Why Aren't There More Patriotic Songs in Our Hymnal?
With the USA Independence Day approaching (July 4), I've received a few messages once again this year asking why there are so few patriotic songs in our hymnal. Most questions ask specifically about "The Star Spangled Banner" and "God Bless America." Let's look at what is in our hymnal and compare it to other Methodist hymnals of the 20th century and other denominational hymnals.
The following titles are listed under NATION in our hymnal's topical index, page 948:
- 697, America (My country 'tis of thee)
- 696, America the Beautiful (O beautiful for spacious skies)
- 429, For Our Country (a prayer that may be applied to any nation, written by a 20th-century Japanese author)
- 698, God of the ages, whose almighty hand ("National Hymn") (Written to commemorate the USA's centennial in 1876 by a Civil War private who became an Episcopal priest, this hymn acknowledges God as leader, ruler, and guardian, and prays for peace and protection.)
- 519, Lift every voice and sing (A song of hope and faith with images derived from the experiences of African-Americans in the USA, many consider this their "national anthem.")
- 437, This is my song (a text of prayer for peace and hope that recognizes that other people in other nations have similar desires and needs)
To these some may wish to add:
- 575, Onward, Christian Soldiers (Often misunderstood as a military hymn, in reality it is a processional hymn for use in an Anglican religious festival, with language making clear the struggle is against Satan.)
- 717, The Battle Hymn of the Republic (Inspired by an abolitionist song, and composed as a response to slavery during the Civil War, it is sung today in celebration and anticipation of Christ's return and final victory.)
In addition to the above national and patriotic hymns, we must also note the collection of two dozen titles under the topical heading of WORLD PEACE that includes:
- 426, Behold a broken world
- 376, Dona nobis pacem
- 428, For the healing of the nations
- 178, Hope of the world
- 431, Let there be peace on earth
- 729, O day of peace that dimly shines
- 435, O God of every nation
- 437, This is my song
- 533, We shall overcome
- 442, Weary of all trumpeting
The following chart lists some of the hymns and songs contained in the four United Methodist and Methodist hymnals of the 20th century. The numbers next to each title indicate their presence in the following hymnals:
- The Methodist Hymnal, 1905
- The Methodist Hymnal, 1935
- The Methodist Hymnal, 1966
- The United Methodist Hymnal, 1989
- America — 1, 2, 3, 4
- America the beautiful — 2, 3, 4
- Battle hymn of the republic — -, -, 3, 4
- Eternal Father, strong to save (Navy Hymn) — -, 2, 3, -
- God of the ages (God of our fathers) — 1, 2, 3, 4
- Lift every voice and sing — -, -, -, 4
- This is my song — -, -, 3, 4
This shows that more of these hymns and songs are present in our current hymnal than in any prior hymnal of the 20th century.
The Star-Spangled Banner and "God Bless America" have never been included in any of the four previous 20th century Methodist hymnals. Reasons for the omission can now only be speculative, but in the case of the national anthem they include the following:
- The national anthem is taught to every school child and is sung so often in civic events that there is little need to include it.
- It is not a hymn or sacred song — it is a recounting through music of a military battle.
- The national anthem is readily available in individual sheets and many, many collections.
- The national anthem is rarely sung or used in churches or worship.
- The hymnal is a collection for use by the global church, not just the USA.
In the case of "God Bless America," possible reasons for omission include:
- It is written in a predominantly secular, popular song style more appropriate to Kate Smith, Rotary Clubs, and civic occasions than to sacred worship.
- It is difficult and costly to obtain permission of the copyright holder.
- Our current hymnal's contents were determined in part by requests from the entire church, and there were very few requests for its inclusion, compared to the thousands received in favor of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," for example.
How Does This Compare With Other Hymnals?
It may be useful to compare the contents of The United Methodist Hymnal with a few hymnals of other denominations in current use. The chart below shows the contents of songs and hymns of this type in several denominational hymnals currently in use. The numbers next to each title indicate their presence in the following hymnals:
- The Baptist Hymnal, 1991
- The [Episcopal] Hymnal, 1982
- The Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978
- The Presbyterian Hymnal, 1990
- The United Methodist Hymnal, 1989
- The National Anthem — 1, 2, -, -, -
- God bless America — -, -, -, -, -
- America — 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
- America the beautiful — 1, 2, -, 4, 5
- Battle hymn of the republic — 1, -, 3, -, 5
- Eternal Father, strong to save (Navy Hymn) — 1, 2, 3, 4, -
- God of the ages (God of our fathers) — 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
- Lift every voice and sing — 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
- This is my song — -, -, -, -, 5
(NOTE: Eternal Father, Strong to Save [Navy Hymn] is available in The Faith We Sing.)