Monday, July 02, 2007

Too Far?

My friend Bob Hyatt made it into USA Today in an article about churches and patriotism called "Faith Shouldn't be Red, White and Blue". It's a good article. You should read it.

My church is nowhere near the overboard "worshiping America" that he speaks about in the article, but I always find myself a bit torn on these more patriotic weekends (4th of July, Veterans Day, etc.)

I have a deep appreciation for those who, throughout our nation's history, have fought for the freedoms we now enjoy. I also know that for those who have personally fought for our freedom, it is nearly impossible for them to separate patriotism from worship. When they see the flag, they say "I risked my life so that we could gather to worship." Some have family or friends who gave their lives for this cause.

Yesterday, many (most?) churches across the US sang patriotic songs as a part of their worship service. We didn't. Not one. We are a multi-ethnic, multi-generational church with 4 worship services through the weekend. My task (as worship leader) is to lead these diverse generations and ethnicities into a worship experience where they encounter God and are deeply changed in the process. How do I lead Koreans, East Indians, Hispanics, Chinese, Ethiopians, and others in worship through these patriotic anthems?

After one of those 4 services (one that had a high percentage of men who served in WWII) a couple of men that I respect and love came up to me and asked why we couldn't sing at least one patriotic song. "Couldn't we at least sing 'God Bless America'? What's so bad about that song?" I told them that I really appreciate their view on this, but it just didn't fit with the theme we were working with this weekend. They both left disappointed in my answer.

A week ago I was having a conversation about these issues with some guys in their 20's. They were wondering if we could take the flags out of the sanctuary during the services that target younger people. I said "sure, but isn't that the service that our soldiers coming home from Iraq will tend to come to? How would they answer that question?" The 20-somethings didn't know what to say. They had perceived the issue as something pertaining to people 2 generations removed from them... an easy choice.

I am not personally prone to patriotism expressed in church. It just seems too easy to cross the line into "Worshiping America" instead of worshiping God. Our Pastor closed the service yesterday with a great prayer that thanked God for our independence, but also acknowledged that what we really need is for more of us to declare greater dependence... dependence on God. To me, the image above is DEFINITELY crossing that line. But where is the line? Is there a line?

Your thoughts?


Anonymous said...

Wow... your blog was a sad commentary for me to read. Why do you shy away from singing patriotic songs? It seems an easy cop out to tell the gentlemen that approached you that the songs didn't fit into the sermon message. Would you have sang them even if the sermon message had briefly touched on our heritage?

I wonder, since you then had asked,
"How do I lead Koreans, East Indians, Hispanics, Chinese, Ethiopians, and others in these patriotic anthems"?

Hello.... these people groups are worshiping God where? In America! Don't you think that those believers who have come from different countries may actually have a better appreciation for America than those of us who take it for granted?

You realize that it was not until perhaps the last thirty years or so that we started to distinquish and view ourselves as being something other than just Americans.
Now, to be politically correct one must indicate what "type" of American we are... Korean-American, Chinese-American, African-American, Mexican-American and so on. This has been part of the reason that we are starting to see a shift in our Nation's mindset. We are starting to view ourselves as seperate groups and no longer as a whole.

The greatness in America has always been because of our diversity and that these different people groups made the choice to assimulate into the whole. They did this by attempting to learn the language and culture/customs.

I truely wonder if any of the culture groups that you had mentioned would actually have problems with singing songs that reflect our American Heritage while worshiping within the church walls? Have we ever asked them?

Do we have to water down everything that is American in order to appease everyone that is not?

Here's a bulletin for you... Unless the United Nations and European Union take over...You still are an American, living in America where you are able to worship because of the sacrifices made on your behalf.

Stop worrying if you will offend someone by leading us in singing, "God Bless America".
I would be more concerned that your avoidance in acknowledging what God has done for and through our Nation would be offensive to the One that has made freedom in worhiping possible...God.

Benjamin said...

I believe that sometimes we Americans believe that God blessed America and then He was finished. The truth is we are blessed to be a blessing. But how often do we Americans bless the rest of the world? I am truly thankful for independence because I have lived in countries (India) where independence is not offered. The truth is, like Pastor John prayed, I need to find dependence in Christ.

