Do Some Evangelicals Go too Far in Their Efforts to Bring Patriotism into the Church?
The 2016 presidential election brought politics and faith together in a way that excited some evangelical voters but made others uneasy. Then-candidate Donald Trump courted the evangelical vote in an astonishing and unprecedented way, and the melding of Christianity and nationalism created a most unusual marriage.
Trump's nationalism combined with the effort to win evangelical voters gave some Protestant leaders, like the Southern Baptist Convention's Russell Moore, pause. Other leaders, like Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Texas pastor Dr. Robert Jeffress, placed themselves firmly within the Trump camp, which paid off come Election Day.
Jeffress appears to have doubled down on this nationalistic take on Christianity. This past Sunday at his church, First Baptist Church of Dallas, the congregation celebrated Freedom Sunday.
The service took place, complete with church members waving little American flags, the choir and worship team leading the congregation in patriotic songs, and fireworks. You read that right — fireworks.
People waved American flags during the service.
The last time I checked, the waving of the American flag was a sign of support or loyalty to the nation. Jeffress had no problem allowing such an act to take place in a church sanctuary–the place where Christians worship God as a form of expressing their ultimate loyalty. Patriotism is fine. Flag-waving is fine. But I wonder if any of the congregation felt uncomfortable that all of this took place in the church sanctuary on a Sunday morning.
One of the songs that the congregation sang was Woody Guthrie's folk song, "This Land Is Your Land." For those who don't know, Guthrie wrote the song as a godless alternative to "God Bless America." The original verses will make your head explode, and even if you don't have a problem with patriotism in the church, the inclusion of "This Land Is Your Land" should make your blood boil.
All of this begs the question: what place does patriotism have during a church service? Granted, First Baptist of Dallas's service appears to be way over the top, but can a church service focus on nationalism or patriotism?
It's a tricky question, really. Mentioning holidays like Independence Day, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day during the service is fine. Praying for our country is wonderful — and vital. Talking about our freedom is great, especially if the sermon or discussion centers on our freedom in Christ. But an entire Sunday morning service turned into a festival of patriotism turns America into an idol.