American Independence in Worship

Photo Credit: Pat O'Malley

Photo Credit: Pat O'Malley

As we approach the 4th of July weekend, here are a few issues to consider and pitfalls to avoid.

Remember to worship God this Sunday and not America.  I love America, and I'm glad to be a US citizen.  However, as Christians our hope is not in God not in our national heritage ("founded as a Christian nation") nor in our national future ("taking America back for God").  I have serious doubts regarding the mental and historical gymnastics required to affirm that a “Christian nation” can be built amid genocide, slavery, and the subjugation of women.  Furthermore, I’m not sure that it’s even possible to claim power for God through a political process.  So, this week, as we express gratitude for the numerous significant benefits of living in the United States of America, let’s be sure to direct our worship to God - not to our flag, not to our soldiers, not to our own personal liberty, not to our version of our national history - but to God and only to God.

Remember that God's Kingdom is far greater and far different from our nation.  As the members of the Church Universal, our brothers and sisters span the globe.  Our forefathers are English, Cherokee, German, Syrian, Iraqi, Egyptian, Greek, French, Mexican, Kenyan, Peruvian, and of countless local tribes whose names and languages we would never recognize.  What God is doing in the world far exceeds and often contradicts the intentions and actions of the US government (and all governments) as well as the American people (and all peoples).  

Remember that America is not in a state of moral decline.  Although America has experienced some decline in some areas of morality, we have also experienced significant improvement in other areas that are also ethical essentials: elimination of slavery, civil rights, free public education, mostly safe drinking water for all, protections for women, elimination of child labor, etc.  My friend who is a white female Nazarene pastor married to a black man often reminds people that just a generation ago, her marriage was illegal and her husband could be lynched.  America is better than that now, thanks be to God.

Remember that God calls us to love our enemies.  Whatever that means on the level of national politics, at the least on the level of pastoral messages, loving our enemies does not include throwing Muslims, homosexuals, and secular leaders under the bus or under the pulpit.  This Sunday, feel free to celebrate America, but please don’t bash anyone.  That is actually an expression of fear and slavery rather than freedom.

Remember that God calls us primarily to submission not to independence.  Oh, we Americans love our freedom.  “Give us liberty, or give us death!”  But we would do well to remember that there is something essentially broken and unChristian in our ravenous hunger for personal liberty.  If I would rather kill you than give up some of my freedom, then I am significantly different than the Christ who willingly died to set us all free.  This is not a statement for pacifism.  (That is a complex question and a different question.)  This is simply a challenge to the dominant American freedom narrative.  True freedom comes first and foremost through taking up our crosses and following Jesus.

So pastors and church leaders, this Sunday please speak truth, but make sure it is the truth of grace.  Celebrate our independence, but call people to dependence on the God who laid down his life for us and invites us to lay our lives down as well (in daily acts of service and love - not just as soldiers).  

This Sunday, like all Sundays, preach Christ and Christ crucified.  All else is foolishness.