I appreciate the men and women who fought for my freedom and thank them greatly. I do not really see the holiday though (which I believe is Wednesday, not Sunday) flowing into the church services. We as a church recognize those men and women who serve. We take time to acknowledge and thank them for what they have done for us. I believe this is appropriate, but shouldn’t become worship of them or our country or our freedom.

I actually DO have a problem with the song mentioned… In the beginning of the spoken word part of the song, it says;

"Let us swear allegiance to a land that's free,
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer."

I truly believe that we should swear our allegiance to Jesus alone. I believe we should ask for God’s blessing (that’s biblical!), but why stop with us?

Why not:
God bless His church
And the people that He loves
All who gather and worship Him,
The one true God up above
The Creator and Sustainer
Who blessed us with creative touch
God bless His families
Every last one
In America and India and France and so on and on
God bless the church
The one that serves Him with our all
Through the good times and the bad times
Oh God, guide us through it all
God bless His Church
Yes, God bless His church
And the people that He loves!

I am sorry Mr. Annonymous but I have to disagree with you on this one. No, partriotic songs in church. My patriotism is with the Lord.

Brad said...

Which song to sing...?
How to sing them...?

The purpose of worship is to glorify God.

Just by asking the question, it seems that worship is the goal rather than a tool to glorify our creator...


Anonymous said...

I agree with the first comment. We absolutely should not refrain from singing patriotic songs simply because not everyone is from America. If I were in any other country on one of their national holidays, I would fully expect to hear their patriotic songs. I would be embarressed if they refrained from celebrating simply because I was there.

I do agree that church is about worshipping God (obviously), not country. But one song of celebration would not be bad - it's entirely appropriate! I've often wondered also why Village doesn't acknowledge other holidays - like why not sing "It is well with my soul" on 9/11, or Memorial Day? It doesn't hurt to remind people that God is present in all things.

P Keener said...

I read both your post and the comments with interest.

I am a Navy veteran, making 6 strategic deterrent patrols. My sister has been awarded the Bronze Star for military service in Iraq. My father received the Bronze Star in Viet Nam. My Grandfather joined the Navy and served in the Pacific on a Liberty Ship during WWII. My Great-Great Grandfather was wounded, and lost the use of his arm, while serving with an Ohio regiment in the Civil War. I am a descendent of Christopher Martin; signer of the Mayflower Compact.

I am also the head of a multi-ethnic family (Caucasian and Chinese).

I am about as patriotic as they come but to tell you the truth, until I read this post, I never noticed if my current church even had a flag on the platform.

Ultimately, shouldn’t worship always point to Christ? Obviously the answer is yes so, the next question should be; does “God Bless America” point to Christ or something else (i.e. Nationalism).

By definition a patriotic song edifies the nation which is great and I am 100% for it. I am saddened by the lack of patriotism I see in our American culture. We accept crudeness and disrespect and call it activism and free speech. It is disgraceful and yet we accept it. We as a nation should be patriotic and grateful for our freedoms and we should be teaching our children the same. There is, however, a time and place for everything. Edifying the nation on the same level as God, even for a moment, is a greater disgrace, one I will not practice nor will I teach.

Has God blessed America? Absolutely, but has He done so over other nations? Is America blessed over Canada? England? France? Iran… Rwanda… Darfur… Is America blessed because we have a Safeway on every corner and an SUV in every garage?

There is “one nation under God”. It isn't necessarily the United States and it wasn’t an act of congress in 1954 that made it so. It was an act of obedience by one man.

I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me." Genesis 22:17-18

All nations on earth will be blessed…

We live in the greatest nation on Earth and we have shown that when we collectively, as a nation, bring our resources to bear we can change the world. But those resources are nothing compared to those of God.

Thanks Dean.

P.S. You should post more often.

JL said...

I have a few questions for Benjamin...

Were you kidding when you had asked," often do we Americans bless the rest of the world?

Maybe I'm missing your meaning or reasoning, but it seems like you may have not have thought this question through. In pretty much every natural disaster I can think of we as a Country have stepped in to help both with manpower, finances, prayer and so on. If you look back in history we have been a force in supporting freedom for other peoples...WWI,WWII,Vietnam,Korea, Desert Storm etc. Yes, I may have problems with how we go about things... the current war for example, but we do strive to bring freedom to oppressed peoples. I just am having a hard time trying to understand your reasoning.

