Thursday, July 7, 2011

Interfaith Worship and Civic Religion

Among the many sorts of opportunities for interreligious prayer envisioned by the various authors in this volume of Liturgy is the occasion of community gatherings for civic or patriotic observances. Several of the authors mention the recently-minted observance of Patriot Day, held on 11 September each year. Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Independence Day are also often occasions when the liturgical leaders of religiously diverse communities are invited to come together to plan interfaith observances.

In 2005, D. Brent Latham invited readers of Liturgy to consider the ways in which the practices of civil religion can come into conflict with the basic faith commitments of both Jews and Christians as those commitments are enshrined in the decalogue.
To state the obvious: the first commandment presupposes the existence and identity of the community it commands. Less obviously, this community is created and identified by reception of the first commandment. That is, this command forms the very community that it informs. This reciprocal relation means that if we get the community wrong, we’ll get the commandment wrong too... Our liturgical language often manifests this confusion. On such days, the pronoun “we”gets used in praise, prayer, and proclamation in ways that exclude the brother from Canada and the sister from the Congo. Thus the first commandment is broken, not by having another god, but by not having the Christian brother and sister. That is to say, the first commandment is broken not only by polytheism, but also by patriotism—because it refuses the catholicity of Christ’s body. [From Brent Latham, "Worshiping the Decalogue's God," Liturgy 20:1 pp. 61-66]
How does this reminder of the imperative to perform the catholicity of Christian identity call into question our efforts at interreligious civic worship?

D. Brent Laytham is Professor of Theology and Ethics at North Park Theological Seminary, and is the author of iPod, YouTube, Wii Play: Theological Engagements with Entertainment, forthcoming from Cascade Books.

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