Mixed Feelings About National Anthem

As Americans debate the role of protest during the national anthem at national sporting events, this video by evangelical preacher Dudley Rutherford, of a megachurch in California, has attracted, as of September 2017, an audience of more than six million on Youtube.com, and 2.8 million shares on Facebook even though it is mostly not true. It unnecessarily exaggerates and embellishes the drama in Baltimore during the War of 1812, and gets many facts wrong.

  • It refers to “colonies.” Since 1776, we were the United States, a sovereign nation. Britain was no longer “the mother country.”
  • Francis Scott Key sought to free one prisoner, not many.
  • Key did not find “a cargo full of humanity.” There were no prison ships.
  • Ft. McHenry (the pastor calls it “Ft. Henry”) was not “filled with women and children.” It was a heavily fortified fort, defended by a thousand troops.
  • There was no “ultimatum” to “take down the flag.”
  • George Washington NEVER said, “The thing that sets the American Christian apart from all the other people in the world is that he’ll die on his feet before he’ll live on his knees.”

Historian Ed Darrell called it “star-spangled voodoo history,” and cites many mistakes. He recounts the actual history of Key’s song, the War of 1812, and related stories, which he says are “grand and glorious…”

Historian John Fea documented the many other errors, and praises Pastor Rutherford for, in 2011, disavowing the story. Rutherford admitted he borrowed it from a propagandist, not a historian, who apparently had a not-so-subtle agenda of melding Christianity with patriotism, nationalism, and militarism.

“Many people take the anthem for granted and rarely reflect on its meaning and history. Now, with a growing movement to tear down symbols associated with slavery, the status of Francis Scott Key’s composition — with its famous contradictory line about the “land of the free” — warrants scrutiny. Perhaps it is time to revisit the long-standing debate about replacing the song that Americans love to complain about,” wrote Marc Ferris in a 2015 Baltimore Sun op-ed. He is the author of Star-Spangled Banner: The Unlikely Story of America’s National Anthem.

He points out that “Star Spangled Banner” wasn’t adopted as the national anthem until 1931. Key borrowed the melody from an English song that lauded drinking, dancing and carnal pleasures. Before 1931, “My Country Tis of Thee” served as a de facto national anthem. The day may come when Congress changes the anthem back.

Benjamin Corey, a cultural anthropologist, and public theologian  has some good answers to the question, “Why do American Christians get so angry when you question nationalism?”

The Smithsonian website has interesting, accurate history of the flag, the Star-Spangled Banner, and the War of 1812. Click.

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