On Sunday in my ward we sang America the Beautiful for an opening hymn and My Country, ‘Tis of Thee for a closing hymn. I’ve never really had a problem with that before. But according to this SL Trib story, the new LDS hymnal that is being produced will not include national anthems, suggesting other patriotic songs might be dropped as well. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Maybe it is becoming more of a controversial thing, which is never good in a church setting. The whole national anthem ritual in the NFL (with players standing, kneeling, or sitting) sort of stirred the pot recently, and the President threw gas on the fire by playing up the issue. That controversy hasn’t carried over to any church setting yet that I have read about. But it easily could.
When you stop and think about it, the whole idea of singing patriotic songs in church doesn’t quite fit. We don’t sing church music at civic celebrations. Why the reverse? You don’t have to be a super-patriot to be a Christian or even a Mormon. More to the point, there are good scriptural and theological grounds to think that there is an inherent tension between allegiance to God and allegiance to Caesar, or even that a good Christian (even a good Mormon) has to decide where his or her ultimate allegiance lies, to the state or to the kingdom of God but not both. Some Christians even see pledging allegiance to a national flag, any flag, as an act of idolatry.
A different issue is how those in the congregation are affected by the songs. A parent with a child serving in the US military swells with pride. Average citizens might feel more or less thrilled with the words. A foreign visitor or an illegal immigrant in the congregation might feel a little out of place. As society continues down the path of political polarization, these reactions get magnified. Some would argue it is better to skip the patriotic songs than to risk creating divisions within a congregation. This seems like a better reason to remove patriotic songs from the hymnal than the Correlation push to make every hymn book the same across the whole world.
I’m guessing most of us will sing The Star-Spangled Banner next week. Enjoy it, if that’s your thing. It might be the last time we sing it in church.