Why You'll Never Hear the Fourth Verse of the Star-Spangled Banner

Freedom is the cornerstone of Christianity.
Brennan Manning[1]

Alex Martinez

To hear my pastor tell it, America, as she stands today, is a post-Christian nation.

When I first heard him say so a couple of years ago, I pushed back against his assertion, citing the swath of strong Christian values entrenched in the Bible belt.

Nevertheless as time marches on, I begin to see what he saw.

Before I continue though, I must say that from my perspective, the United States of America is the greatest nation on earth. This does not mean we haven’t done reprehensible things. This does not mean we don’t have some serious cultural defects or systemic political corruption. We have and we do. But the US constitution strikes a precious balance between freedom and protection like no other. (If only politicians and judges would bother to read it.) But more on that in a moment.

As an ancillary piece of evidence in favor of the post-Christian argument, consider the fourth verse of the Star-Spangled Banner:

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heaven-rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

No doubt you’ve never heard this and never will. To be fair, practical reasons can account for why you’ve never heard this fourth verse. The song would be too long to fit more than the first verse into pregame rituals at athletic events. The first stanza is wordy enough that its singers frequently forget the lyrics, so memorizing all four verses might prove too much for performers

But even were these practical excuses non-issues, I still could not imagine the phrase, "may the heaven-rescued land praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation” sung in public today. Not in the 21st Century. It’s just not politically correct.

But Was America Ever a Christian Nation?

As I began to plumb deeper the argument laid forth by my pastor, I had a complete reversal. I began asking myself, Was America ever a Christian nation?

I’ve always held Thomas Jefferson in high esteem as one of the brightest founders of the United States and maybe the best president not named George Washington. And yet, as bright and ingenious as he was, he can in no way be considered a Christian.

He admired the teachings of Jesus, but rejected his miracles and resurrection. In fact, Jefferson went so far as to take a knife to various portions of the New Testament, removing the parts he liked and pasting them into a notebook. In doing so, he created his own gospel devoid of any mention of the supernatural or divine nature of our Lord.

This is, of course, the most damning piece of evidence for those who might assume the USA was Christian from the beginning. But Jefferson’s “Bible” isn’t the only example. Deism, to which Jefferson adhered, was in vogue among intellectuals of the day and held a grip on a majority of founding fathers including Benjamin Franklin and (likely) George Washington.[2]

Deism rejects any form of supernatural revelation from or about God, asserting that from the natural world we can ascertain knowledge of a creator. While I believe the latter, Christians by definition must reject the former as the very name, “Christian” invokes a Christ—the Messiah sent by God to save us from our sins. Thus the notion of Christian deists is nothing more than a word game. One cannot both affirm and reject Christ in the same breath.

This is why when we see mention of God in documents like the Declaration of Independence, the terms are vague and general. For example Jefferson wrote, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” Notice he wrote that these truths are self-evident, meaning there is no need for revelation from the Bible, prophets, or even Jesus Christ himself. In addition, he used the word “creator.” Both deists and Christians would agree that the world and everything in it is created by a god. It is the resurrection that a Jefferson would have problems with.

But as Paul wrote, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins... If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:17, 19).

Nevertheless the founders used the Judeo-Christian framework to build a constitution under which Christians could thrive. Most grew up in the church, and doing so played an important part in their lives.

So if your definition of “Christian Nation” means the state is founded upon morality found in the Bible, I would agree that the USA is Christian. But there’s a difference between being a nation filled with Christians and a Christian nation.

All of this talk ultimately is irrelevant, because as Christians we know that, as Jesus said, our Kingdom is not of this world.[3]

And in an irony lost on many, the very rights that allow one to criticize the use of, say, the mention of God in the national anthem are only granted by a system built upon the idea that the individual opinion has worth. But where did these self-evident, unalienable rights come from? The Creator. Without a transcendent God, how can individual lives have worth? So the very Person the dissenter is trying to dissolve actually gives voice to the naysayer. This is ultimately self-defeating. Try discrediting the existence of Allah in a Muslim nation, and you will be lucky to have a voicebox by morning’s arrival.

This, then, is the ultimate freedom of God’s governance: the ability to embrace or deny Jesus. Unlike other worldviews or religions that may obtain proselytes by brute force, our Father will do no such thing. He is desirous of our affection, but will not force us to love him. (Is that even love?)

The convert experiences a second level of freedom: freedom from the curse of the law. Were any of us judged based on our adherence to God’s law, we would all be in trouble. Yet God offers his grace through the atoning death and, yes, resurrection of Jesus, that by faith we come to a right relationship with a loving, personal, and intimate God.

Happy Independence Day.

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