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The announcer said, “To honor America, please stand and remove your hats…” The crowd of over 75,000 stood, removed their hats, grew quiet, and instinctively put their hands over their hearts. These things are done to serve the interest of America and not the church of Jesus.I am not placing value judgment on individual Christians’ participation in such acts of civil devotion.However due to the similarity in the way American civil religion and Christianity use language, some Christians assume they are talking about the same thing.
They shape us and ultimately they serve the ends of strengthening our love for America, not Jesus. (I discuss that at length here.) You can’t love America more than Jesus, because when the American way clashes with the Jesus way, whichever you love more will direct your heart.
The core of Christian discipleship is following Jesus as representatives of God’s kingdom, working with Jesus to build his church.
Americans don’t go to work on the fourth of July (at least most don’t!
) and they stand facing a flag whenever the national anthem is played or sung. Oaths were made with a reverberating “So help me God.” Some people aren’t aware that American civil religion exists and that it is not the same as Christianity. Religion in general is a social construct comprised of those things which bind us together.
Americans believe in freedom, individual rights, and free enterprise.
American flags and monuments proudly display American heritage and pride.
The Declaration of Independence, one of the two sacred documents in American civil religion, uses the phrase “Nature’s God” and “Creator.” George Washington in his inaugural address in 1789 did not mention “God” or “Christ,” but spoke of the “Almighty Being who rules over the Universe,” “propitious smiles of Heaven,” and “divine blessing.” This kind of language comes from the repository of biblical literature which describes the God who rules the nations, the King of the kingdom of heaven, and the blessings found in that kingdom.
Present Trump in his inaugural address mentioned god in quoting from the Psalms, “The Bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.” He continued on to say these “people of God” will be protected by God.
He concluded his address as many modern presidents have, with the phrase, “God bless America.” From Washington to Trump, American presidents have used words and images drawn from the Christian faith without grounding them in specific, and exclusively, Christian doctrines.
Robert Bellah points out that the early American leaders did not intentionally leave out more explicitly Christian language in their speeches because they were afraid to offend the non-Christian minority of their day.