Sheet music with Christian cross on it
Does America need a national hymn?

America’s been through a lot lately. According to some experts, the country is politically and culturally divided in ways not seen since the 19th century.

One group feeling particularly pained is the African-American community, many of whom took to the streets in protest after the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, by police officers.

With the country desperately in need of ways to heal the wounds of its past that just won't go away, there have been all manner of ideas proposed as solutions. 

The latest, from influential South Carolina politician Jim Clyburn, is to take the popular song known colloquially as the “Black National Anthem” and turn it into an official ‘National Hymn’.

Some are thrilled about the idea, while others argue it's a disturbing example of religion intruding into the public square. 

Can Hymns Heal?

Clyburn proposed passing legislation to take the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, a song written in 1899 by James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamond Johnson, and turn it into America's official hymn.

The song’s lyrics focus on the resilience and faith of the African-American community even in the most adverse of conditions – and it’s words have reverberated strongly and touched countless souls ever since its first performance in 1900 in Jacksonville, Florida, during a celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.

“To make it a national hymn, I think, would be an act of bringing the country together,” said Clyburn. “It would say to people, ‘You aren’t singing a separate national anthem, you are singing the country’s national hymn… The gesture itself would be an act of healing. Everybody can identify with that song.”

America currently has no national hymn, despite past efforts to turn everything from “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America” to our nation’s official religious tune of choice. 

But is now a uniquely difficult time in American history that such legislation is needed? Clyburn says yes. He’s mulled over proposing a national hymn in Congress for decades, but in light of current events decided now is the time to unify America through the power of music and faith.

Skepticism Abounds

The proposal quickly caught the attention of activists and religious watchdog groups. America has no national hymn, (nor should it, they argue) due to the foundational priniciple of a separation of church and state.

Secular advocacy groups agree our nation needs to find ways to heal, but they insist that instituting a national hymn is a misguided – and unconstitutional – way to bring us together. 

And it's not just that it has "hymn" in the name. The lyrics of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" leave very little doubt that it is promoting Christianity specifically. An excerpt of the lyrics are below:

God of our weary years
God of our silent tears
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way
Thou who has by Thy might Led us into the light
Keep us forever in the path, we pray
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee
Shadowed beneath Thy hand
May we forever stand
True to our God
True to our native land
Our native land But even though the song is clearly religious, could it be justified if it can help a gravely wounded nation heal?

No Hymn For You!

Many say the answer is still no. Hemant Mehta of The Friendly Atheist, a popular secular blog, wrote: 

“the government shouldn’t be in the business of promoting religion, no matter how innocuous it may seem... If Democrats really care about religious inclusion, then they shouldn’t be using their power to promote Christianity, even for a good cause.” 

The Secular Coalition for America, which represents 19 secular groups, is asking its members to oppose the measure, calling it “yet another instance of nontheist erasure and endorsement of religion by the government.”

Mehta says it’s a nice thought – in principle. The particular song proposed would be a powerful symbol of racial unity. But, he says, “there are ways to celebrate that without exalting a Christian God in the process."

What do you think? Does America need a national hymn, and would it really bring us together?

37 comments

  1. Joe Stutler's Avatar Joe Stutler

    I'm fine with a national "hymn". Might I suggest Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land".

    1. Br'er George's Avatar Br'er George

      Thank you for that one!

    2. Jack A Mabry's Avatar Jack A Mabry

      Great idea.

    3. Colleen McAllister's Avatar Colleen McAllister

      Not a hymn, that is a song.

  1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

    Not all Republicans are prejudiced. Some of us are totally against it. I wish you could see the equal and Civil Rights posters on my walls. And some of us weren't even stupid enough to vote for Trump.

    1. Barbara Harris's Avatar Barbara Harris

      Carl, I know several Republicans who are sane, loving, non-prejudice people. They followed party versus person the first time but didn't do that the second time with Trump. I am a Democrat, although my true leaning is toward a very middle of the road. I don't identify with the extreme far left and dislike hearing folks call all Democrats as crazy due to that fringe element. So you and I see eye to eye on this. We are those in the middle who, I believe, represent the true silent majority of this country.

  1. Robert J Giammarco's Avatar Robert J Giammarco

    There is no racial divide, IMHO. It's the MEDIA making it so. They are bringing us back 60 years. Evreryone has the ability and potential to achieve what was not achievable long ago. The problem I see is that way too many, due to MEDIA coverage hate AMERICA. What happen to the pride that was so prevelent in the 40'/50's? It is sad to see us berating each other.A Hymnn is not needed. We need to be kinder and more understanding. We need to educate ourselves as to what the MEDIA is forcing down our throats. We the PEOPLE are the one's to rule our life, not the MEDIA telling us what to do.

    1. James C Riggle's Avatar James C Riggle

      I'm wondering if you mean the '40/'50s for white people? That pride? It wasn't all that great for black americans back then. The recial divide has always been there, its just been more out in the open the past 4 years.

      1. SueW's Avatar SueW

        Absolutely. There seem to be a lot of people who long for the good old days when “they” knew their place, and “we” were in control.

        It wasn’t so great for women either.

