Sunday, March 12, 2017

Suggestion for PCUSA ... Music for “Marching As to War”

The most recent national election has provided a new President of the United States ... one with an attitude and goals that some within the Presbyterian Church USA find alarming ... to say the least!

Through the world wide web and with the assistance of internet applications, a number of my 'virtual' acquaintances within the church have shared their concerns - their dread, even - over the developing situation ... and a call-to-arms, of sorts, to alleviate that situation. And let me say, their concerns are not unfounded ... in just a few weeks, President of the United States Donald Trump and the conservatives in Congress have already set back victories already achieved by liberal-to-moderate factions within our society during the term of Trump's predecessor, Barrack Obama.

And more may be on the way ...

There is genuine heartbreak among the liberals over these setbacks to their hard-won victories ... and there is anger, as well. I hear expressions of that heartbreak and anger from a number of my virtual acquaintances, and during our weekly #PresbyIntersect Twitter chat frequented by pastors and laymen and general public from all over. They are heartfelt expressions and a number of them are quite strong ... words such as 'action,' resistance' and 'fight' are not uncommon.

And while they're not advocating violence, taking up firearms in their resistance to what's happening, they are calling upon us to stand up/speak up/act up nonetheless, utilizing hearts and minds, voices and votes in this fight fueled, in part, upon Christian faith.

Marching orders ... marching as to war? In a way ... yes.

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – a man who knew more than most of us about resistance, about activism in the pursuit of justice for all – once said, “those who love peace must organize as effectively as those who love war.” It was almost exactly fifty years ago that he said those words, in the midst of a rally opposing the war in Viet Nam. But they are words that apply to a variety of conflicts, for those seeking peace to resolve those conflicts for the benefit of all ... including those within the Presbyterian Church (USA) now considering the prospect of action and resistance to what is becoming – for now, at least – the new status quo.

Shall we, as Christians sharing the love of Jesus, go marching as to war? If so, maybe I could recommend some marching music. I have to warn you, though, it is a song of which thew Presbyterian Church (USA) does NOT approve.

"Onward, Christian Soldiers" dates back to 19th-century England, with music by Sir Arthur Sullivan and words by Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould. The hymn was inspired by calls in the Bible for Christians to be soldiers for Christ. A frequently-cited example is II Timothy 2:3 ... "Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ." ... and, YES, I do continue to prefer my old King James version of the Bible.

Personally, I think the Presbyterian Church (USA) was wrong to strip “Onward, Christian Soldiers” from their official hymnals. In the years since then, I have appreciated those individual PCUSA congregations that chose to dismiss ‘that silliness out of Louisville’ and continue to use the hymn in worship. And I still get a lump in my throat and my heart when the Salvation Army band comes marching down the streets of Pasadena, California every January 1st, playing that hymn ... God bless ‘em all!

But here’s a thought ... considering the points I made above ...

How about presenting a resolution to an upcoming gathering of the PCUSA General Assembly to restore “Onward, Christian Soldiers” to the hymnals? 

Take a moment to read through the lyrics ... considering the calls-to-action that are being heard lately, they may be just what we need to think and say. And maybe it’s time to act upon those words, for us to accept our marching orders ... to be “Christian soldiers, marching as to war.”

Thank you for your patience with my rambling, and God bless you for your thoughtful and prayerful consideration of my suggestion.

Jeff McDonald
Member, Presbyterian Church (USA)
Midland, Texas, USA