A couple weeks ago I went to a Dallas Mavericks game and was caught off guard by something the announcer said: “Please rise as we honor God and our country by singing the national anthem.” I wasn’t caught off guard by singing the national anthem before a sporting event. Professional sports in many ways embody many things central to American existence–competition, triumph and making a buck off anyone who will spend $6 on a hot dog. I was struck wondering, however, how does this event and especially singing the National Anthem honor God?
As I rose I quickly ran through the lyrics of the Star Spangled Banner in my head. “Dawns early light…proudly hailing…land of the free, home of the brave.” Nope: no mention of God. Do we praise God in the song? Nope, we seem to “hail” a flag instead.
Maybe there are principles in the song that somehow glorify God? “Bombs bursting…rockets giving off red glare.” I find it hard to imagine that the God of the cross and the Prince of Peace feeling particularly honored by bombs bursting death upon God’s children. Even “Just War” theologians who believe that war is sometimes a necessary evil that Christians must adopt to rid the world of a greater evil do not think that such a thing could ever honor God. Killing in the midst of battle was allowed in certain situations, but it was something that called for repentance and forgiveness nonetheless.
I think far too often we assume that praising our country is something that God wants. While there are many things about our nation that I believe pleases God: Americorp, the Peace Corp, a Justice System that tries to be just, Welfare, Public Works, Disability Support, Women’s Rights, Anti-Racism laws, Universal Education, New Jersey. But those things are nto lifted up in the Star Spangled Banner. Our nations anthem is a war hymn. I’m not sure that I’m willing to assume that this song highlights the elements of our nation that I want to lift up to God with pride.