The Star-Spangled Banner

Why is The Star-Spangled Banner even in our hymnals, you might ask?

star-spangled banner last verseThe Star-Spangled Banner isn’t present in all or even most hymnals.  My collection is about half and half.  The group which contain this patriotic song consider it a hymn.  The ones that don’t apparently consider it a secular song.

Before we’re quick to judge The Star-Spangled Banner as a song exalting a war-time footing that has no place in the Christian world, there’s something you should know.  There is a second verse in the hymnals we never sing.  Most people don’t even know there’s a second verse at all.  I don’t think I’d go too far out on a limb suggesting that no school teaches the second verse since it speaks directly of God and also no one sings it before the Super Bowl, even as one of the myriad ways of trying to do a creative rendition.

Wait, but there’s more. 

There are actually four stanzas, only two of which show up in our hymnals and one of which we sing.  The halves and the half nots.  The four stanzas are recorded here and below.  There’s a reason why we overlook the four stanzas.

Francis Scott Key, the author of the lyrics to The Star-Spangled Banner is reported to have been a devout Episcopalian, a competent lawyer, and a slave owner.  He was a supporter of the Democratic President (and slave owner) Andrew Jackson and used his position as Jackson’s Attorney General (1833-1841) to suppress the abolitionists (whose cause he would eventually come to join, assisting with the freeing of American slaves.)  Verse three’s reference to “the hireling and slave” are considered evidence of the British practice of hiring freed slaves to fight against their former masters in the War of 1812.

All I can say is that war, overall, is an ugly business.  On many different levels.

I can understand why a manly warrior-type of song presents a strong national protective image as contrasted with America the Beautiful and its lovely imagery.  I can see why a song which is immensely difficult to sing but sounds virile (with all the bombs and smoke and that Energizer-keep-on-fighting theme) might cultivate an aura of steadfastness and victory.  Think of it as the anthem equivalent of the “man movie” with car crashes, explosions, and a good guy hero to explain its popularity.   And okay, the Bible has lots of wars in it.  I got that, but is The Star-Spangled Banner really fit for a hymnal?

There’s no getting around it for me: Key’s poem Defence of Fort M’Henry  serving as the lyrics to The Star-Spangled Banner makes me wonder why it’s in any of our hymnals.  The idea that one out of four isn’t bad doesn’t cut it for me. 

Unlike the accusation made against me by the social media troll, I am not a blind patriot.  I’m Christian first.  Any patriotism and affiliation with any political party is a distant second, and a very distant third.  Therefore, I will sing The Star-Spangled Banner because it is presently our national anthem (with the acknowledgment that what presents as victory to the world and victory in Christ are two different things).  I wouldn’t recommend it for praising God in church.  Key’s other hymns, Before the Lord We Bow and Lord, With Glowing Heart I’d Praise Thee  are far lesser known, are included in none of my hymnals, which is ironic because they are far more Christian.

For the sake of continuity in our patriotic “hymn” series, enjoy this version of The Star-Spangled Banner from the 2009 Super Bowl performed by Jennifer Hudson. 

O! say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
‘Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust.’
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Categories Articles and Devotionals, Devotionals | Tags: | Posted on July 30, 2016

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