By Carol Pipes
Americans who attend a Protestant worship service the week of July Fourth are likely to get a good dose of God and country.
Six in 10 Protestant pastors (61 percent) say it’s important for July Fourth worship services to incorporate patriotic elements to celebrate America, according to a survey by Nashville-based LifeWay Research. And while they plan to celebrate the birth of the nation, more than half (53 percent) agree their congregation sometimes seems to love America more than God.
Most of the 1,000 Protestant pastors surveyed say their church will change its worship service to acknowledge America’s Independence Day. Two-thirds (66 percent) plan to include special music honoring America. Sixty-two percent each say they will recognize living veterans and those with family currently serving in the armed forces. Fifty-three percent will recognize families who have lost loved ones in service to our country.
“Our nation’s birthday weekend celebration impacts almost 9 in 10 church services,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “As people remember veterans, service members and patriotism, it is natural for churches to seek to apply theology to these cultural activities.”
LifeWay Research found pastors 65 and older are more likely to say it’s important to incorporate patriotic elements in worship services the week of July Fourth (78 percent) than pastors 18-44 years old (44 percent). Pastors in the West (67 percent) are more likely to hold that view than pastors in the Northeast (55 percent) and Midwest (54 percent).
Denomination also plays a role in pastors’ views on the importance of patriotic elements in worship services around the July Fourth holiday. Pentecostals (82 percent) are most likely among Protestant pastors to agree on their importance, while Baptists (67 percent) are more likely to agree than Lutherans (51 percent), Methodists (50 percent) and Presbyterian/Reformed (47 percent).
Seven in 10 pastors (72 percent) say it’s important for July Fourth worship services to recognize military veterans and current service members. On this issue, race as well as age and denomination relates to pastors’ views.
African-American pastors are more likely to say it’s important to recognize veterans and current service members (90 percent) than are white pastors (70 percent). Pastors 65 and older are more likely to agree (79 percent) than pastors 18-44 years old (66 percent).
Pentecostals (92 percent) are most likely to hold that view in comparison to Baptists (78 percent), Christian/Church of Christ (63 percent), Methodists (65 percent) and Presbyterian/Reformed (59 percent).
Researchers discovered regional differences when asking pastors if their congregation’s love for America sometimes seems greater than its love for God. Pastors in the South (59 percent) are more likely to agree than pastors in the Midwest (51 percent) and West (42 percent).
Patriotism in church doesn’t end after the Fourth of July. A majority of pastors (74 percent) believe it’s appropriate to display the American flag in worship services throughout the year.
“July Fourth recognition and remembrance may be accompanied by rebuke in some congregations,” added McConnell. “A majority of pastors recognize that at times their congregation loves America more than God. That is a sharp contrast to Jesus’ greatest commandment to love God with all one’s heart, soul and mind.”
Carol Pipes is editor of Facts & Trends magazine.
A phone survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors was conducted March 9-24, 2016. The calling list was a stratified random sample, drawn from a list of all Protestant churches. Quotas were used for church size and black Protestant denominations. Each interview was conducted with the senior pastor, minister or priest of the church called.
Responses were weighted by region to more accurately reflect the population. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.2 percent. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.