        But anyone who thinks there’s no longer a racial division doesn’t have any minority friends.

  1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

    I've got that Woody Guthrie CD. That sounds good to me.

    1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

      After reading all these comments I guess I better listen to that song again. I haven't listened to that CD in years, and can't remember many of the lyrics, nor can I recall it having anything to do with religion, so I guess I didn't pay close enough attention. It came in a ten pack of classic music CDs, also including such folk artists as Burl Ives, Harry Belafonte, The Almanac Singers, The Weaver's, Pete Segar,Peter, Paul, and Mary, Gordon Lightfoot, Paul Robinson, and Glen Campbell. And I enjoy listening to all of those others sometimes, but always skip over Guthrie. Maybe that's why.

  1. Minister Mike's Avatar Minister Mike

    Nope. Such a hymn would only serve to widen the divide.

    And anyone that thinks they need a song, a flag, or any other icon to be a n American, or just a good person, needs to have an in-depth psych eval.

  1. Steven Lee Schulte's Avatar Steven Lee Schulte

    There should be a complete separation of church and state. Politicians shouldn't even make their particular faith even relevant or public because it stirs differences between supporters of a politician and non supporters. Same goes for any hymns songs or national events. Religious beliefs cause more division than alot of other differences.

  1. Steven Lee Schulte's Avatar Steven Lee Schulte

    There should be a separation of church and state period. A national hymn with Christian overtones could be inflammatory to other faiths or to people who do not believe in anything. Politicians should not advertise their beliefs and it should not be relevant to ones election since it's a public servant job to maintain the functions of government and not church or temple. Religious beliefs cause more disputes and division in the world than just about anything else so why put a religious twist on a national hymn?

  1. taycomama's Avatar taycomama

    I thought "unity" implied inclusion. I don't see how a theistic hymn with a definite Christian tone includes the growing numbers of atheists, agnostics and nones, not to mention religions with different concepts of god(s).

  1. china mayhew's Avatar china mayhew

    no, what we need is a total and absolute seperation of church and state.

  1. John P Maher's Avatar John P Maher

    NO WE NEED EDUCATION AGAINST RACISM, IN THE H O M E, and in SCHOOLS and EVERYWHERE ELSE, RACISM MUST NIT BE TOLERATED, O% TOLERANCE, THERE is NO PLACE in THE FUTURE FOR the G O P !

  1. Rev. Jonathan Peebles's Avatar Rev. Jonathan Peebles

    ALSO Don't we have enough GOD in the pledge of Allegiance and national Anthem?

  1. Angelique D. Chelton's Avatar Angelique D. Chelton

    Recognizing that America is a place of faith- and no faith- perhaps we could have a National Hymnbook with recognized spiritual/ethical expressions of our people? I would be absolutely fine with Lift Every Voice being A national hymn along with perhaps some meaningful Native American song, a song about America that has no reference to faith at all, but rather expresses American identity/ethics in another way and would welcome MANY additions to this "Hymnal" by various peoples advocating for their inclusion as songs are written that express their unique American experience.

    It is foolish to demand that spirituality not be a part of public life- it is a part of many people's lives and we shouldn't ask them to be secretive or ashamed of their beliefs. We SHOULD make room for many expressions of what faith means- including the absence of it. But government shouldn't promote one view over another.

  1. Dennis Wayne Starr's Avatar Dennis Wayne Starr

    Can someone explain to me by creating a "Black National Anthem" that was written by a black for blacks or converting it can "heal" our divide? So the answer is to let the 12% dictate to every other race in the country and that is what they call healing? Same as the democrats call for healing while talking out the other side of their mouth and telling that the Republicans need to be reprogrammed and should have lists of them. Lets not forget Black Congresswomen Maxine Waters saying that "They" should get in the Face of every Republican and anyone who does not agree with them. Seems to me that "Healing" is a one side word for Blacks and Democrats.

  1. Clay Serenbetz's Avatar Clay Serenbetz

    I agree it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Great Hymn, though, for those who value Hymns.

  1. Dr Asha Sharma's Avatar Dr Asha Sharma

    Comment removed by author.

  1. Dr Asha Sharma's Avatar Dr Asha Sharma

    We the people of the United States of America are one people. We all have come from many nations and we have taken oath to be faithful to this country. Color of skin or political party should not divide us we are a free world and equal rights Together as one United force we will be stronger

  1. Stanley Alan Marchand's Avatar Stanley Alan Marchand

    What racial divisions, I don't have any, because people are people. NOW POLITICAL PARTY, THAT'S DIFFERENT ! THAT'S A CHOICE. And if your political party try's to infringe on my right's then I can feel any way I want about them, remember the NAZI party.

  1. Lionheart's Avatar Lionheart

    I’m sure if people are going to say “Awomen” instead of “Amen” I would imagine “Hymns” will soon be called “Hers”

    🦁❤️

  1. T Kosse`'s Avatar T Kosse`

    Maybe we do need a new National "Anthem" Anthem being the key word not hymn. I just feel that this isn't the right one it's too religious. It should be secular, all inclusive, inspirational and uplifting. But for now I'll stick with the one we have.

