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It is okay to sing patriotic songs in church. Yay or nay?

It is okay to sing patriotic songs in church. Yay or nay?

Pentecost fell on Memorial Day weekend this year. The Birthday of the Church was also the eve of the day on which Americans honor their war dead. (All of their dead, in fact, but their war dead in particular.) I am guessing this made for some interesting musical choices in Episcopal churches around the country, especially involving the inclusion of patriotic songs in the liturgy.

At my church, the choir sang a “Patriotic Medley” at the offertory. The medley consisted of the verses of The Star Spangled Banner interspersed with other songs. The singers did an excellent job, but I found the inclusion of the national anthem a bit of a stumbling block. There is this verse for instance, which we all sang in unison:

O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand

Between their loved home and the war’s desolation.

Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land

Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!

Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,

And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”

And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

A day later I am still trying to sort out how I feel about having asserted musically and before God, that the United States has a right to conquer when our cause is just. On the one hand, I am not a pacifist, and don’t mind praying for the victory of combatants whose cause I believe to be just. On the other hand, I don’t believe our national interests are perfectly attuned to the divine desires, and suppose it is idolatrous to think otherwise.

I suspect this may be one of those issue, like inviting the unbaptized to Communion, on which I will hold the opinion of the last persuasive person I spoke to.

So by all means, begin speaking.


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Weiwen Ng

I think that in the US context, it is wrong to sing almost all national songs in church.

American exceptionalism is the reason. There is a strand of thought in our cultural and religious DNA that God has blessed America, that God wants America to be a light to the nations … and that we have the right to nudge other countries and other cultures into doing things our way. Forcefully nudge, if necessary.

The worst example of American exceptionalism was on display during the Republican primaries. Whatever they said on foreign policy was, in my assessment, anti-Christian to its core. The candidates acted as if belligerence should be our core foreign policy value, and that to not be belligerent was to be weak. I do not say anti-Christian as an ad hominem attack. I say anti-Christian because that attitude that we should be belligerent, that we have the right to be belligerent, and that we must be belligerent, opposes Christ’s teachings of turn the other cheek and the last will be first.

Christians should oppose that any where they can. Paul (or someone) actually calls us to be in this world, but not of it. In real life, I think we can and we should be patriots. In a country which was less obsessed with the notion of being specially blessed, maybe. In this country, I will oppose patriotic or national songs. I make an exception for Lift Every Voice and Sing because it was written to describe the experience of some of the last among us – and in the Kingdom, they will be first.

I, like some of the others here, am not a peace Christian. We can and should pray for members of the military. We can and should pray for their protection. I think we can pray for the successful conclusion of wars that are justifiable, and I think that the war in Afghanistan and the intervention in Libya, for example, can be justified. However, Christ, who told us to turn the other cheek, would also have us pray for the safety of our adversaries. Christ loves our soldiers’ opponents on the battlefield as much as He loves our soldiers. Christians serving in the military have to be aware of that. So, praying for members of our military in religious settings is a must. So is praying for all combatants, and all civilians in the crossfire. Patriotic songs as part of the liturgy, no. This may be a hard line to draw, but that’s what I’d do.

JCF – XX Artillery division or whatever is just the unit name, though, so you’re not praying for their weapons directly. I don’t approve of blessings of weapons or warships myself, though.

Beth Reed

Bill, I would like to believe your expansive definition of patriotism, and in theory, I do. In practice, I don’t think people who critique entrenched ideas and practices of our country (for example, early participants in the civil rights movement or antiwar protesters) are considered to be as patriotic as those who don’t.

The bigger issue in the current discussion is where we express and deepen our patriotism by singing patriotic songs. I think our liturgies are not appropriate for that. I think that civic entities can hold their own “liturgies” (observances, parades, meetings) and that people can express and nurture patriotism there. If such observances or participation in them are lacking, I would say that people who are concerned can create more or different observances and/or encourage more participation in such observances. In other words, lack of ways or places to feel patriotic by singing such songs may be problems, but Christian liturgies are not the place to solve them.

Bill Dilworth

So you think that if I pray for X-ray technicians I really *am* praying for X-ray machines? If we can’t pray for Artillery units, I guess praying for service members in the Navy or the Air Force is right out, because following your reasoning we would actually praying for warships and bombers.


If you can’t see the qualitative difference between a piece of medical technology and a cannon firing explosive projectiles (at other human beings) BillD… O_o

JC Fisher

Caoilin Galthie

Does anyone know if the parishes in Taiwan, Haiti, Ecuador, Columbia, Venezuela, Honduras and the Dominican Republic sing patriotic songs on their national holidays?

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