Friday, June 3, 2005

Patriotic Worship

This past weekend was Memorial Day, a time when we remember those he gave their lives for our country. These celebrations are important. We should remember those who fought for our country, even when they did not necessarily agree with the politics behind the wars.

However, I did find it odd that a local church had a sign in their lawn advertising “Patriotic Worship” for the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend. What exactly is patriotic worship? Do we gather round the flag and tell it how much we love it? Do we bow down to larger than life statues of President Bush? “We praise you, O Lord, our President, for giving us life and making us understand that Christianity is best viewed through a political lens.”

This is the problem with American Christianity. Certain groups have decided that Christianity and nationalism must be joined together. Last time I checked, Christianity was never about an individual nation. Of course Crazy Jim Dobson doesn’t believe that (James Dobson’s descent into insanity and mean-spiritedness is a whole other discussion by itself).

I’m not saying people should not be patriotic, although disrespecting the flag by wearing an ugly American flag sweater or painting it on your truck isn’t exactly patriotic. I just wonder if we’ve diluted the Gospel too much by trying to force our political views into it (and yes, I am condemning the liberals like myself as well as the conservatives). We’ve taken a message that is about love, salvation and hope in eternal life and turned it into a weapon to yield political power.

And now we’re singing patriotic worship songs because apparently worshiping God wasn’t cutting edge enough. I just wish Kirk Cameron would come back and rapture us all. Oh wait; is Kirk the one coming back or J.C.? I’ll have to reference my Tim LaHaye Prophecy Study Bible.


Parker said...

Good thoughts. Of course, the question must be asked: In what way SHOULD Christians celebrate Memorial Day? While I'm not too keen on the idea of a "Patriotic Worship Service," I don't have a problem with a local congregation meeting together to honor our veterans... that's basically what the whole point of Memorial Day anyway, and the day is not inteded to be celebrated specifically by individuals any more than organizations. Memorial Day is great to celebrate with a big group of people, whether it be friends at a picnic or a church in the worship center. Heck, most Americans don't even bother to think about what Memorial Day stands for anyway -- it's just a day off work. And then there's people like me, who have to work even on Memorial Day. Sheesh.

I don't have a problem with a church meeting to honor our veterans. And as Christians, we should live our lives in a state of perpetual worship, giving glory to God continually for all things. So in that respect, I think it's perfectly acceptable to worship Him at a Memorial Day service. But what's important is that He remains the object of worship. Not the country. Not the flag. Not Dubya. Unfortunately, people aren't so good at making those kinds of distinctions, and tend to blur the line between their homeland and their deity.

And there's something to be said for the difference between patriotism and politics, too. Your post seems to imply that a patriotic assembly is automatically a conservative rally. And maybe this particular one was. But it shouldn't be. Love of one's country should not be intrinsically synonymous with either end of the political spectrum. A "Patriotic Worship Service" done right would be an equally comfortable place for both Republicans and Democrats to come together and focus on their commonalities: namely, that they are all residents of both the land of the free and the kingdom of God.

skab said...

~I've been mulling around in my head lots of ideas about Memorial Day. Our pastor was talking a bit about this during hism Memorial Day service. He mentioned on how we had to be careful not to allign ourselves with political parties and act as the Jews did when they wanted a king so bad. It was interesting. I don't know if I agreed with all of it, but it was interesting.

~I think the thing that annoyed me the most this year was what I found in my local Christian Bookstore mailout:
That link is from somewhere else, but it's the same product. Why do we need "patriotic angels"?

~When it comes to what we should do for Memorial Day, I can't help but think of all the people I know who have, or are serving in any military. I see them all wanting us to just sit back and enjoy ourselves. Please, somebody tell me if I'm wrong, but can't you see them asking you to just throw some burgers on the grill and enjoy yourself for them? I've never had one of them tell me to make sure and worry for them or cry over their loss. Not to say that we shouldn't. We should, but we should also honor what they did by enjoying it. I don't know, maybe I got it all wrong.

Parker said...

Hey skab,

I agree that the people I know in the military as well would probably be happy to see us just kick back and enjoy oursleves on Memorial Day. But those people are still alive, too. I can't help but think of the one's who AREN'T, whether victims of this current war, or ones in days past. Many tens of thousands of people have given their lives to protect a lifestyle that we often take for granted. I'm not saying we should worry about or cry for them... mere remembrance is all it takes. I'll confess that I personally don't even give stuff like that a thought during the year, and it takes a designated time like Memorial Day to make me think of it! Without a day set aside for that, the memory of our fallen heroes would die along with their bodies. But maybe that's just me, and other people spend more time thinking about that during the rest of the year, I dunno. The primary thing is that those who sacrificed themselves for us deserve to be remembered. Memorial Day is for THEM, and not so much for the soldiers who are still with us. A degree of respect and sobriety is appropriate.

Jim said...