Secondly, if you have a problem with connecting our Country and Faith...then you must also have a problem with having the American flag in the sanctuary, as well as having our Awana Kids Club open their meetings by reciting the Pledge of Allegience. The kids also say a pledge to the Christian Flag and to the Bible. By following your line of reasoning...then we are at fault to let them state pledges to these, because it would cause them to worship these and not the Creator and the Word Himself. Do you see where this is going? How legalistic would you have to get?

Yes, obviously our worship and reason for being is to give glory to God and put nothing else before Him or above Him. Singing songs that reflect our heritage as a Nation which is fully based on the liberties that we have in God should not be in conflict.

Look at King David, consider his writings. He wrote songs that acknowledged God delivering Israel from all enemies, being Israel's strength, thanking God for being Israel's stronghold and so on. Now that's patriotism! These were songs of worship that he sang the Nation of Israel sang to the Lord.
Would your reasoning also have to apply to him? If not, why not?

When I sing songs like, "God Bless America, My Country Tis of Thee, and America I am not worshiping my Country, but thanking God for the beauty and freedom that he has bestowed on my Country. I do not see this as giving worship to my country at all.

It would be interesting to see a survey taken of all the believers in our congregation (member or not)asking them if they are offended by singing such songs. I bet those that answer, "yes" would be 25 years or younger on average. I also would predict that the majority would be from upper middle class homes and most all would have been born in America.

The reason I say this is because I think the culture of being political correct in all things is having an impact on the youth of our Country and affecting our worship.

I agree with the first response as well. Lets not take God out of our Country, nor take our Country out of the church. If we do then the ACLU and all the other
I am a Christian believer... an American Christian Believer. I am thankful to God for all He has done.


Anonymous said...

In my mind this entire issue has nothing to do with political correctness, but having a firm grasp on the history of America as a Christian nation. Honestly, I believe that God blesses Christians, not Americans; and I don't believe that our country was ordained by God or that as a nation we continue to live out His will. Consider the fact that for America to exist as it does today and for the "Christian" tradition to thrive as it did, millions of Native Americans had to be slaughtered. This clearly shows that America's creation was man's ambition, not God's will. And history shows that much of America's involvement in past wars had more to do with power and less to do with freedom.

As God looks down on us I doubt he notices our nationality. I am simply Ashley, not a caucasion American and I highly doubts that he cares that I was born in the United States. That is why I don't want patriotism in the church. When people pray and worship, they do so as individuals and as God's children, not as Irish, Russians, South Africans or Americans. I am not opposed to being patriotic in the least. But I am opposed to bringing patriotism into the sanctuary because people can love God without loving America.

amykswa said...

In reading Dean's initial post and the comments that have followed, I have to say that every person has some valid points in what they've written.

The thing that concerns me, though, is that by people taking such strong "sides" on this matter, the enemy has us right where he wants us - building up a defense for our own point of view so that we can prove our point when we disagree with someone else. These types of paths are disunifying to the Body, and, more importantly, are making worship about what we want or like, rather than about God.

Worship is responding to God for who He is, what He's done, and what He will do. Could people on both "sides" of this issue validate their point with that definition? Absolutely. But, that's not what this is about. True worship is only about God and His revelation in our lives - not about us and whether the music is too loud, too contemporary, too traditional, too repetitive, too patriotic, or not patriotic enough.

As human beings it is natural to disagree with others, and I understand that the issue of patriotism can be highly personal, but let's be really careful not to give satan even the smallest of footholds that he can use to tear the Body apart and take our eyes off of Jesus.

Mordecai Lament said...

Eesh... you ask the tough questions. I'm going to try to come at this from a few different angles. Let me preface this with a bit of background: My Mother and Father are both products of the U.S. Army... and I can't tell you how far the military tradition goes back. Matter of fact, my NOT entering the military was a bit of an unusual turn of events. (I was considering the Air Force) My Dad was Roman Catholic my mother Protestant (Dad had no problems with the protestant church and I was predominantly raised as a Protestant, but my mother and father very nearly put me in a Catholic school. Long Story. Both instilled in me patriotism, but above all... they instilled a faith in Jesus Christ. Now, it wasn't their fault that I left for a bit to get things figured out for a period of three years, got myself involved with stupid crap. And God had the grace to pull me out of that. (Another long story for another time.)

