Fellow American Christians, what are your thoughts on the singing of patriotic hymns at worship service on significant historic holidays such as Memorial Day and the Fourth of July? I always took it as given that these were improper for an event meant to be focused on God, so I was somewhat taken aback when I recently attended at a Baptist church where the Memorial Day service began with such hymns as “America the Beautiful,” “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” with lyrics projected onto a screen over a backdrop of waving US flags.
I tried to get into it, singing along with the congregation, but this gave me such an overwhelming sense of guilt that I had to stop, and the absurdity of it all had me giggling some, which probably wasn’t a good sight in the pews.
I don’t hate America, despite being a registered Democrat [ba-dum-tish]. Singing songs dedicated to America at a time when I would normally be singing to God strikes me as idolatry, a manner of having another god before God. Yes, American history is steeped in the mythos and imagery of our faith, but I can’t see it as “God’s country” (as some veterans say), and there’s a danger in conflating the purposes of the state with the purposes of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Still, there are some patriotic hymns I’ll let past my personal God/Caesar filter: the ones which still address God without overemphasizing how great the state is. “God Of Our Fathers” and “Eternal Father, Strong To Save” spring to mind. (In fact, “Eternal Father” is perfect for Memorial Day, being a prayer for those in military service abroad.)