As Christians, our primary identity is centered around Christ. In worship, we celebrate this unity and the radical mes-sage that we all belong in the kingdom of God. There are no insiders or outsiders. This sense of belonging is some-thing to celebrate! Music in worship, especially hymns, needs to be consistent with these goals. By using music that draws us to Christ, we focus on what unites us.
Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of a first-time visitor in worship at LCOS. Does the text of the hymn point towards the Creator and developing our faith, or does it feel more exclusionary? Are the words inviting you into the family of believers? Does the text focus more on serving God or serving a country?
If a text focuses more on patriotism and treats God as an afterthought, it is a patriotic song, not a hymn to be sung in church. We can certainly sing those songs at patriotic gatherings, but they do not belong in a hymnal or a worship ser-vice. As July 4 is just around the corner, some may want patriotic music in worship, as a way of expressing thanks to God for this country and the freedoms many of us enjoy. On the other hand, as Jesus is the subject of our worship, singing about our freedom in Christ is paramount.
A good example of a hymn that is patriotic but keeps God at the forefront is “This Is My Song” (ELW 887) – it prays for one’s own country, while also acknowledging that “other hearts in other lands are beating / with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.” On the other hand, a song that would be considered inappropriate for worship is “America the Beautiful” because it focuses more on listing the attributes of a country rather than focusing on God. In 8 lines per verse, God is only mentioned in one line each, while the rest describes the country.
A compromise that Pauline often considers is the playing of a song without the words, such as a postlude – if you were here on Super Bowl Sunday, you know that she played the Eagles fight song on the organ. The singing from the con-gregation happened spontaneously and was not planned, and since the Eagles in the Super Bowl has not been a regular occurrence, she was happy to compromise. Similarly, Pauline would play a patriotic hymn arrangement without the words as a nod to a national holiday, but would rather not sing several patriotic hymns during one worship service to not give the patriotic sentiment more weight than worship itself. To end, Pauline has a quote from a song by Derek Webb which she always comes back to when thinking about patriotism:
My first allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or a man
My first allegiance is not to democracy or blood
It’s to a king & a kingdom
May we always remember who we are