On the other hand, I see what the suits are doing with this country... and it makes me sick. My father didn't fight in the Vietnam War for what's going on. He fought because he believed in something called freedom. That's something that God, again in his grace, gave to us.

I think patriotism is all well and good. But it shouldn't come at the expense of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I'm not talking about saying three hail marys, and making a confession once a month. I'm not talking about attending church on Sundays. I'm talking about the real thing. Church is merely a part of that.

Sometimes, I worry if we confuse our citizenship. Dad was a patriot. Mom was a patriot. I am a patriot. But we don't confuse that with our true citizenship which is in Heaven. Matter of fact, the school I attended tried to marry God and America... as if to say that America has become the chosen nation. (Which a lot of people would be shocked to read John 4 and find out that Jesus himself said, "Salvation is of the Jews.") They tried to convince me that Rock music was Anti American, anti God. (A position none of my family holds.) I've seen people try to marry the American dream with the teachings of Jesus Christ. A big house, a little more money, a boy and a girl, a wife, and a nice picket fence to tie it all together: Why? Because it's God's will for you to prosper! All the while, they ignore the voice that says, "IF any man be MY (Jesus') Disciple, Take up your cross DAILY and follow me." Sometimes the good can be the enemy of the best.

Let me see if I can make this a bit more clear: Revelation talks about Every tribe, every nation coming to the King of Kings to bow and to give honor and praise to Jesus Christ. There are some things here that are worth pointing out:

A. Just because we worship Jesus Christ, doesn't mean that we give up our national identity nor our personal identity. Conformists want us all to look the same.

The idea of conforming in scripture is: My example is Jesus Christ. In order to look like the body of Christ, it's going to take different people, different styles and different nationalities, races, creeds, etc. This is probably a poor analogy, but let's try it: If I'm cooking, it generally isn't a wise idea to take flour and use that as a substitute for every ingredient in the recipie. Put it in the oven... what comes out? A tasteless, ugly, useless cake. But if I take chocolate, eggs, milk, butter, salt, sugar and water and blend them together, the ingredients play off of one another making the composition stronger than the ingredients taste by themselves. (Not to mention just eating flour is not what I'd call appealing.)

I don't see a call to conform to anything but the glorious image of Jesus Christ. Paul doesn't give us a 12 step program to do that. For every person, depending on where they are in the journey... it's going to look different for them. And everyone in the body has something different and looks different.

B. Our national identity, our heritage must come under the authority of Jesus Christ. Why? Because he alone is worthy of our praise. He is the one who bought us back. He is the one who died for us. He is the one who saved us from sin. And he has given us the mandate not just to go. (As a matter of fact in the great commission, the word "go" is not an action. It's assumed that you are going.) He gave us a mandate to teach them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We see in acts that PHilip met the Eunuch where he was. Paul met the Athenian people where they were. The disciples determined that it was not necessary to become Jewish.

I suppose part of is a slight disconnect here: I'm worried far less about Patriotic songs than a worshipfest of "ME!ism" "It's all about me!" (As you so eloquently put it, Dean. ;-)) This nation needs God's Guidance. There's no question about it. Whether or not to sing Patriotic songs in church is not exactly on my top ten list of things to worry about. Authentic worship, a people who worship God in spirit and in truth. A people who can work together for God's Kingdom from every nationality and creed. A people who do not judge sin (as that is God's place, so kindly get off his throne... I think he wants it back.) but rather love on people... where we take action and put it together with good intentions. Those are the things I'm far more concerned about. And that is barely scratching the surface, as far as I'm concerned...

Okay, so maybe that was more angles than you asked for... but there you go. I'm not sure how eloquent this is, but maybe someone will get SOMETHING out of it (As opposed to me opening my yap to hear myself talk, which just isn't the point. ;-))

Dean Christensen said...

Wow... I seriously didn't intend for this to become so heated! Here are some of my thoughts in response to your comments.

Annonymous 1 - Remember, the issue I raised was not whether we should sing patriotic songs. It was whether we should do that in church. I don't believe that my position "waters down" anything to appease anyone. My passion for worship (responding to what God has done) is precisely what leads me to not muddy the waters with patriotism in church.

