June 17, 2016

Be Not Proud on July 4 (Or Any Other Time)

Cokesbury, United Methodism’s Publishing House, has republished a warning about patriotic excess on July 4. A Nashville United Methodist minister recounts his extreme unease over the unexpected performance by a visiting musician of Lee Greenwood’s famously soaring “I’m Proud to Be An American” during worship, to rapturous applause from the congregation.

The occasion wasn’t even near a civic holiday but during Lent. On the following Sunday the minister’s sermon chastised the congregation for having given the “emotional and enthusiastic act of praise” to the “nation instead of toward God,” and he “challenged the congregation to ask if we might have accidentally given our best to something that is less than God.”

I share the pastor’s objection to this song, especially in worship, but for somewhat different reasons. The Bible and Christian teaching warn against pride! It’s considered the dark counter to humility and gratitude. Pride exalts the self and human flesh. The proud set themselves up for a fall. God ultimately breaks the back of human pride, the Scriptures warn, which is the father of all other defiance against God.

Christians should not be proud to be American. They should be grateful and blessed. Thank God for America, pray for America, love America, serve America, implore mercy and divine blessing upon America. Celebrate and admire what God has achieved through America. Christians of every land should have this determined, appreciative and plaintive attitude about their country.

Last week there were a lot of social media photos of liberal churches, with their signage, marching in annual urban gay pride marches. Setting aside the issue of Christian sexual ethics, should churches march for pride? Christians are called to be chaste. Should they be proudly chaste? Chastity is a virtue like humility. Should Christians be proudly humble? Should Christians be proud to be Christian? Proud to be Lutheran, Catholic or Pentecostal? It all seems contradictory, since Christians aren’t supposed to exalt themselves or their affiliations.

Greenwood’s song, which I for years greatly enjoyed, although I thankfully never heard it in church, includes “God bless the USA.” If that lyric were clearly the focus, instead of pride, maybe it would almost be appropriate in some worship settings, like several patriotic hymns in the United Methodist Hymnal that stress divine lordship and blessing. In fairness to Greenwood, his song lauds gratitude, love, sacrifice and service.

Every July 4 there are many prim religious articles warning against the idolatry of nationalism, etc. Some of these polemics are actually unsubtly anti-American. (And I wonder if these same polemicists remind their congregations on Mothers and Fathers Day about Christ’s hyperbolic admonition to “hate” parents!!) But others are trying often inarticulately to warn justifiably against national pride. They are right in this aspiration. Christians should be grateful citizens, not proud, praying and seeking always the welfare of their communities, which is only possible by unmerited grace through divine blessing.

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4 Responses to Be Not Proud on July 4 (Or Any Other Time)

  1. Gregg says:

    Another prescient article, Mark. Well said, You should be proud of yourself. Oh, wait, disregard that last part.

  2. Namyriah says:

    Alas, the UMs keep pushing Political Correctness, and they keep losing members.

    When I worked for the UM in the 1980s, “Cokesbury” was the name of their nationwide chain of bookstores, and they were thriving. There were more than 60 – but in 2013, the last of the Cokesbury stores shut down for good. You can put part of the blame on the internet (which put the secular Borders bookstore chain out of business), and yet the Southern Baptists’ bookstores, Lifeway, seems to be doing just fine, with almost 200 stores – and, ironically, lots of UM churches purchase their nondenominational Sunday school materials from Lifeway instead of ordering from the remaining Cokesbury office in Nashville. In fact, there are UM churches that use the Southern Baptist materials. When you’ve got a denomination about to split in half over sexual ethics, and its congregations are purchasing nondenominational (or even Baptist!) Sunday school materials, things do not look good.

    Feel free to leave that sinking ship. At this point in time, there are probably more ex-UMs in America than UMs.

    • Skipper says:

      You would have been shocked at some of the materials available at our local Cokesbury before it closed. They were selling some books that promoted the “Progressive Sexuality”. That alone made one want to shop elsewhere. Cokesbury has a bible study along the same vain, but not as blatant (Covenant). It seems to doubt the authority of biblical writers too. If you need a major Bible Study (34 weeks), Cokesbury still has the Disciple I, which is really excellent. I have taken it twice. I wouldn’t even worry about the DVD because you need to concentrate on first reading the Bible. It’s becomes easy to let that slide and just watch the DVD – missing the main thing.
      Maybe you should give us a break on the Political Correctness, since the recent General Conference showed a growing gap between Methodists and the “salted slug” club, as some have described those far out groups who favor their own rules to God’s rules and whither away. The grassroots Methodists stood up to the Council of Bishops fairly well, and much progress was made. After all, they are professionals and know how to pull tricks (delay all sexuality motions till later, for example). But even that trick may come back to bite them, as the Conference will have moved closer to orthodoxy and real Methodism by then. If that’s the only trick that they got by with, then we need to celebrate!
      We do need to honor God over country!

  3. Bryan Ballas says:

    My personal favorite America song is America the Beautiful. It is just as much as celebration of America’s noblest qualities as it is a recognition that it is not perfect and needs God to make her better.

    I particularly like the conclusion to the second stanza:

    “America! America! God mend thine every flaw,

    Confirm thy soul in self-control,

    Thy liberty in law!”

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