We didn't advertise, but we did remember. We didn't inlcude patriotic songs in our worship, but we did include the friends and families of those who died in our prayers during the worship service. I felt what we did was appropriate, but perhaps there are some in our congregation who wish we had done more. I'll probably not find out since I'm the associate Pastor and am the last to know anything.

I don't know much about the members of our congregation who died in combat but I know that they were human beings who God loved very much and even if they died in a war that should have never happened, they still did give their lives for their friends. Jesus said there is no greater love than that.

So, while I find overly jingoistic "patriotic" worship quite distasteful and maybe even idolatrous, I do think it is appropriate to remember those who turned over their lives for the sake of others.

You can keep "Onward Christian Soldiers" though, I don't care if I ever hear that hymn again.

Wasp Jerky said...

Should we even celebrate Memorial Day at all? Wasn't Jesus a bit of a pacifist? Doesn't making yourself free by killing other people sort of fly in the face of Jesus' teachings?

bobbie said...

what happened at our 'patriotic service' was just plain idolitry.

a wanna be vegas style woman singing 'there she stands' to our flag flapping on the jumbotrons about made me walk out... unfortunately i am the youth pastors wife, so people might have noticed... sickening.

we can remember as a nation all of those losses, give notice to it in our church, but please don't call it worship.

Kristofer said...

Interesting read, it feels a bit strange for me to mix patriotism and christianity but we don't have those kinds of thoughts here in Sweden.

Believers' wear

Laryn said...

Patriotic, politicized worship might involve something like this stuck on the pulpit: the Bush fish.


epicycle said...

This is one of the few blogs I have bookmarked (months ago). I was really impressed by your thoughtful reflections on Memorial Day.

One thing brought up was "Jesus was a pacificist". We've talk this over a lot at our church, and decidedly, Jesus was against war. No question. You cannot love war and love your neighbor. Just doesn't work that way.

It does work to honor the men and women who are in the military. It's not their decision to go to war. I've never met a sane person who loved war. Perhaps I could change that to say I'll never meet a sane person who wants to go to war.

Let's honor our service people, and those veterans who have served us honorably over the years. And let us fight those who wish to send them in harms way for no good reason. And let's look to Christ and His example for our lives, to love each other, respect the differences, recognize that we are all God's children.

photosteve said...

It should also be remembered that an awful lot of American military interventions over the last century, while ostensibly intended to 'protect the American way of life', actually involved brutally repressing any leaning towards the left of the political spectrum, and therefore towards communism. Puerto rico 1950, Iran '53, Vietnam, Cuba '61, Dominican Republic '65, Cambodia '69-'75, Chile '73, Nicaragua '81-'90, Grenada '83, Iran (again, but on the side of Iraq!) '87-'88, Panama '89, Iraq (against Iraq now) '90, plus of course the ongoing and heavily controversial actions in Afganistan and Iraq; these aren't necessarily campaigns that should be celebrated. There is a definate tendency in America at the moment, summed up by Britney's quote "We should just listen to our president and do what he says", to not question any American actions for fear of being branded 'anti-american'. By this logic, all the aforementioned conflicts and interventions MUST be good and moral, because it was the US doing them, and things like Memorial day seem to re-enforce this mindset. Anyone questioning the morality of war (and the inevitable mass killing of innocent people that goes with it) is accused of dishonouring the memory of the veterans who were involved, and who may have lost their lives in the process. I don't really agree with epicycle's comment that soldiers don't choose to go towar; they know that that's what the military is for and that it's a possibility when they join up (excepting conscripted soldiers) and so they hold some responsibility for their decisions, but i have no memory with honouring their memory. What i do feel uncomfortable with is the tangled web of patriotism, faith and glorification of war as 'struggle for freedom' which seems to end up with the powers that be implying that "God supports American military actions and if you're a true christian you will too." I find that quite chilling.

geekfarm said...

Hey, you go with that. I find a little lemon juice and club soda will take that bitterness right out. Anyways, I think the Lord really does love republicans better.
I'm just kidding. I live in a place where everyone has a W on their person. Is it this way everywhere? Are there places where women with kids don't beleieve that George loves the little children?

amateurblogger said...

Firstly, I'd like to say that I love your blog. You're a great writer, and all of the posts I've read so far are insightful and provocative...nice job.

Also, like Parker said..."Love of one's country should not be intrinsically synonymous with either end of the political spectrum." I completely agree. To some extent, patriotism has always been seen as conservative in modern American society- we can trace this back to flag-burners and the like- and now Christianity is being grouped with those same stereotypes. But, as you prove so well with your blog, it doesn't have to be that way. Churches should pay tribute to the fallen- after all, it's a natural meeting place, and one that is often social-minded-but it should never replace worship, or become so entwined with worship that one needs to conform to one philosophical viewpoint in order to join in. I agree with your criticism of this particular service. Events like this only add to the myth that patriots must be Christian (or conservative). However, the sentiment wasn't totally wrong.

rightwingnutjob said...

