It has started again. The last week of June has arrived and so have the red, white and blue commercials. Car dealerships, fast food and furniture stores all want to tap into our emotional connection to our sense of citizenship and national pride.
The question of the relationship between our country’s history and our consumer habits is a difficult one to define. I am reminded each year that the same is true of the relationship between the worshipping community and their local civic observances.
What do we do with the Fourth of July?
There are no hard and fast rules for dealing with national observances in the Christian church, except possibly to say, “proceed with caution.”
Each church comes to these special days with a different history and a unique perspective on the political process.
The pastor has the responsibility and opportunity to find and affirm the good in past practices while at the same time helping the congregation let go of elements that no longer fit the present situation.
Our country has a checkered history when it comes to conflating nationalism with Christianity. But, Baptists have the advantage of being able to recall our proud history of standing for the separation of church and state.
So, my tendency is to seek a balance as I listen to the stories that congregants tell of their loved ones who served in the military and their gratitude for all that is good about their country.
How can we include expressions of that love and gratitude in prayers or liturgy as we leave behind overt symbols of national allegiance? Each year in each church, the answer will be different.
In the sermon, we can affirm the value of looking back with appreciation for what we have been given, and looking forward, recognizing that every nation is a work in progress and every person and every Christian in every country is proud of their national heritage.
We also need to express the truth that our first allegiance is to the God of creation and all God’s children throughout the world.
As citizens of this country, we have the freedom and responsibility to use our vote and our voice to encourage public policy that will make, not just for one strong nation, but for a safe, healthy and just world for all people and all of God’s good creation.
Each year in each church, the content and focus of that message will be different. So, my best advice is proceed with caution, and proceed with courage!
Mimi Walker is the pastor of Druid Hills Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga.
Senior pastor at the Church at Ponce & Highland in Atlanta, Georgia.