Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



Patriotic worship: Freedom is reason churches mark secular holiday

Nestled on the south edge of Minnesota State University Moorhead, Our Redeemer Lutheran Church's lawn fills with gazers each July Fourth, staring up at the annual fireworks display at the nearby campus.

Nestled on the south edge of Minnesota State University Moorhead, Our Redeemer Lutheran Church's lawn fills with gazers each July Fourth, staring up at the annual fireworks display at the nearby campus.

This year, before the summer sky is ablaze with pyrotechnics, the lawn will be filled with worshippers looking to a higher power.

The church began offering a patriotic service four years ago, reaching out to the fireworks observers. This year it will be outdoors, at 7 p.m. Monday.

"It's a wonderful time to seek God's blessing upon our nation," said the Rev. Bruce Noennig, pastor of Our Redeemer.

Several houses of worship celebrate Independence Day, a secular holiday marking the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.


America's heritage was based in religious freedom, and the freedom to worship is basic to the existence of the Christian church, pastors say. That's why they celebrate the Fourth of July and other federal holidays, like Memorial Day.

"To me it's a natural connection," Noennig says. "We talk about freedom and independence that we get through our relationship through Jesus Christ."

The Rev. Tony Scheving, pastor of Fargo Baptist Church, describes this freedom, the opportunity for salvation, as "real liberty." He plans to talk about it in is his sermon this Sunday.

Scheving says throughout the Bible is a cord that seems to bind national pride and faith in God. He points to Leviticus 25:10, which is inscribed on the Liberty Bell. "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof," it reads.

Fingerprints of the faith are found all over the creation of the United States, Scheving says, and the nation cannot be divorced from its Christian roots.

At Fargo Baptist, an American flag drapes on a stand at the front of the sanctuary, across from a flag marked with a cross.

Last Sunday, the church held a patriotic service to honor men and women who serve in law enforcement and the military.

"I think it encourages God's people to appreciate what they have and the price that was paid for it and not take for granted what people in other countries would love to have," Scheving says of the July Fourth's religious observance.


These patriotic services illustrate a phenomenon scholars describe as "civil religion," says Michelle Lelwica, associate professor of religion at Moorhead's Concordia College.

Under this model, many Americans share a set of beliefs, practices, symbols and rituals that do not represent any particular religion.

"America itself becomes this kind of idea or ideal that people become devoted to," Lelwica says. "In many ways patriotism does function in a quasi-religious manner."

For example, the Declaration of Independence is seen as a sacred text, the Pledge of Allegiance functions like a prayer, people revere the American flag and sing the national anthem with religious fervor, she says.

She says people who are traditionally religious often layer their spiritual beliefs with civil religion.

But Lelwica is critical of whether the Christian faith truly blends with patriotic ideals.

"Patriotism instills an us versus them mentality that is contrary to the teachings of Jesus," she said. "If God is blessing America, what is God doing for the rest of the world?"

Patriotism has a tendency to cultivate a sense of superiority, which Jesus challenged, Lelwica says. And America's independence came about through war, at a cost to American Indians, she says.


Just as Christians can be vulnerable to blind faith, they can fall into blind patriotism, she says.

"I hope in some of these church services Christians are asking for forgiveness in what has been done in the name of America," she says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5525

What To Read Next
Get Local