The observance of this day on the Church’s calendar was born out of differences of perspective. Although lessons and prayers were appointed for a national observance in the Proposed Prayer Book of 1786, they were deleted by the General Convention of 1789 in deference to the majority of the clergy who had remained loyal to the British crown. Not until the revision of the Book of Common Prayer in 1928 was it restored.
For me a tension continues. I must confess that any time the life of prayer, worship and Scripture are aligned too closely with national desire I get nervous. I find that renditions of the flag of the United States printed on a page leaf in the front of a Bible especially troublesome. Such approaches too often cross the line into nationalism, an idolatry that blurs the distinction of the sovereignty of God and national purpose as if one is equal to the other. Deuteronomy 10:20 appointed for today says, “…him alone shall you worship.” Failure to be clear about this is pointed to through the work of The Southern Poverty Law Center. The alarming proliferation of extremist nationalist groups in the United States quoting the Bible and spewing racist, misogynist and intolerant hatred is well documented.
Please do not misunderstand. I am a patriot and am grateful that I am a citizen of the United States. As I travel I thank service men and women for their offering when I see them in airports. At the same time, I am very clear that the United States enjoys no favored position with God compared to any other country, people or tribe. The Collect for the Day asks of God that we “may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace.” There is a proper place for grateful hearts for the sacrifices made to secure our land from tyranny and oppression. When at our best, we have been an example of liberty to many over the last 241 years.
Yet we also need to hear faithful and prophetic critique when what we do as a nation is in conflict with the Gospel, and be willing to confess our sin when we are the source of oppression. As disciples of Christ and yet citizens of a nation, what does loving our enemies (Matthew 5:44) and loving the stranger in our midst (Deuteronomy 10:19) look like in national policy? These are not small questions.
I was present for a poignant moment a few years ago when the United States was pondering going to war with Iraq. A bishop from another part of the Anglican Communion said, “I hope for the day that the words ‘God bless America’ are a prayer rather than a war cry.” May we be blessed, not for the gain of special status, but to be a blessing for the world.