By Mark Tooley @markdtooley
In a Washington Post online column, a United Methodist minister describes his refusal to stand for the ritualistic singing of “God Bless America” at a Washington, DC baseball game, despite chiding by a “beer-soaked” voice behind him.
“I imagine that the God I believe in isn’t interested in dispensing special nationalistic blessings,” the minister explained. “When we ask for blessings to be bestowed only on ‘us,’ we are in danger of seeing ourselves as set apart from the world. Faith is global, and one nation doesn’t get any more or less of God than any other.”
The Methodist clergy further opined: “Asking for God’s blessing for ‘us’ or ‘me’ ignores greater needs in our world. We should ask a bigger question: How can we get this blessing to all? I want God walking with and standing beside every single person on this Earth — and every country.”
By this same logic, there should not be specific prayers for ANY body, lest anyone be excluded from God’s blessing. May we rightly pray for our own family and friends without disregarding others? Or must every prayer echo “We Are the World?”
Scripture, including the direct words of Jesus, urges unceasing prayer for every conceivable entity within God’s creation, as nothing is too minor to fall outside God’s concern and Christ’s Lordship, not even the sparrows. St. Paul admonishes anyone whose concerns do not begin with their own household.
The intimacy of faith in Jesus Christ includes the particularity of spiritual responsibility for every nook where the believer has influence. So Christians don’t just pray for the universe but for themselves, for their closest relations, and for their community, which includes their nation. God’s grace is inexhaustible, so praying God’s blessing on America doesn’t imply divine negligence towards Madagascar or Switzerland. Plenty of blessings for all, if God is sought faithfully and diligently.
After 9-11, a United Methodist bishop complained about “God Bless America,” urging instead, “God Bless the World.” At the time, I likened this attitude to responding to a friend’s pleas for prayer for a sick child with a pompous promise to pray for ALL the world’s children. Such a callous respondent should be told what to do with his “prayers.”
The Methodist minister at the baseball stadium also fretted that atheists or humanists in the audience might be offended by “God Bless America.” If so, the stadium is unlikely to want to offend many customers for very long. Likely there aren’t many complainants beyond liberal clergy. And likely there’s other music that’s much more offensive and draws more complaints than “God Bless America.”
At the next game, the minister has a “right” to remain silently seated in protest. But in this case, many may identify with the “beer-soaked” counsel to stand up, if only out of respect for others’ sincere belief that seeking divine blessing for America is no sin.