The gist of recent comments on this blog has been that pastors need to take baby steps to move churches away from civil religion. On the assumption that that’s what most people will need to do, here are some ideas for pastors:
1. Be the pastor. Take charge of the service. Don’t allow special interests to dictate worship—ever.
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.
5. Do not allow the singing or playing of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” or “Onward Christian Soldiers” or anything that calls itself a national or armed-forces hymn. That feeds militarism. Avoid “America the Beautiful” and “America (My Country ‘Tis of Thee)” because they are not truly hymns, as they celebrate a nation rather than God. (They both directly address “America” in personification.)
6. If your church must sing something related to the national holiday, try “Let There be Peace on Earth” or “This is My Song” (to the tune of Finlandia) or something similar.
7. If you must allude to the national holiday, keep it brief, and try to focus on anything other than what people expect. Be creative! Possible themes: justice, peace, nonviolence, interdependence, etc.
8. Use and blame the lectionary! Preach on the texts of the day, not the civic holiday.
Any other baby steps?