of those songs written as slavery stood as a protected institution I just can’t put my heart into it.

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  2. The message at my church was about how Saul had cognitive bias and did not listen to God. No mention of the 4th, but we did celebrate our children and volunteers who served at our annual summer camp.

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  3. I am a pastor of a church mainline church and I always pick at least two patriotic hymns on the Sundays closest to Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veterans Day. I usually go with God of our Fathers, America the Beautiful, or My Country Tis of Thee. My next choice is Battle Hymn of the Republic. I always have at least one hymn that is related to the sermon text for the day. Yesterday, I talked about Independence Day in my children’s sermon but preached on another topic in my main sermon. This seems to be a good middle ground.

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