Grapho : Concordia Seminary Student Journal

Document Type



civil, tragedy, culture, prayer, nation, patriotism

Submission Type

Bible Study; Lecture; Sermon Prep


This paper will focus on that phenomenon and its longstanding tension with American Christianity. I will investigate how American civil religion emerges when faced with tragedy. The investigation will be done by way of a case study: a thorough analysis of Celine Dion’s performance of “God Bless America,” the history of the original song and its author, and the variety of responses her performance has fostered both then and now, particularly online. What we will discover is that practitioners of civil religion existentially and therapeutically depend on an “encounter with the divine” during times of national tragedy. This encounter is achieved by borrowing from various texts and practices of other religions — in this case, a prayer — in a way that is divorced from their original intent. Such acts of borrowing can maintain dynamic emotional force, even decades after the initial act of appropriation.

This paper will also critique what can be perceived as a deficient response on the part of the Church in America to the tragedy that was 9/11 and will tentatively suggest a way forward. The aim of this essay is to suggest a way for the Church to faithfully bear witness to Christ in the midst of national tragedy. This is theologically significant because the Church must speak faithfully in such times, urging the nation to seek healing in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not in American patriotism or civil religion.


Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion

Scripture References in this Resource (separated by semi-colons)

Job 1:20-21; John 11:41; Isaiah 53:4; Isaiah 64:6;

Submission Cost


Submission Audience

Laity; Ministers; Scholars

People in this Resource (separated by commas)

Irving Berlin, Philip Yancey,