Special Report

It Was a Mighty Fourth

Celebrating July 4 the right way—and the wrong.

By 7.7.14

UPI
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July 4, still so full of unapologetic patriotic hoopla, remains largely a bulwark against political correctness. Any holiday that prominently celebrates bewigged men in tri-corner hats playing flutes and often bearing arms has to be a welcome antidote to negative sociological trends.

This year’s Independence Day in the nation’s capital was among the best in terms of weather in my nearly half century of a lifetime here. Unusually moderate temperatures, low humidity, clear skies and even an evening breeze that necessitated sweaters for some, contrasted with typically suffocating D.C. haze and sweltering oppression.

I was among thousands encamped at sunset around the always-stirring Iwo Jima monument in Arlington that honors the U.S. Marine Corps, having a glorious straight-line view of the National Mall, with the fireworks silhouetted against the Washington Monument. The crowd was unusually polite, with no visible evidence of liquor, nor any shoving in the race to leave afterwards. There were applause and occasional patriotic outbursts.

According to a Washington Post report, the far denser crowd across the river stood for “The Star-Spangled Banner.” A California teacher is quoted telling her son: “We have to respect the flag. We have to respect our country.” Earlier in the day, re-enactors portraying Founding Fathers read the Declaration of Independence on the steps of the National Archives. Reportedly there were cheers for the affirmation of sacred rights and boos for the enumerated royal assaults on liberty.

The following Sunday at my United Methodist church in northern Virginia, we not untypically sang “America the Beautiful,” and a young boy performed a heroic solo of “My Country ’Tis of Thee,” both of which are available in the official denominational hymnal. Nobody showed any sign of offense.

But a column in the liberal Protestant Red Letter Christians blog run by evangelist and sociologist Tony Campolo, timed for July 4, warned against these very hymns in church. “The predictable presence of patriotic songs in worship displays the widespread and longstanding commitment in American churches to using liturgy for nationalistic ends,” it somberly warned. “All too frequently worshipers fail to see how the songs and rituals of the nation don’t compliment but compete with devotion to the God revealed in Christ. Americanized spirituality replaces distinctly Christian spirituality.”

According to this very concerned Red Letter Christian, “Patriotic worship forms worshipers to be people who believe America is particularly blessed by God and that America is important to the purpose of God in ways no other nation can claim. Therefore, support for America is support for the purposes of God. Worship that serves such nationalistic ends is worship that has departed from its rightful, singular purpose of glorifying God.”

Reputedly, “when the church is true to its nature and purpose it will have no place for the songs of the nation. The church exists as a Christ-centered alternative to the world of conflicting nations, races and tribes. This is especially true for the church that exists in a superpower nation accustomed to privileged status.”

Of course, July 4 recalls a time when America was not a “superpower nation accustomed to privileged status,” but a besieged colony fighting for liberation from a superpower. Would this Red Letter Christian, so offended by “Americanized spirituality,” be open to commemorations by other nations of their liberation struggles, South Africa for example? And if a uniquely American brand of Christianity is sinister, are Asian, Latin or African influenced variations of Christian faith also pernicious?

Every form of Christian faith everywhere is influenced by its surrounding culture. Successful evangelists of every age and church have tried to translate the faith into indigenous forms that allow people groups to affirm their God-given identity under Christ’s lordship. Typically the politically correct are troubled specifically by American Christianity because of their own prejudice against American culture and history. They implausibly demand that American Christians sanitize their faith of their surrounding reality but don’t expect the same standard for other peoples.

The Red Letter Christian opined that ostensibly patriotic hymns mold worshipers into “devoted citizens who often end up being less inclined to challenge the priorities of the nation in the name of the God who transcends all nations and the interests the nations hold.”

But actually, the opposite is true. Such hymns call the nation to divine accountability. For example, “America the Beautiful” exhorts: 

America! America! God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

And “My Country ’Tis of Thee” reminds that God not man is the final judge:

Our father’s God to, Thee,
Author of liberty,
To Thee we sing.
Long may our land be bright
With freedom’s holy light;
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God, our King!

Such calls to divine accountability came to mind when reading an unsavory Sunday column in the Washington Post this holiday weekend. A former Department of Homeland Security analyst recounted how, when confronted by an unsought pregnancy, she sought a chemical abortion, which she complained taxpayer funded healthcare did not subsidize. She was the victim of “special laws that restricted my reproductive choices,” forcing her to pay the $480 abortion cost.

Sad and appalling. July 4 means life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, not death, entitlement, and vice. The 41-year-old judicially imposed abortion on demand regime in our country merits no celebration and is starkly at odds with America’s founding principles. Patriotic hymns speak to our national sins, for which we all bear some responsibility: “America! America! God mend thine ev’ry flaw.”

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About the Author

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth CenturyYou can follow him on Twitter @markdtooley.