Civil Religion, the Church, and the Fourth of July (2013)

this is a repost… so some of the links may be dead.

Michael Gorman posts several baby steps away from Civil Religion, which is rampant here in the States. It is a religion which confuses Calvary with the Constitution.

2. Begin every conversation about this subject with something like, “Let’s remember: the purpose of worship is worship, not celebrating the national holiday. Church is a Christian gathering, not a civic/patriotic gathering. We cannot do anything in Christian worship that would exclude any non-American Christians who might happen to be there.”

3. Under no circumstances allow the pledge of allegiance. Don’t feel forced to challenge the pledge in principle. Simply say, “In worship we pledge ourselves to God alone.”

4. Don’t compare the red of the U.S. flag or the blood shed in battle to the blood of Christ, or war deaths to Christ’s sacrifice. At best, that cheapens Christ’s death.

Indeed, but too often, people are unwilling to take these baby steps as they see nothing wrong in confusing the altar of Christ with the American Dream. I’ve post this before, and I love to call attention to it from time to time, but in the early 2nd century, an anonymous Christian author wrote a letter to the Emperor of Rome. He, or she, wrote the words which should replace every nationalistic display in the sanctuaries:

For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all ; they beget children; but they do not cast away fetuses. They  have a common table, but not a common bed.They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven.They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life.They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.

And yet, nationalistic displays will continue…

Karl Barth had an interesting theology of America,

“If I were myself an American citizen and a Christian and a theologian, I would look at that liberty statue in New York harbor. She needs a little or a good bit of demythologizing—nevertheless, she may also be seen and interpreted and understood well as a symbol of the true theology, one not of liberty but of freedom. It is a real human freedom, one which God gives us in his grace to obey him.” An American theology of freedom, Barth said, should include “freedom from any inferiority complex over or against good old Europe, freedom from a superiority complex over or against Asia and Africa.” It should also include freedom “from fear of Communism, Russia, inevitable nuclear warfare and, generally speaking, of all principalities and powers.” Said Barth, summing up: “This theology of freedom should be a freedom for humanity.” (ht)

Read here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here as well.

Enjoy your 4th, and be thankful for the men and women who have given us such as country, but don’t confuse then with Christ, or Christ with them. Don’t confuse the Christian Hope for the American Dream.

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10 Replies to “Civil Religion, the Church, and the Fourth of July (2013)”

  1. But, Madeleine, Christianity isn't contained in the (U.S.) Constitution, nor really in the Declaration of Independence. Further, our common term would have been open to all forms of it, including Arians and Unitarians, as Deists were apt to do.

    We must respect our religious heritage, but not at the expense of confusing Church and State.

  2. What I mean is the secularist myth that the declaration is a secular document designed to relegate Christianity firmly to the private sphere. Just as the view you are talking about is going far too far, so too is the denial of any theological elements in the declaration and the insistence that it created a secular state, the correct understanding in somewhere between these two extremes. (See our current lead post for what I am getting at.)


    Madeleine, I've posted you link here, so that others may read it.

    I don't think it regulated it to the private sphere – to the contrary, public character was important to the colonials and the more so to certain segments of the Founding Fathers. Christianity and moral religion played a large part in the public character of an individual.

    I would not say that there are theological elements, unless we stand today and look yesterday, but philosophical elements of the philosophical God of the enlightenment and the believers that remained there. I do not believe that Church and State are to be intertwined, either with State and Church or Church and State, as I believe that the Church is above and a-part from the State.

  4. The list is growing as well, Robert. At one time, you were number 7 or 7, so now, instead of last, you are above the middle line.

    I've tried to include a list of 7/4 posts from the bloggers which I read, whether I agree with them or not – that is the idea of political and religious pluralism, I believe.

  5. Canadians don’t appear to have all these self-inspection and soul-searching and history-arguing problems when they celebrate Canada Day.

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