America’s True Freedom Is Getting to Sing About God, Not Country

This Fourth of July, worship leaders work to focus devotion “In Christ Alone.”

Around star-spangled holidays like Memorial Day and Independence Day, churches have often faced pressure to feature a patriotic song or two in their worship service lineups. But this year, many worship leaders are thinking more carefully about those expectations and how they can recognize a national holiday while preserving God’s place as the sole focus of our devotion.

Cole Willig, worship leader at The Crossing in Milton, Delaware, anticipates some criticism over the absence of patriotic content in this year’s Fourth of July service.

“I’m not going to gear [the service] toward a man-made nation,” Willig said. “My job is to provide a space for people to worship, but then also to teach what worship is.”

For the Christian, faith and patriotism are not simply two dimensions of identity; worship music and patriotic music are not simply two “genres” of music. The worship of God through song is a distinct spiritual act of love and obedience. The singing of patriotic music is a voluntary act expressing varying degrees of allegiance and support for one’s country.

But throughout US history, we’ve seen generalized Christian faith and patriotism go side by side, as two complementary facets of American civic religion and identity.

During the final years of World War II, the US military found itself responsible for the internment of over 375,000 German prisoners of war. Those in charge of overseeing the massive internment project were interested in more than just containment—they realized that they had the opportunity to “reeducate” the enemy through carefully curated propaganda.

Music was part of this propaganda effort. A radio broadcast called “Cavalcade …

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