First Baptist Church in Dallas bowed before a red, white, and blue altar yesterday.
This congregation has become known in recent years for its close association with conservative, Republican politics. Pastor and CEO Robert Jeffress is cozy with Donald Trump, and he preaches a purely American gospel, commingled with convenient snippets of Holy Scripture. So it’s not surprising that this church would dedicate their Sunday gathering to American Jesus.
This is how the service shaped up yesterday. You can watch it for yourself here, if you wish.
First, we had a star-spangled choral introit. Of course, what better anthem to begin patriotic worship than Jewish/agnostic American composer Irving Berlin’s tribute to that good ol’ unnamed, generic American pseudo-deity?
Next, the most solemn and sacred moment in the service, the presentation of colors. The soldiers trot in proudly with guns and flags. Old Glory is the guest of honor today, the holy one we adore. The snare pierces the silence, and the choir and orchestra launch us into the national anthem of American Christianity, which also happens to be the national anthem of the United States. Cymbals crash, sopranos offer up their musical offering to Uncle Sam, and the
congregation audience hoops and hollers their praise. The colors exit stage right, and the lights come up. Our emcee, Dr. Doran Bugg, greets us again in his best game show host impersonation:
“Once again, welcome to worship on Freedom Sunday. Now, let’s sing some GREAT songs celebrating America.”
Our opening hymn proudly proclaims, “You’re a grand old flag, you’re a high-flying flag, and forever in peace may you wave.” (This is idolatry, folks. Nothing short of it.) The fireworks explode (you read that correctly), and audience members wave their miniature flags while singing praises to a red, white, and blue cross.
They move along in the medley. “This is MY country” “I pledge thee my allegiance,
Jesus the crucified America the bold.”
Guy Smiley exclaims “Let me hear you sing!” I wonder if he does that when they sing “Holy, Holy, Holy.” It’s bedlam in God’s house. “This land is your land, this land is my land…” More fireworks, more hoops and hollers follow the last downbeat.
Wink..I mean Bob…I mean Dr. Bugg shouts “AMEN!”
Amen? That little word gives it away right there. The prayer offered up is not “thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” Love of country is what they’re about. On a Sunday. In what they themselves have called “worship.”
After we meet and greet, D-Bugg lifts the legs of his trousers to show he has patriotic socks on. This is apparently not too out of character, as nobody seems weirded out. He then lets visitors know they can go trade in the visitor’s card from the bulletin for a copy of Pastor Robert’s all-time most requested sermon: “America Is a Christian Nation.”
(I wonder if anyone has told the good pastor that the United States of America is not the only country that is a part of America. Or that the United States is not really a Christian nation, since only people can be Christians, and the only Christian nation in history is the Church.)
Next comes everybody’s favorite part of America worship: the obligatory military salute. Dorian, the praise team, and choir sing songs from each branch of the military. (Somehow, “one hell of a roar” always becomes “one terrible roar.” Because, you know, we can’t say “hell” in this kind of church.) Veterans of each stripe rise as their song is sung. They always save the Marines for last. Because, you know, everybody always has a sense that the Marines are the most holy branch.
A service person is then called upon to pray. Everyone kneels. He thanks God for the freedom to assemble and worship Jesus. Of course, they’re passing on the opportunity today, but it’s good to know they’re still thankful.
Next, an African-American man gets up and sings an arrangement of an African-American spiritual, “Give Me Jesus.” That’s right. A person of color. Singing a spiritual. On America worship Sunday. Oh, the irony! It’s painful, really.
G.I. Joe preaches for nearly 40 minutes. He uses lots of military illustrations. He compares Jesus to the American soldier. And then, because we have to maintain some level of Southern Baptist decorum, he magically weaves everything together in an altar call.
In all seriousness, can someone please tell me how this is in any way appropriate for corporate worship?
What would a Christian from another country say? Would they recognize their place in this church?
What about those for whom this has not been such a great country? What about those who still bear the stripes callously inflicted upon their ancestors’ backs?
What about those who don’t claim the Christian faith? Would they come away from such a celebration understanding anything about the gospel of Christ, and hear its call on their lives?
What would happen if Jesus showed up in the flesh? Would we recognize him as our guest of honor? Would we even recognize him at all?
I don’t think so.
Ladies and gentlemen, something has gone desperately wrong.
God, forgive us.