Patriotism and Worship

My struggle with Worship and Patriotic Holidays began several years ago when I attended a church service in which I was completely unable to tell the difference between worship and patriotism. The worship team on stage sang "America The Beautiful" and "Shout to the Lord" with the equal gusto and posture: eyes closed, hands raised.

Another year, at a different church, I stood behind an Asian foreign exchange student who struggled awkwardly through the words of "God Bless America" during our Sunday worship service.

The tension with how the church should handle patriotic holidays is extremely difficult for me because I am a deeply patriotic person. I love the country God has allowed me to grow up in. And it seems that the church is virtually the only place where patriotic sentiment and music are preserved.

However, the tendency to sing patriotic songs without a strong distinction from worship music teeters far too close to idolatry for me. In fact, it is precisely the kind of idolatry we herald Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego for avoiding (Daniel 3). Furthermore, shouldn't the Church be the one place where people from every nation feels at home?

At the church where I serve, we try to hold the tension delicately. We try to sing the stanzas of patriotic songs that explicitly worship the God of the Bible with gratitude for the freedom we enjoy to worship Him. We recognize veterans and thank them for their service; recognizing that on any given Sunday morning, millions of people are able to focus completely on worshiping freely and publicly rather than in fear and hiding. We pray for those who are in harm's way, as well as their families and the families of those who have given the ultimate sacrifice.

But, we almost never display enough patriotism to satisfy everyone. The fact that we don't devote an entire worship service to our country/veterans/soldiers is perceived as a slap in their face to some people. After every patriotic holiday, we receive emails and cards - some borderline hateful, which express the disappointment of some people who don't think we've honored our country enough.

Those cards and emails always really bother me, because they make it clear that the person writing them thinks we are not patriotic, not thankful for our veterans, and not grateful for the freedoms we enjoy. That could not be further from the truth. However, if we are forced to err on the side of either dishonoring our country or dishonoring our God, the choice is not difficult. Worship services are for worship, and worship is for God alone.


Kim said...

Hi Chris,

I REALLY appreciated your comments at the church service about this tension. I am patriotic as well, however, I too have often wondered how it lands on believers from other countries that worship with us. I think our church does a good job at honoring our veterans without turning the worship service into a service worshipping our country.