Twelve years ago our family visited a church in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, that has since closed its doors. It sat directly across from an Intel plant that employed thousands. I was impressed by the incredible evangelistic opportunity this church had been given. You can understand my utter shock then when in the middle of the service, held on Fourth of July, the pastor led us in a rousing rendition of patriotic songs, ending with, “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy.”
I kid you not.
We sang “I’m a Yankee doodle dandy.”
I leaned over to my wife and said, “I’m going to shoot myself in the head.”
While I’m positive you and your church won’t do anything quite as ridiculous as that, can I ask you to cross-your-heart-hope-to-die-stick-a-needle-in-your-eye swear something to me about this upcoming 4th of July? Here it is:
Please for the love of God DO NOT plan a John-Phillips-Sousa-Red-White-And-Blue-God-Bless-America-Toby-Keith-Fourth-Of July-Patriotic-God-And-Country-Service
Don’t get me wrong. Fourth of July is a great holiday to celebrate, but never, under any circumstances, at any time, in any way, inside the confines of a church building and endorsed by a community of followers of Jesus Christ. Never. No way. Forever, and ever, amen.
There are three reasons a Fourth of July service is just a really bad idea:
1. It shows that you have sold out to the dominant culture
Let’s imagine we both went on a trip to Uganda and decided to go to church. We found a church listed in the phone book and walked a mile down the street to Kampala Christian Church. In the foyer sat a picture of Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni and behind the communion table sat the national flag of the country. During the service we sang songs of allegiance to the Uganda way of life, chocked full of lyrics recalling the bravery of the people who fought with the National Resistance Army and ushered in the current political leaders in the country.
If we had any measure of spiritual and cultural discernment we would say, “Um, I think these people have a problem discerning what is culture and what is gospel. Why in the world would you do all this crap in the name of Jesus in a church service?” For the first 250 years of the Jesus movement, Christians suffered a continual stream of beheadings and lion-feedings because of our lack of patriotism. Martyrdom became a way of life because of our unwillingness to acknowledge Caesar as the political sovereign (“kurios”).
2. We have never been (nor will we ever be) a “Christian” nation
“America is a Christian nation” continues to be, for some reason, the biggest urban legend floating around Christianity today. We’ve never been a Christian nation for two good reasons. First, God is not in the nation building business anymore. He gave that up after Israel didn’t live up to his expectations. Second, the last thing I would do is describe the founding fathers of our country as devout followers of Jesus Christ. Take the most theologically liberal UCC church in your area and they would be fundamentalists compared to the average founding father. They were deists. At least my UCC pastor friends think God could intervene in human history if he wanted. George Washington did not, except for in battle, of course.
3. You have to do some pretty twisted biblical interpretation to find support for war among the followers of Jesus in the New Testament
Did you know that at the beginning of the first Gulf War our Mennnonite brothers who serve as pastors voluntarily lowered their salaries to $1 below poverty level so they would not have to pay taxes on their income, and as a result have part of their salary go to support the war in Iraq? For the first 300 years of our Christian history there was universal agreement: followers of Jesus do not kill people, no matter how patriotic the justification.
So how about it? Can we make a deal? No more Fourth of July services from here on out? If that’s too much, how about at least removing the American flag from your sanctuary for starters? Believe it or not, a few Christians found it possible to exist, some 1,746 years to be exact, without one.