Civil Religion Undone

Although we seldom see success stories in the uncivilizing of Christian faith in the U.S., here’s heartening news from one of my students, who also happens to be a reader of this blog:

After numerous conversations with my pastor and occasions when I shared your words and those of others, as well as my reflections on other churches, this July 4 Sunday [2011] was different at my church. My pastor did not lead a pledge to the flag and made no reference to the flag. He wished the congregation a pleasant holiday, and included in the prayers those who are ill at home and abroad in various capacities, and did use as a recessional hymn one verse of Eternal Father. That was it, and I was so proud of him for his willingness to change after 11 years of pledging and hauling out the flag [emphasis added]. The pastor was concerned that some in the congregation would take him to task for not doing the flag thing, but it seems that no one said a word, at least not yet.

My response was, not surprisingly, “Hallelujah!” Both this student, for such a witness, and this pastor, for such courage, deserve our admiration and gratitude.


9 Responses to “Civil Religion Undone”

  1. Peter says:

    After explaining to all involved why I wanted no patriotic hymns during the July 3 service that I had been asked to preach, I preached a sermon entitled “Celebrating Our Freedom,” and spoke of freedom from Babylon’s deceptions, etc. I walked back into the sanctuary after the service to find the screen lit up by a display with “Celebrating Freedom,” fireworks and two crossed American flags. Still some work to do.

  2. Mike C. says:

    “Hallelujah!” from here too!

    Good job, all…and thanks for sharing MJG. Peter, recognizing my own hardheadedness/complicity/new revelation with some of this, I guess it can keep us humble and working through it WITH our congregations knowing there is “still work to do” from the pews to the pulpit.

    May we keep working in the clarity of Jesus’ loving Way,
    Mike C.

  3. Peter Murphy says:

    Mike – excellent response. Thank you.

  4. MJG says:

    Peter and Mike–

    Thanks for your feedback and interaction. BTW, there’s a great story about resisting civil religion around July 4 in my book Reading Revelation Responsibly (not sure what page)–and it involves this Mike C and his congregation.

  5. Takashi Kojima says:

    Hello, from a pastor in Japan.
    As someone who has been interested in the civil religion both in the U.S. and in Japan, I share your concern for the overly patriotic civil religious expressions in the U.S. The situation here is a complete opposite. Though there are a few christian ministers who are eager to mix politics and religion with nationalistic fervor, most Japanese Christians abhor the type of expressions such as the flag and the pledge in the special holiday services. That’s because during the WWII the Japanese Christian churches were powerless to resist the idolatrous National Shinto rituals creep into their services. With deep sense of failure and sin, Japanese churches looked back their war time behaviors and they are now determined to not repeat the mistakes. So for most Japanese Christians, the civil religious practices in the U.S. churches look so foreign, at least for those who didn’t go through the war time experiences.

  6. Peter (in Panama) says:

    I made the mistake of attending an ex-pat church group comprising mainly older Americans. They sang every American patriotic song I had ever heard and some that I hadn’t. They even threw in the Canadian anthem for good measure. They had videos with the lyrics and the final shot on the screen was of Jesus superimposed over the US flag. If I could have left, I would have. The icing on the cake was when one of the group, in prayer, quoted a very strong NT verse of judgement and then applied it to Obama. To me, totally out of order.

    I have a great need for fellowship but this was the last straw and I shan’t be returning to the group.

  7. MJG says:

    Takashi and Peter,

    Thanks so much for sharing your international experiences and perspectives. May God deliver us from this dangerous nonsense. In the meantime, Peter, don’t throw the baby (the faith) out with the bathwater. Find people who are able willing to think through these matters with you!

  8. Trey says:

    I visited a church a few years back that I’ll never forget (unfortunately). My wife and I were handed small American flags at the door and the praise and worship portion was a menagerie of patriotic songs while the visuals on the large screen showed fireworks, scenes of New York and the Statue of Liberty and maybe even some Apple Pie. This year at my home church, my pastor slid right over the 4th of July banter. I did notice the Bible on an altar display sitting atop a flag draping over that altar, but otherwise…no mention of it.

  9. MJG says:


    The “church of a few years back” is still alive and kicking, I’m sure. Your pastor did well to “slide over” the banter, but a flag draping an altar! That says an awful lot.

    These kinds of things are why it is so critical for us to insist again and again that there is no such thing as the “American church”–only the church in America. The church of God in Corinth was barely a church anymore because it had become a Corinthian church.

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