This Memorial Day weekend countless congregations will celebrate an unholy alliance of God & Country with services that blatantly blur patriotic celebration and Christian worship. Here are a few draft guidelines for Christian Worship and the celebration of national holidays:
- When Christians gather for our primary worship on Sunday mornings, we gather around the Risen Christ, the Living Word of God (not the flag).
- Hymns and songs are part of the proclamation of the Word of God. If a hymn's theme is Nation (rather than God, church, Kingdom of God, etc.), it doesn't belong as part of Sunday morning Christian Worship.
- The primary weekly Christian worship service of any community should not be hijacked by external themes, including patriotic themes. The "theme" of a Christian worship service is established by the lectionary, church year, or (absent the use of those excellent tools from our Christian tradition) an intentionally crafted series of Scripture readings selected to proclaim God's grace to a community.
- The weekly Christian worship service should include prayers of thanksgiving for our government and nation, and prayers of blessing for all who govern. Additionally, prayers should be offered in thanksgiving for all who serve our nation in political positions, in civil service, in the military, and in other forms of government service. At times, we should even pray for the leaders of our community, our state and our nation by name ("for George, our President; for Ed, our Governor; for Libby, our Mayor").
- Christians should assemble apart from the primary weekly worship service – such as in dedicated services for Memorial Day, July 4th or September 11th – to offer prayers for our nation and those who serve it, and to proclaim a message of hope and blessing for our nation. In these gatherings national concerns should shape the selection of readings and hymns. However, such worship services remain Christian worship services in which the faithful gather around God's word. As such the flag, the Pledge of Allegiance, patriotic hymns, and other national symbols are not appropriate.
- Christians should enthusiastically and patriotically attend civic celebrations, memorials and ceremonies. Let Christians wave the flag in the city's parade (but not in the church's liturgy). Let Christians pledge allegiance to the flag in the town square (but not at the foot of the cross). Let Christians sing "O Beautiful for Spacious Skies" under the beautiful sun-lit or firework-streaked sky (but not within the embrace of a church sanctuary).
There is a time and a place for everything – and though we can and should pray for our nation in church, worship is not the time or place to celebrate our patriotism. As Christians, our central celebration is the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Hope of all nations and all peoples. We don't cease being Americans when we come to worship, but we don't come to worship to be Americans. We come to worship to sit at the foot of the cross, to gaze into the empty tomb, to hear the Good News for us and for all people. Confusing that Good News with patriotism and civic pride obscures the proclamation of the Gospel and minimizes the church's global mission.
UPDATE: This post was followed-up (and a few points clarified) a few days later by this post: More Thoughts on God & Country.