Question of Faith: Does patriotism belong in houses of worship?


Patriotism and love of country are everywhere at this time of year. Fireworks, parades and flags were ubiquitous on the Fourth of July. Among the basic freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution that we celebrated: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Separation of church and state is fundamental to America's version of democracy.

But in a house of worship, what is the appropriate way to observe Independence Day? Some congregations incorporate the holiday into their services, some hold special services, and others do not observe it at all.

Are people of faith particularly called to celebrate the founding of the United States or particularly called not to? Do the American flag and patriotic music belong inside places of worship?

Those are the questions we posed to the Herald-Leader's Question of Faith panel. Here are their responses:

Rabbi Marc Kline, Temple Adath Israel, Lexington: One of the most sacred tenets of my Jewish faith comes from a text that is more than 1,500 years old, which reads, "Tzedek, tzedek tirdoff — Justice, Justice you must pursue (it)." The Talmud reads, "Dina d'malkhutah dina — The law of the land where you live is the law by which you live."

Being a good citizen is the most core Jewish value, and I am privileged to live in a country that respects my faith and affords me the opportunity to live my faith.

July Fourth is more than just a secular day of a nation's independence; it is a sacred day that reminds me that I have to ensure for my friends of different religions the same rights I demand for my own.

While we do not hold a separate service for the holiday, we acknowledge the blessings of citizenship and residency that we hold dear.

The best way to celebrate this holiday is to live it every day. While the protocols of the flag and related observances for this day might be unique, the spirit that this day represents is an everyday event.

I am not a fan of flags in a sanctuary. My congregation is. As such, we have flags on our pulpit.

Bob Evely, Grace Evangel Fellowship, Wilmore: The house of worship could be anywhere: a home, an office, a park, a golf course, even traditional church buildings.

As believers, we are dual citizens. Our citizenship is in heaven. We are called to be ambassadors in this present world, wherever we are placed by God. The Scriptures call for us to obey the government and its authorities and, unless the government directs us to do something that is opposed to God's instructions, we are called to obey the government.

We must judge if the instructions of God are truly contrary to the laws of man. And if there is no disagreement, we are free to post a flag, celebrate the Fourth and honor our nation in any way we please, wherever our "house of worship" might be.

The only thing people of faith are called to celebrate is our lord and savior Jesus Christ.

Rachael Brooks, New Hope Church, Lexington: Though our nation was founded on Christian values and we should thank God each and every day that we live in a country where freedom abounds, the Fourth of July is a secular event and a man-made institution that should not be part of worship.

Worship is praise and thanksgiving given to God, and our focus should be specifically and solely on God.

It is appropriate as Christians living in the United States that we pray for our country and our nation's leaders during the petitions that are brought forward during our worship service.

It is also right, before the worship service begins, to acknowledge our country and those that founded or fought for this nation.

Flags and patriotic music do not belong in a sanctuary for use during worship but, if the room used for worship is used for an event honoring our nation or those who have served our country, it would be appropriate to display the flag and enjoy patriotic music during that event.

The buildings where we worship are just buildings. A building might house many things and many events, but once we enter into the act of worship, there should be no secular celebrations that would distract us from our focus on God.

Therese Warrick, founder and ministry leader, Sisters Road to Freedom, Lexington: We might live in an independent and free America, but many of us living in America — Americans, immigrants, foreigners, illegal aliens — if we are not living a life pleasing unto God, we are not free.

God will not judge us because America is a free nation; God will judge us based on whether we are free in him.

At the church where I worship, Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, we do have the American flag in our sanctuary and say the Pledge of Allegiance during vacation Bible school. However, we do not incorporate the Fourth of July holiday into our services.

Kory Wilcoxson, Crestwood Christian Church, Lexington: This topic is a minefield for many churches as they try to balance and keep distinct our love for America and our love for God.

When it comes to any non-religious holiday, each church (and each Christian) must decide the appropriate way to honor our country without forgetting who we truly worship.

We have to be sensitive to the experiences and passions of those who have served and continue to serve this country faithfully while acknowledging that no country, not even this great one of ours, is perfect. Only God is perfect and, therefore, only God deserves our true devotion and worship.

At Crestwood, we display the American flag in our sanctuary as a reminder of our call to be a faithful witness to our nation. We are truly grateful for the freedoms that have been sacrificially earned for us, but none more so than the freedom we enjoy through our faith in Jesus Christ.

Joseph N. Greenfield, Help Me to Live Again Ministries, Wilmore: Patriotism, the American flag and an assortment of independence celebrations have their rightful place in a house of worship.

Just as American independence was grounded in a break from the yoke and the slavery of British rule, so is the Christian life a break from the rulers of this world.

Christianity is above all, about freedom in Christ as he has so graciously lavished upon us through his life, death and resurrection.

One of the primary tenants of Christ's coming was to show others that while he might have been in the world, he was not dependant upon the world.

This freedom America enjoys is not the freedom to do as one pleases regardless of the consequences, but rather it is the freedom to trust in and depend upon the one who is ruler over all as we live according to what pleases him.

Roger Bruner, Mill Street Church of Christ, London: The Bible nowhere sanctions the incorporation of the July Fourth holiday (or any other holiday) into the worship under the gospel dispensation.

Congregations that respect the teachings of Jesus Christ and his apostles will not have a special service.

Worship acts are specified as follows: singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs whereby teaching and admonition is given and received. The Lord's Supper is taken by those who have obeyed the gospel call, as well as a free-will offering.

Praying together and preaching the gospel message are the direction of Christ and his apostles, and are pleasing and acceptable to him.