God bless America
listening to "nothing I hold on to (Live)" by Will Reagan + the United Pursuit
I love the United States of America.
I am so overwhelmingly thankful to be a citizen of the USA.
I have immense gratitude for the men and women who have fought and are still fighting for our country.
I am an American. And I think often of how fortunate I am to live here and have the life that I have with the freedoms that I have the privilege to exercise.
Please don't mishear me.
With it being around the fourth of July, I have seen more and more expressions of nationalism within Sunday morning church services than usual.
These include patriotic songs during worship, screen displays of the American flag and/or people involved in politics speaking from the pulpit -- I actually saw political figures make efforts to be neutral (which isn't the reality everywhere).
The church I currently attend put a few of these "American" themes in their service this past Sunday. I could tell they were trying to be as moderate and respectful as possible with their display of American nationalism.
And as much as I appreciated their efforts to remain neutral and reverent, I still left the service uneasy.
"I don't know why I feel the way I do," I remember stirring my ideas around with my husband in the car ride home.
I found myself asking these questions:
Is it okay for a church in America to sing "God bless America" or “America the Beautiful” and put an American flag on their lyric screen?
Are our churches the place for the celebration of our nation?
I saw my church handle the American displays in the most "tasteful" way possible, and it still didn't feel right.
I had wrestled with these questions in previous years, but never looked into it.
Some of you may have strong opinions all across the spectrum here, and I want to respect that -- but I took some time early this week to digest how I see it aligning with scripture and I hope we can learn together. My thoughts will be all over the place, but just hang with me.
We'll start with Romans 13 to dig into this:
"1 Let everyone submit to the governing authorities, since there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God. 2 So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have its approval....7 Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor.
8 Do not owe anyone anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, Do not commit adultery; do not murder; do not steal; do not covet; and any other commandment, are summed up by this commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself. 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law." Romans 13:1-10
Authority is something we are given by God — as leaders ourselves and as followers/civilians. As civilians, we are called to submit to our government authorities and institutions (Romans 13:1 above). We function best with leadership. Even a remote colony in the middle of nowhere will eventually create an authority structure — it’s how we are wired. We ultimately aspire to lead and be led, and these are fundamentally holy things.
So I say this, God gives us authority in our world. We are called in this passage to submit to our leadership, “pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor.” (v. 13) Government is not evil. But neither is a brick.
A brick has the power to shatter a window and also build a home.
When we have powerful tools like authority and nationalism, our mindfulness of how to handle these tools is vital.
In my Bible the heading for the second section of this scripture above was "love, our primary duty." Scroll back up and read that section again because I think it’s so important.
I love how Paul lists all of these commandments that we’re familiar with and then goes, “Ultimately, love God and love others well.”
Love as our primary duty.
It makes me think of all the times when our duty to be politically in-the-right becomes more important than our only command to love God and others. How easy it is for these lines to blur. It’s so much easier to be passive or go with the public opinion or get caught up in Facebook comment sections.
We are called to submit to authority, we are commanded to love. Being called is important, and we should take that seriously. But our command to love should take a higher priority in our life.
I grew up in America and I went to public school. I stood up like everyone else and pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. We pledged allegiance.
With a quick Google search, the definition of allegiance is:
loyalty or commitment of a subordinate to a superior or of an individual to a group or cause.
Like I’ve said before, I don’t think this allegiance is wrong. I’m not saying don’t be loyal or commit to anything other than God or you’ll be struck by lightening. Being thankful for our country and celebrating our freedom is awesome — I’m writing this on the 4th and I’m about to go watch fireworks and wear red, white, and blue beads like everyone else.
I’m specifically talking about when America is incorporated into our Sunday morning worship services — here are just a few of my thoughts.
-- Sunday morning has become a space and time of intentional worship of our God. Humming a patriotic song down the hallway in the church building isn't inherently wrong. What can be wrong is placing a patriotic song where a worship song once was.
-- Sunday morning service is a critical time for the modern day Christian. For some people, Sunday morning is the only Christian influence in their life. Blending this influence with a message of American nationalism can do more harm than good. One of the main goals of a church should be creating unity in the body of believers — unity in our congregations should be placed at high priority. For some, the name “America” incites tension and does not have a positive connotation. With nationalism, politics, etc. creating the division that it does in our world, should it be put at the forefront? If we are singing patriotic songs, putting up flag displays, and overall praising our nation on the same stage as we praise our God, we have to be willing to address the issues behind it all. We cannot sing the songs and brush the pain under the rug.
If you have to be a specific kind of person to worship at your church, there is something wrong.
-- Christ is our ultimate, total, and complete authority. If we don’t even have that mindset on Sunday morning, when can we? If there is even one place where our eyes are 100% fixed on Christ, it’s in the service dedicated to praising His name.
This service sets the precedence that we need to be looking to Christ, not looking to our government or our country.
America can burn to the ground and God is still sovereign and you’ll be okay, did you know that?
The USA is not eternal.
(Side note: Let’s also stop expecting our government to act by Christian standards. Stop it.)
If we have God on the throne and at the forefront on Sunday morning, we are able to have a healthy perspective towards our country through our week, language, and actions.
-- Let us pray for our country and for our world. Yes, yes, yes. Let us pray for America. But if our prayers for America involve asking for blessing, favor, + wealth over all, our motives are twisted. Praying for our home is vitally important in this time. Let’s pray for peace and for our leaders and for our relations with others.
Singing songs about how awesome America is within a worship set is simply inappropriate.
“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” Philippians 3:20