First Baptist Church in Euless, Texas, prides itself on its fiercely patriotic approach to the Fourth of July.
Last year, Marines rappelled into the sanctuary, church members in uniform stuck rifles and helmets into a Styrofoam grave site made by a Broadway set designer, and indoor fireworks exploded over a packed house in back-to-back services.
"It's just a big patriotic, feel-good moment," said Robert Elkins, the church's music director.
First Covenant Church in Oakland, Calif., takes a different approach, allowing a salute to veterans but steering clear of any overtly patriotic messages. "We want to be as inclusive as possible for all worshippers, whether they're red or blue," said music director David Leestma.
Independence Day can be delicate for houses of worship. Many worshippers expect some recognition of the holiday, but appearing too nationalistic can alienate others who see God-and-country celebrations as political endorsements.
In an attempt to advise churches that want to observe the holiday without becoming political, three national Baptist organizations have distributed "First Freedoms" packets to at least 1,600 congregations.
"We have obligations to Christ and Caesar. They're both appropriate and good things, but they're not the same thing," said Brent Walker, executive director of the Washington-based Baptist Joint Committee, which advocates clearly separating church and state.
A joint effort by the BJC, Baptists Today news journal and the Associated Baptist Press, the packets include hymns and sermons that celebrate religious freedom.
Not all Baptists see eye to eye on this issue.
First Baptist in Euless, a member of the Southern Baptist Convention, spent more on its "God and Country Day" service last year than on ...1
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