  1. Rev. Jonathan Peebles's Avatar Rev. Jonathan Peebles

    Just add some religious division to the mix why don't we? CHURCH VS STATE. I love what Biden is doing but those long prayers kind of made me unsure of him now. I love what he wants to do for the environment and add unity BUT not everyone is Christian. There are so many people now who actually are very Atheist, Satanic, Humanist, ect. Sure believe in the Christian/Muslim/Jewish God as well as many others BUT just is not one of the ones I like all that much

  1. Donna Christ's Avatar Donna Christ

    I prefer the National Anthem we have now,what we need are parents to teach their children,respect,manners,and to be responsible, nor spoiled brats.

  1. Dennis Wayne Starr's Avatar Dennis Wayne Starr

    Oh big surprise that Jim Clyburn, a black man, wants America to devote and change everything to suit the black man. Remove all the statues, change the flag, have their own holidays, devote an entire month to a 12% of the population, take over sports, lets not forget to riot and burn down cities for anything they see as effecting blacks while ignoring the exact same condition that effects ALL the other races. When a Mexican is killed by police should they riot and burn? They are now 24 %. Just where does it stop with this cultural? Now every single commercial has either a black or a white women with a black man Never any other culture. And have you noticed that it is only white men that will do or appear stupid in commercials. The "African American" can do no wrong. Do we have Italian month? Jewish month, Russian month? Get the concept. Look how many movies have been remade with a blacks. No less than twenty from Dr Dolittle to Cinderella, talk about cultural appropriations, it is OK for them but no one else. We have BET, Black Starz Jet and ebony magazines. Do a search on the net for "black" organizations and/or publications and you will find hundreds. Search the same for magazines and there dozens. But for white there are NONE And virtually none for any other AMERICAN culture. And now they want their own Anthem? Ye I would love for everyone to get along but it just can't be one sided. I have tried to not be prejudice but THEY wouldn't let me. Just ask Al Sharpton, Rev's Louis Farrakhan and Obama's Rev Jeremiah Alvesta Wright.

    1. Tom's Avatar Tom

      “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” - Unknown

  1. Barbara Harris's Avatar Barbara Harris

    As a Pagan I can definitely identify with the separation of church and state. I have been subjected to hate and told that when Trump became president people like me would be "reined in" and dealt with. And when he was elected then the hate mail really began.

    But I love Christmas carols and hymns as they lift my heart up. The holidays in December all celebrate the returning of the light and I love that time of the year. I have set in prayer with others who were Christian and Buddhists and no one thought it was strange. I studied with a rabbi so I could better understand the old Testament.

    But would it be right to have a national hymn that has Christian overtones? I feel that it would further drive a wedge in an already fragile situation. Now I do like the idea of Woody Guthrie's song.

  1. Minister Mike's Avatar Minister Mike

    Why do we need a National Hymn? Or even Anthem?

    Believe me when I say hymns, anthems, flags, pledges, or any other icon will not make anyone a better person. Such folderol only breeds contempt anyone who doesn't use "it" the way someone else does, and produces nothing but divisiveness. Let's just go about our daily lives being good Americans without crutches and trying to be better people.

  1. Richard Lee Cornell's Avatar Richard Lee Cornell

    One need to also look at those from Asia who need a say in any Hymn. Then you have those of the Islam faith who might not want a Hymn at all.

  1. Duane Louis Beach-Barrow's Avatar Duane Louis Beach-Barrow

    The first time I heard this hymn, was at Washington National Cathedral where I was participating in an Ordination Service. Something stirred in the heart and soul of this Gay Christian Man, and I began to weep - tears rolling down my face as I joined the Procession out of the church carrying one of the Processional Crosses and breaking the rule of not singing while carrying the Cross. When we reached the Narthex, there was not a dry eye to be seen anywhere - including the Clergy! I have asked the Organist of the church I attend now to please use "Lift Every Voice" on the first Sunday we are able to have regular services in the church again, and he said he would try.

    1. Dennis Wayne Starr's Avatar Dennis Wayne Starr

      You JUST couldn't be JUST a man....or a christian you JUST had to add the "gay" and announce to the world to draw more attention to yourself. See this is the problem with minorities. They just need to have recognition for their own insecurities. It is like the Black culture that wants equality and then declare themselves "African American" instead of JUST American. How is everyone supposed to have equality with anyone when they are continuously declaring their own separate identify? Like the "group"that announced "give us what we want or we will burn this MF' er" down". Right.. that's who I want as a neighbor. That is who I want to recognize as an equal. Listen if you want me to recognize you as an equal then behave as one. Stop constantly drawing attention to your difference and work on our similarity. I do not need to know you religious preference is to be a friend, neighbor. Not once in my entire life have I had the need to say "Hey I am a heterosexual" or I am a certain color of skin, nationality or culture. I AM AN AMERICAN!

  1. Colleen McAllister's Avatar Colleen McAllister

    We could use a singable National Anthem but hymn? No. Not necessary. We don't need a song for each type of music. Besides Lift Every Voice is not very uplifting. Moving yes. But it is a slow dirge not a happy tune.

  1. Rev. Dr. G. Waldron's Avatar Rev. Dr. G. Waldron

    Amen!

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