It’s Independence Day this Sunday, and chances are each Mormon ward will sing at least one of the three patriotic hymns in our hymnal. If my ward sings the national anthem, a friend of mine will quietly protest. She refuses to sing the United States national anthem in Sacrament meeting, not because she doesn’t like to sing it, but because she feels it’s not appropriate in that context. And she’s not the only one who questions the presence of patriotic music in church. Services at other Christian churches I’ve attended haven’t included patriotic hymns around Independence Day, and I lived for three years in England and I don’t remember the ward there ever singing “God Save the Queen.” My Canadian friend believes that since “O, Canada” is not in the LDS hymnal, the “Star-Spangled Banner” shouldn’t be there either. Indeed, the non-English versions of the LDS hymnal I’m aware of don’t contain any patriotic songs, so why are American ones included?
In my experience, most American Mormons enjoy singing patriotic hymns around Independence Day. But why in Sacrament meeting? Are we being ethnocentric? Or is there something about Mormon doctrine moves us celebrate America? Does God want us to sing the praises of our country, whichever country that may be? The idea that America is the Promised Land spoken of in the Book of Mormon is, I’m sure, behind some American Mormon patriotism. The 10th and 11th Articles of Faith may have something to do with it as well. But we also believe the gospel is for everyone, and the presence of patriotic hymns in our Sacrament meetings could be a little alienating to some. So should patriotic hymns and songs be delegated to the secular celebrations of Independence Day, just like sacred music is being increasingly squeezed out of the public sphere?
I don’t think so, although I’m not an impartial judge on this question. I really love a rousing, patriotic hymn played nice and loud on the organ, so I’d want them there if only for aesthetic reasons. But from a worship point of view, if a hymn praises God and country at the same time, like “America the Beautiful” and “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” do, then I can’t think of a reason why they wouldn’t be appropriate for Sacrament meeting. I don’t think we should have the ward choir sing “This Land is Your Land,” however, because that song doesn’t mention God. And for that matter, God only gets one tiny mention at the end of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It’s basically a battle song, so maybe my friend is right that it doesn’t belong in Sacrament meeting. But I still love it, and will love singing it in church this Sunday. Even better, I’d love to hear this wonderful “Fugue on the Star-Spangled Banner” by John Knowles Paine for the postlude. It’s a little long, so if you get tired of the fugue, skip to 3:25 where the melody really comes out. But don’t miss the pedal solo at 2:50 – it rocks.
Happy 4th of July weekend! Enjoy.