I hope you had a great 4th of July. For us, it was a great weak, enjoyed the 4th with some new friends, got to spend a lot of time with Susan and the kids, went down to the Cape with some friends, (Jersey friends, it’s like saying we’re going to the Shore :), listened/watched the Yanks win 3 out of 4 in Boston and all went well in our worship services on Sunday. Found Tom’s sermon on A Song for the Season of Good to be a very appropriate ending to the weekend.
So like with everything, I try to reflect on these days – I find this discipline to be extremely helpful. Similar to just about every year I find myself in the same tension when thinking/celebrating/reading about American freedom, nationalism in the Church, the appropriate level of patriotism, exceptionalism which always leads to conversations about military, war, pacifism, sacrifice, should we have an American flag in our sanctuary, should we sing patriotic songs (take a breath) …
One of the articles that I found myself thinking about later was “It’s OK to Sing “America, The Beautiful” In Church?” by KC McGinnis on the newly redesigned Relevant Magazine site.
As Christians we do need to be careful that we are not guilty of placing our national citizenship over our calling to seek first the Kingdom of God. We also need to be careful that we do not place our need for family, community, security, power, recreation/entertainment, even our need for making the world a better place over the Kingdom of God. It’s actually in the Christian faith that each of the aforementioned have a special place.
We also need to be careful that our desire to seek first the Kingdom of God does not come across as a spirit of ungratefulness for the land we live in. There’s a great deal to enjoy about being an American, and when we celebrate the goodness of our country, we are expressing our gratitude to God, to our families and friends and all who make this country work.
There is a place for patriotic songs. After all, we have so many songs to begin with, it would seem odd to discriminate against a particular genre. Singing them in the middle of the worship service is another matter but I’m not entirely ready to say that we should never do it. We do gather in the name of God to give our praises, confession and receive the Word in comment. But we say and do a lot of things in our worship services that lack a “perfect reverence” as well.
For me the problem has been many in the American church have blurred the line between “God and Country” to the degree that they almost seem as if they are on the same playing field. I know some will attempt to clarify by saying, “No, it’s God first then Country …” That’s pretty much my point, they’re in the same playing field.
This is among the reasons that younger evangelicals are so uncomfortable with patriotic celebrations in churches. I have also witnessed instances when questioning our American leadership/policy/values (specifically conservative ones) are met with same fervor and outrage as if it were a heresy or a form of blasphemy. This is unsettling on a number of levels.
Consequently, many older evangelicals have the impression that most younger evangelicals do not have the proper respect for America. While I will be the first to admit that some indeed don’t (and many for not sufficient enough reason in my opinion), many do. In fact, I think you would be quite moved by how many twenty and thirty somethings love this country. They are globally-minded, they pray for many aspects of our nation and wish to see our country make the changes it needs to service its citizens and its world. That said, speaking for myself (and for some of my Christian friends), I/we pray that God would use us for His ultimate glory, and not for the supreme glory of an earthy empire.
So how does one celebrate the Fourth? With good food, good friends and cool fireworks accompanied by the 1812 Overture (unless you live in San Diego, in which case you launch all of them in 60 seconds 10 minutes before the start ;). But we also celebrate the Fourth with humble, prayerful hearts that are grateful for the blessing of living here and who wish to make a difference fin the world.
As I was processing this, I couldn’t escape my perspective as an Egyptian-American and so I’ve broken these posts in two which I will post soon. Feel free to comment, push back, or share – I welcome good conversation – thanks for reading.
For something shorter and available now, check out Daniel Kirk’s excellent post “Independence Day”