Benjamin - I love your poetry (prayer) that asks God to bless all people.

Brad - If I understand you right, you are warning against the danger of worshiping worship, rather than the Creator. Good word. And so easy to become focused on the wrong thing.

Anonymous 2 - I didn't intend to communicate that the main reason to avoid patriotism in worship was because of our multi-cultural make-up. I think that issue does complicate things, but my main reason is because of the line that's so easily crossed into something other than worship.

Keener - As a younger veteran, you have a platform that most of our commentors do not. I think you have found a really good balance in your comments. Thank you for your words, and THANK YOU for your service.

JL - It seems that so much of how all of us perceive this issue is based on how we perceive ourselves. For instance, would First Nations people feel the same about God giving us this land? This is where it becomes very challenging to introduce patriotism in worship. Lastly, I want to stress that my position is not in any way driven by political correctness. I don't know every young person in our congregation, but the ones I've talked to are also not driven by that. Please be careful about judging them.

"Annonymous" Ashley - Some good points. I have some First Nations friends who I've tried to apologize to for how their ancestors were treated (which doesn't work very well). For me though, this particular issue comes back to worship. I'm sure I have blind spots, but I try to keep coming back to the character of God and responding to Him in appropriate ways.

Amy - Good word. I had no intention of this being divisive. And you're right - if that happens, the enemy has won a foothold. Part of my reason for posting this was to allow opposing views to be voiced with an aim of all of us gaining some understanding for others.

Mordecai - Good, balanced, comments from a 20-something who isn't supposed to be patriotic!

Thanks all for sharing your thoughts. I hope this discussion has moved us all back toward center concerning our worship.


Matt Mikalatos said...

I was in Korea with believers from over a hundred other countries for July 4th. It was pretty awesome. On the 4th, the MCs told everyone to wish the Americans a Happy Independence Day.

And then all the Americans stood up and shouted, "IN YOUR FACE GREAT BRITAIN, IN YOUR FACE!"

It was this really moving moment of recognizing that we are all citizens of heaven.

Um. And for those of you who don't know me, I am totally kidding. Please don't send me hate mail.

Anonymous said...

I come at this from a few angles.

The "political" side of my brain opened up during the end of the Vietnam conflict and Watergate. I remember feeling guity for giving out Nixon buttons when I later realized he was likely guilty (great guilt for a 5th
grader). One of my big influences was Mark Hatfield, a strong Christian,
who was often out of "the box" with some Christians. His pacifist side had a big effect on me. So early on I was somewhat dubious of our government always being "right" when it came to both US and international issues. I also remember missionarys telling my parents that not everyone (Christians
included) in the rest of the world believed the US was always as right as we often thought we were.

In my work life being in the media, I quickly learned that honesty and dishonesty were not tied to a particular party. I have met, interviewed, and to at least some extent gotten to know, local, statewide and even some national political leaders. I've talked to Senators, Congressmen, State
Reps, County Commissioners and more. Some that I personally agreed with
were jerks, others that I disagreed with the best of people and visa-versa.

As a Christian in a seeker sensitive non-denominational church, I am firmly committed to the idea that we are there to focus on God, and within our church - one's politics are down there with whether you are a Duck or
Beaver, like Toyotas or GM, or issues of similar importance. We have
Republicans, Democrats, and many in the middle. No one will ever feel like they are in a right-wing Republican church in our building. We don't want politics or flag waving to ever even have a chance of getting in the way of
someone's journey to Christ. That doesn't mean we don't ever talk issues,
but we leave room for disagreement and grace in areas where clearly there is not a biblical position.

Having said all the above, how do you handle patriotic holidays? I certainly think there is room to recognize current or past service members and honor their contributions and sacrifices. But singing patriotic songs isn't worshipping God. God says to honor and obey your government, not to "worship" it. I personally believe American flags have no place in church.
Gerry Breshears from Western, echoed that in a message at our church a few years ago. And as much as I like the Awana program (our youngest goes to one in town), I think they are wrong to open with the pledge of allegiance to the American flag and to the Christian flag (by the way, where did the "Christian" flag come from? Its certainly not in the bible best as I can tell!).

So whether its flags, music or sermons on America, it all comes back to asking yourself - why are you at church, and better yet, why does God show up?

Just my two cents.

Kyle Bailey