This post is a follow-up to something I wrote ages ago about the lack of patriotism in the international church.
One rarely sees overt displays of patriotism in British Mormonism. There are three reasons for this, two of which have little to do with the church.
First of all, the UK has no obvious spot on the calendar that lends itself to flag waving. The United Kingdom traces its political existence to the Act of Union between England and Scotland in 1707, but no-one has ever suggested any national holiday to celebrate the event. The Scots would grumble about English domination; the English would grumble about Scottish grumbling; and the Welsh and Northern Irish would yawn into their tea cups.
The saints’ days offer something to each individual nation of the UK,* but whilst the Celts happily embrace Andrew, David, and Patrick, the chattering classes have convinced England that any celebration of St. George is nationalistic and xenophobic. Therein lies problem two: not only does the UK have no natural national holiday, we would also be slightly embarrassed at the prospect. Waving the flag and singing Rule Britannia — in an era when Britain no longer “rules the waves” (we ceded that position to the descendants of John Paul Jones), and when memories of the British Empire cause the nervous shuffling of feet — is simply not something you see much of outside of the soccer stadia.
This is not to say, however, that the British are not patriotic. They are, just quietly so. You might think Mormons would offer a more confident exception. After all, we have the idea of loyal patriotism enshrined in scripture and a ream of admonitions to be patriotic from church leaders. But therein lies the rub: Mormon patriotism carries, for obvious reasons, the patina of American patriotism, and it is difficult for non-American Saints to transfer their own patriotic urges into the vernacular. We also have a Gospel which embraces America above all nations. Given the dominance of America (= Zion) in historical and cultural Mormonism, would British, or French, or Chilean patriotism ring hollow in a Mormon context?
Whatever reasons we ascribe to this patriotism-phobia, as a phenomenon it sits comfortably with my experience of 28 years of European Mormonism. Until yesterday, I had never heard the national anthem sung in a British Mormon context.
Reading between the lines here, you might sense my regret at this situation. So, when the opportunity arose to bring the Union Jack to my local ward, I jumped. Rebecca is the ward music chair and I suggested to her last year that we hold a ward “Proms Night.” The Proms are a series of classical music concerts which are broadcast every summer; the Last Night of the Proms is a night for raucous patriotism and merriment. Mormons are not comfortable with raucous, but we felt that they could manage merry. And so the Worcester Ward Proms Night was born: the chapel was decorated with the British flag and Rebecca organised a programme of national poetry and song.
From England’s national hymn, Jerusalem, come these very Mormon words:
Bring me my bow of burning gold,
Bring me my arrows of desire.
Bring me my spear –
Oh clouds unfold! –
Bring me my chariot of fire.
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
‘Til we have built Jerusalem,
In England’s green and pleasant land.
* England has a particular problem: much of what is perceived to be British is in fact English. Do we celebrate England or Britain or both?
N.B. This being BCC, let me anticipate two points. 1. Yes, I do know that unfettered, bombastic patriotism can make rascals of all of us. Lamented President Kimball, “we train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot.” 2. By and large, and speaking metaphorically, I prefer the flag to fly outside rather than inside the church. I would quickly tire of a frequent sacrament-meeting-as-patriotism hour. Note that our Proms Night was held as a Saturday activity.