I find it humorous to hear people say that Jesus was a pacifist. They have an image of him as a calm, non-confrontational, neighborly man who ran around hugging on people. They probably forgot that he broke the "laws" of the church numerous times. Also, he destroyed the property of merchants who were selling their wares in the temple. And he called people what they were, whether they were gossipers, liars, thieves, or murderes. That is, in fact, extremely confrontational. And lets not forget that He plans on destroying the enire planet by fire. And he also plans on sending people to Hell. That doesn't sound very neighborly.

Kevin said...

A little late, but I just saw this post. Here's the thing for me: Memorial Day is actually on a monday right? So we can still celebrate Memorial Day and remember. Worship services are about God. We worship God. American churches have been too afraid to offend their members by not honoring people for various occassions. I'm not saying we shouldn't do something, but wouldn't it be better to have a special event on Memorial Day or a luncheon to remember those who have come before than to take the focus off of God during services?

Wasp Jerky said...


Who said that I picture Jesus as a nonconfrontational teddy bear? Martin Luther King Jr. broke the law, too, quite a lot. And if you'll read his sermons, they were confrontational. But I don't recall him ever striking out in violence against his oppressors. That is pacifism. Also, to argue that Christ isn't a pacist because your interpretation of scripture says Jesus will someday destroy the world is a bit like arguing that it's perfectly OK to litter or pollute the air because God will one day destroy the earth anyway.

Dan said...

Just an observation.

Calling Dobson crazy and taking a "left wing" stance is just as political. Aren't you mixing the too, as well? As far as I know, he's just as much a brother in Christ as you are.

I think you have blinders on to your own weakness in this area. I'm trying to take mine off (and I voted for President Bush twice because I felt duty bound to as a Christian, btw. Does that make me a right wing nut job, or a person of conscience?)

By the way, I was at Mt. Rushmore last week -- very patriotic site, btw -- and saw a fella wearing a Bethel t-shirt. Wondered if it was you.

Dan said...

As for Jesus being a pacifist, doesn't the Bible say there is a time for war, or don't you believe the Old Testament is the Word of God, or do you take a dispensational (dirty word) on that topic?

Anonymous said...

Kevin said...

"Should we even celebrate Memorial Day at all? Wasn't Jesus a bit of a pacifist? Doesn't making yourself free by killing other people sort of fly in the face of Jesus' teachings?"

Is that supposed to some sort of coherent summation of American history?

Wasp Jerky said...

"As for Jesus being a pacifist, doesn't the Bible say there is a time for war..."

I think turn the other cheek and love your neighbor as yourself trumps a line of poetry from the Old Testament. Does the Old Testament reading of war mean we also get to slaughter women and children and use captured virgins as sex slaves?

"Is that supposed to some sort of coherent summation of American history?"

Was that supposed to be witty?

Rod said...

I asked myself the same question after the 4th of July this year. The short of it is (and others may have made the point) patriotic worship is nothing less than idolatry. What the church needs is protest worship, not uncritical praise of our nation.

For more on this topic, please visit the following link at my blog:

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ranger tommy said...

I am in full agreement with those who've posted their convictions that celebrating Memorial Day in a worship service is something other than worship. I face this every year as a pastor, as many pastors who also bother wrestling with it do. I take a deep breath before beginning our services (knowing the flak I'll get for not doing a patriotic/nationalistic message, or singing patriotic/nationalistic "hymns,"), and jump in, come what may. It's pretty uncomfortable, but not as uncomfortable as the thought that we ask God to take a week off (his Memorial Day holiday, I guess) while we (if we're honest) spend a day worshipping the U.S.

It's so dicey, all this talk about people making sacrifices on behalf of others. It's such an emotionally laden issue. But the thing is, we have to be honest enough to say that when soldiers "make sacrifices" for others, they are also part of a killing machine. I don't say this to paint soldiers as cold-blooded killers, but to say that war means killing. There simply is no way around that reality.

The other thing I think we have to be honest about is the concept that people are "fighting for our freedom," or "fighting to protect our freedom of worship." These phrases roll off our tongues like butter, but almost without exception have no basis in fact.

At some point, we have to get past this "Jesus had a mean streak too! He pushed tables over, etc., etc...." and realize that we simply cannot justify killing if Jesus is in the picture. After 9/11, it was all "God Bless America," and "God be with us as we carpet bomb the Taliban," and "God is leading us to preemptively shock and awe this or that part of the 'Axis of Evil,'" etc. But how does it sound when we replace "God" with "Jesus"? If it's true that Jesus is the incarnation of God ("If you've seen me, you've seen the Father"), then shouldn't we be able to comfortably use their names interchangably when we make these nationalistic statements about what God/Jesus is leading us to do as a nation?

And when Christians say, "We had to do something in Afghanistan/Iraq!"...who is the "we"? We the nation? We the body of Christ? Who? Are we suggesting the nation and the church are one and the same?

OK, enough. I guess I just grieve for a church that doesn't know the difference between itself and a nation-state.

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