The Battle Hymn of the Republic is likely not a favorite for folks with long memories in the South. Julia Ward Howe’s (May 27, 1819 – October 17, 1910) famous hymn also seems to have fallen into some disfavor in the mainline Protestant Churches of the Fluffy Bunny; too military, don’t you know.
Perhaps that’s why I’ve always loved it. Regardless, it is a strong hymn, a song of the Church Militant, of God’s army (us) and His Son come to save us when our merely human efforts fail. I was just now listening to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s version, and, as usual, it’s a great rendition. Until they got to the fourth stanza, in which the good Mrs. Howe penned these lyrics:
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.
In the Tabernacle’s version, not to mention at least two others I’ve heard, the Civil War era “let us die to make men free”, a literal truth, became, “let us live to make men free.”
One can understand that dying to preserve the freedom of men is such an old-fashioned and dead white male notion. Very unpleasant and declasse. A small point, a trivial change in the lyric, you say? Perhaps. Yet to me it reflects the entire fluffy bunny syndrome, the dumbing down of Christianity, sanding off the rough edges. God is love, don’t you see; He couldn’t possibly be about dying to bring about freedom.
Yes, He could, and Mrs. Howe, actually a lapsed Calvinist become Unitarian liberal (for the 19th century), penned those words precisely because she believed that once talking about freedom was done, men had to be ready to die for the cause. As He died for our freedom at Calvary.
| technorati tag | Christianity|