Gorman on Civil Religion

New Testament Scholar, Michael J. Gorman, wrote a brief piece over at his blog, today, that is worth (seriously) considering:

No matter what the churches claim, Christianity in the United States has two liturgical seasons, the Holy Season, which runs from Advent to Easter (or Pentecost if you’re lucky), and the Civil Season, which runs from Memorial Day to Thanksgiving. (Rather handy division of the year, isn’t it?) At the beginning of summer, we are clearly now in the thick of Civil Season, or Civil Religion Time—which replaces Ordinary Time.

Civil religion in the U.S. never goes away, but its major feasts are in that six-month period. God-and-country language and rituals are more prevalent, and syncretism in the churches (”when you see the red in the flag, think of the blood of those who died to make us free, and also think of Jesus’ blood that was shed to make us really free”) runs rampant but is hardly ever questioned.

Why is it so difficult for Christians in the U.S. (and elsewhere, sometimes, but especially in the U.S.) to see this for what it is: idolatry?


2 thoughts on “Gorman on Civil Religion

  1. Stephen 22 June 2010 at 10:34 am Reply

    (My comments here are somewhat AG-specific, but I think that the AG is a particularly difficult and significant context with regard to this issue.)

    I experience this whenever I visit my parents’ AG church – especially this past Memorial Day (or just this past Fathers’ Day, when a veteran sang “Faith of Our Fathers,” introduced by a lengthy paean to the U.S. Founding Fathers).

    For me, it’s difficult to speak up because there are so many veterans in that church, and everyone has already accepted Americanism as a necessary aspect of Christianity, particularly because to do otherwise would seem to disrespect veterans. Once you’ve made something like that religious, it becomes inextricable; to question the sacredness of the U.S. and its military becomes tantamount to questioning God – actually probably even worse.

    I’m sure you at least remember hearing about Paul Alexander’s book on war and peace in the AG: http://www.amazon.com/Peace-War-Shifting-Allegiances-Assemblies/dp/1931038589

    Perhaps some also noticed a shocking apropos Pentecostal Evangel: http://agchurches.org/Sitefiles/Default/RSS/Pentecostal_Evangel/Covers/5012_cvrlg.jpg

    It’s about military wives, but even that juxtaposition makes the point that nationalism is a deeply personal and religious issue, and there’s no way out of it without seeming like a jerk (i.e., “not appreciating their sacrifices”). I’m not sure how to deal with that, so I blog about it rather than talk about it for now.

  2. Joshua C. Dorman 25 June 2010 at 12:54 am Reply


    Great comments. I completely resonate with your thoughts and feelings. This past weekend, I attended church with my grandparents — they are SBC, but they seem to have much more in common with the standard AG church than either would care to admit — and it absolutely embodied the “Americanism as a necessary aspect of Christianity” atmosphere; they even handed out pocket knives to all of the fathers with a scriptural text on each one, and they were attached to a piece of American flag cardboard. And, of course, there was a boisterous rendition of “Onward Christian Soldiers.” (Sidenote: I might add that almost every strict fundamentalist position was affirmed between Sunday School and the service: Moses wrote the Pentateuch, the earth is only 6,000 years old, Jesus is coming back soon and liberals won’t be in the rapture, Christians –the real ones–are being persecuted in America, homosexuals are ruining the foundation of marriage, etc., etc., etc.; it was quite depressing.) Like you, and I’m sure many others, I find these issue of Americanism terribly difficult to talk about with almost anyone who doesn’t already recognize that it’s a problem: I think it is a deeply personal and religious issue and when it questions ones supposed moral/ethical/religious superiority it creates an enormous amount of contention–and when it comes to family (in church and in home) the difficulties inflate exponentially.

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