Church and the 4th of July

“On a scale of 1-10, 1 completely ignoring the 4th of July and 10 being First Baptist, how patriotic is our service gonna be Sunday??”

This was a private Facebook message I got this week from a newer member of Northaven, concerned about worship on Sunday. He was referring to the orgy of patriotic civil religion that passed itself off as “worship” last Sunday at First Baptist Church, Dallas.

And, knowing his own theology, he was asking me: “Does Northaven co-opt its worship on July 4th weekend, like far too many other Christian Churches?”

My answer to him was, no, we don’t. So, I answered that on that 1-10 scale, we’d be a “1.”

This is not some personal believe that I have forced on to Northaven during my tenure. This is a value Northaven has held sacred for years.

When we moved out of our old building, for example, we found an old, unreconciled flag stand sitting in the back corner of a dusty closet. The metal stand had somehow survived. The flag had been gone for decades.

So, if you, like me and like the people of Northaven, are uncomfortable with the civil religion of patriotic music, flags and fireworks in your worship service, please join us Sunday.

We’re continuing our series on “Blessings,” and it should be wonderful.

Let me be clear. I LOVE the 4th of July. I love fireworks. I love writing these words from our lakehouse, because there’s a better-than-average chance we will all be shooting off copious fireworks tonight.

I respect the American flag. I understand the complicated history that many have with the flag. One flies, every day, in front of our home in Dallas. And I also understand that some immigrants, especially Latino(a) immigrants, intentionally *embrace* the flag in an effort to say “This is our country too…”

I embrace the flag as an aspirational symbol of what we still can be as a nation, a symbol that CAN be shared by people of all races, religions, and gender identities.

I was honored to pray at an event organized by the North Texas Dream Team on Thursday night, and was reminded of this kind of patriotism among those inspiring young immigrants.

But Christian worship is Christian worship. And the 4th of July is the 4th of July. And ever since Emperor Constantine, Christians have been too eager to embrace the trappings of the state within their walls. In every generation. In every kind of “Empire.”

Once upon a time, our Jewish forebearers died on the step of the temple, rather than allow a statue of the Emperor inside. Last week, First Baptist shamelessly prostitituted its faith own faith in a patriotic orgy of music, flags, and fireworks…IN THEIR SANCTUARY!

Many of you wrote about how wrong this felt to you. Some of you aren’t even Christian, and you understand why it’s so wrong…

Christian worship celebrate our freedom in Christ, not our freedom in the flag. And this weekend, it’s important for us to remember the difference.

I continually hear, “But, Eric, we must remember the sacrifice of our heroes.”

Funny you should mention that. Because many of the heroes *I* know? First responders? Military? Police? Firefighters?

THEY don’t like this mixing of faith and the flag either. They come to church worship to worship God too.

For example, we held a memorial service for a Dallas firefighter a few months back. There is a tradition of placing flags around outside of the building, on the lawn. And, with permission, they did just that.

Not ONCE did one firefighter or their supporters ask if they could drape the sanctuary with American flags. They respected the hollowed nature of that space.

We are coming up on the one-year anniversary of the Dallas Police shooting. Five officers gave their lives protecting the free-speech rights we celebrate on the 4th of July. As I have marched in numerous protests this past year, I have silently prayed for the memory of each of them, and for the faithful and courageous officers who have protected us marchers at every turn.

I *do* give thanks for my freedoms. I do not take them for granted. I am humbled by, and completely unworthy of, the sacrifice of those officers.

But none of this requires the *Church* to worship, or bow down to, the State.

In fact, quite the opposite.

Let the sanctuary be a holy place for the worship of God, in whatever your tradition teaches. And if you like the symbols of the flag, fly one of those too…and shoot off a few fireworks.

For me, worship means celebrating “freedom in Christ,” and making sure I don’t confused that with the “freedom of the 4th of July.”

Join us Sunday is this is how you want to worship too.

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

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