If you attend an LDS ward in the United States today your sacrament meeting will almost certainly begin and end with a patriotic hymn. I love a rousing patriotic hymn played nice and loud on the organ, but I know not everyone does. I know people who won’t sing the American national anthem in church because they feel it’s not an appropriate place for it. I see their point – it’s really a battle song with one brief mention of God in the last verse. In some sense, it is odd to have “The Star Spangled Banner,” “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” and “America the Beautiful” in a hymnal. My Canadian friend thinks that since “O Canada” isn’t in the LDS English hymnal then “The Star Spangled Banner” shouldn’t be either. “Advance Australia Fair” isn’t there, either, however I’m told the Danish and Finnish language LDS hymnals do contain national songs. There are probably other examples.
The non-LDS hymnals I have at home all contain national songs, so it isn’t just an LDS thing. However they don’t all include “The Star Spangled Banner,” and some include “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (a personal favorite) in addition to the two common denominators, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” and “America the Beautiful.” Here’s a little summary (based on nothing but what books I have here at my fingertips) in case you have a nerdly interest in hymnody like I do:
My sense is it’s rather rare to sing “The Star Spangled Banner” in worship services unless you’re Mormon. Mormons do seem to really love their patriotic songs. Maybe because of the idea of America being the promised land referred to in the Book of Mormon? Or because of the 10th Article of Faith? Or just the fact that Mormonism is an American-born religion?
In any case, is it right to have patriotic music at church? Does God approve of it, or really even care? Does it serve any purpose? In a church that can feel sterile and corporate (same building design, same manuals, same sacrament trays, same hymnals, same cruddy electronic organs, etc.) I savor local-ness. I love that my ward has Illinois wildflower arrangements in the chapel and a midwest-inspired quilt in the Relief Society room. If I ever visit Finland I’d love singing “Finlandia” with the Finnish saints. I think there is something community-building about patriotic music. And I like tradition. So, I guess I’m all for patriotic songs at church. How about you?