(RNS) The Trump administration held an Independence Day rally at the Kennedy Center, recently in which the choir from First Baptist Church Dallas sang a newly composed work for the occasion: “Make America Great Again.”
Yes, the campaign slogan was set to music and offered as a paean from the evangelical community to their favorite American son, President Donald Trump.
It is no secret white evangelicals support the president. Trump is, to many, an answer to prayer. The choir’s appearance is, in this way, unremarkable. Except that “Make America Great Again” has now received the Christian Copyright Licensing International seal of approval.
Yes, Christian nationalism has its first anthem and it’s licensed on the most mainstream of worship music sites.
Progressive Christian bloggers are going bonkers.
“The mere existence of a song like ‘Make America Great Again’ in a database of so-called ‘worship’ songs highlights the degree to which American Christianity has sold its soul to a gospel of power and self-interest,” wrote Jonathan Aigner.
Even the satirical Babylon Bee could not pass up a jab at the song and the implicit marriage of nationalism and Christianity: “After an hour-long service commemorating Independence Day at First Baptist Church in Dallas, a beaming Pastor Robert Jeffress reported that ‘dozens and dozens’ in attendance accepted the United States of America as their lord and savior.”
Throughout its history, American Christianity has made room for patriotic songs from the national anthem to “Lift Every Voice and Sing” in its hymnals. The present-day political rancor, however, has cast a different light on this new anthem.
It seems Christian nationalism has a new soundtrack. Of course, that’s not the only music that we’re hearing these days. Christian globalism, too, has a soundtrack.
U2 is on tour, a revival of sorts, celebrating the 30th anniversary of their album, “The Joshua Tree.”
U2 has been a vocal progressive political voice for decades.
The new tour has focused on various topics of global concern such as the HIV/AIDS epidemic, poverty, and women’s issues. The election of Donald Trump has not escaped the band’s harsh critique either.
As their popularity has increased over the years, members of the group have been more comfortable talking about the explicitly Christian content of their work. Bono, especially, has been in the limelight as a Christian artist.
These two musical events bear comparing because they serve as a musical microcosm of the divide among Christians between Christian nationalism and Christian globalism. There are competing versions of public religiosity at work.
One sees the prominence of national identity as paramount and the other sees the global identity of Christianity as paramount.
Both camps use the language of justice and power. They both depend on a kind of social cohesion to fulfill their religious vision. We may paint these with liberal or conservative brushstrokes, but it is all about communal identity and what is considered blessed or gifted with divine fiat.
During the 20th century, American Christianity, especially American evangelicalism, suffered through what has been called “the worship wars.” Communities split over the issue of musical style or genre. Organs were torn out of sanctuaries. Electric guitars in worship were derided as “too secular.”
Until recently, I would have told you that this “war” was something from the recent past.
The worship wars, however, are ramping back up. But this time it’s not the organ or the guitar that are at issue.
Politics and the heart of American Christianity are on the battlefield.
(Tripp Hudgins is a musician and scholar based in Berkeley, Calif. Follow him on Twitter @tripphudgins)