The Sunday after 9/11 my English Ward sang the American national anthem in a show of solidarity with our American friends. This was an entirely appropriate gesture; after all, the Queen had ordered the same at Buckingham Palace that week.
It may surprise you to hear that I have never heard the British national anthem sung at an LDS church in England. Once we sang God Save The King: I protested that it was a bit silly singing “King” when we had a “Queen” but was told that the last song in the Hymnbook referred not to the British monarch, but to Jesus. Total rubbish.
I have, however, heard America the Beautiful sung, and the Battle Hymn of the Republic is a favourite in England. (The “Republic” referred to is, of course, um, well, the French republic?)
One might have expected some kind of patriotic show here in England this Sunday. After all, the rest of the nation is mourning the London bomb victims and a sensible (i.e. not nationalistic) show of patriotism would be both comforting and entirely appropriate. Sunday was also a day of commemoration for the end of World War II, so the time was ripe, I think, for a small display of Britishness at church.
Well, no. It didn’t happen. No national anthem. Not even any prayers, or minutes of silence for Thursday. One would have thought that nothing had happened this week.
I expected as much, which is why my son and I went to the local cathedral before heading to the LDS church. There was a service of remembrance taking place both for VE/VJ day and for London’s terrorist attacks. It was very moving and I’m glad we went.
Why are British Latter-day Saints so reticent to display any modicum of patriotism at church, or to engage with current events? (I can imagine church after the whole of southern England sinks into the sea, the Queen is assassinated, and Scotland is carried off by aliens: a lesson on genealogy, and talks on keeping the Sabbath holy.)
Is it because:
1. Mormons are not patriotic? No, witness the uber-patriotism of our American brothers and sisters.
2. Britons are not patriotic? Possibly. We are not given to much flag-waving per se, but Sunday was an exception.
3. The Brethren do not approve of British patriotism? Absolutely not. Most of those who ever come to speak here are almost always massively Anglo-philic. Had President Hinckley been in our congregation on Sunday I can imagine that he would have been first to make mention of current events. I remember Hugh Pinnock, the Area President, chastising the Saints at a Stake conference in England for not being more patriotic. He also admonished them to show more respect for the Royal Family. Coming from an American GA this rang true. Had an English leader made the same comments, we would have squirmed in our seats.
4. The show must go on? Maybe. I’ve noticed, even in America, that it takes a lot to get a Ward’s meetings to divert from their usual course. I was in America a year after 9/11 and I was sure someone would mention it in church, but no-one did.
So what’s the deal? I can only think it is this: British LDS are deeply uncomfortable in showing any form of patriotism at church (they are often patriotic at home) because they simply have little or no experience of doing so. In other words, they’ve never done it, so to do it now feels weird. And why have they never done it? Because for years, the only country that has ever been officially and consistently reverenced in the church is the USA.
Whilst we are commanded to be loyal citizens, the rest of us live in the shadow of America/the Promised Land/Zion. Our patriotism, then, seems a little hollow. Why sing God Save the Queen, when we know God damned the King in order to establish the United States, the place of the Restoration, the New Jerusalem?
Our failure as international Mormons to feel comfortable in our own skins and to engage our own communities is unfortunate. I am sad to report that in the United Kingdom on Sunday perhaps the only faith community not to offer prayers for our country were the Latter-day Saints. I imagine there were exceptions, but I doubt that Sunday in my ward was an isolated event. How sad. On days like these I would prefer not feel it necessary to go to another church to seek spiritual support as I’m a proud Mormon who values my own faith community. But I’m also a sentimental old fool, and I like communal acts of faith and patriotism. So if we’re bombed again, you’ll know where to find me: at my Anglican cathedral lighting candles.