"It's about God, not about us..."
I grew up in a SBC church with a pastor that has now been there over 40 years. His presence has helped keep out the fundamentalist takeover from invading our close church family. In the past few years, I've noticed some changes, especially after the pastor's son joined the military. Every Memorial Day, Veteran's Day, and Independence Day the active-duty members march to the front with the flag and we say pledge of allegiance. Almost all of the hymns are patriotic and the special music revolves around the holiday's theme. (Even more telling, my family informed me this past Sunday someone sang the National Anthem accapella, and the general reaction was "Play Ball".)
Something always unsettled me about the shift these past few years. I'm not sure where the balance needs to be. I recognize that if it were not for this country's First Amendment we may not even be allowed to publicly worship. I also believe that we need to thank God for our nation's founding and ask for His future guidance.
I'm reminded of the missionary kids who grew up in Brazil and were shocked to find the American flag in US churches. The concept of including a national symbol inside God's house was foreign to them.
Now that I attend a distinctly moderate church where my wife holds a staff position, I've experienced a toned-down service this past Sunday. Even with the relative difference between the two, I still am not sure where that line is.
I do know that the church mentioned in this article is way over the line:
First Baptist Church in Euless, Texas, prides itself on its fiercely patriotic approach to the Fourth of July.
Last year, Marines rappelled into the sanctuary, church members in uniform stuck rifles and helmets into a Styrofoam grave site made by a Broadway set designer and indoor fireworks exploded over a packed house in back-to-back services.
''It's just a big patriotic, feel-good moment,'' said Robert Elkins, the church's music director.
The line greys a bit with this example, yet I'm troubled with the funding mismatch:
First Baptist in Euless, a member of the Southern Baptist Convention, spent more on its ''God and Country Day'' service last year than on Christmas or Easter. Located 20 miles from a military base and a Lockheed Martin plant in Fort Worth, the church uses Independence Day as a major outreach event, said Elkins.
I happened to catch a little bit of Jerry Falwell's Old Time Gospel Hour patriotic show today, and wow... that was over the line. I'd never watched any of his stuff... after that, I wish I could continue making that statement.
I do agree with Richard Pierard's sentiment that we're seeing more of these types of services because "it's become intensified because of the politicization of American Evangelism." He points to the 1950s where religion was first linked with patriotism in a response to "godless" communism. This is where you begin to see "Under God" added to the Pledge of Allegiance, "In God We Trust" added to coinage and whatnot. After the 1960s the groundwork for the "Conservative Resurgence" was laid (I contend it was a subvertive backlash against civil rights, especially with the Southern Baptist involvement, but I'll save that for another day) and under President Reagan's tutelage, fundamentalists established the groundwork for where we are today.
So... all that and I still don't know how I feel about the inclusion of patriotism with worship. I know there's a line, but where exactly is it? Do we give regional exceptions to churches like the one mentioned above that sits near a military base? Do we really need Marines rappelling from the rafters? Are the priorities straight with the church that gives more funding to its God and Country Day than Easter and Christmas? I don't know.
All I know is I can agree with the statement mentioned above... "It's about God, not about us."