Ridiculously correct

Monica Schwarze, Features Editor
Monica Schwarze, Features Editor

For two centuries, patriotic United States citizens have celebrated love for their country by singing songs that were written to honor the creation of their nation. One of the most popular of these tunes is “America The Beautiful,” Kathleen Lee Bates’ 19th century ode to the glory and beauty of the country she loved.

The words “Oh beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountains majesty above the fruited plain,” have long been a staple of Independence Day celebrations across the country.

But, if the United Church of Christ (UCC) , has its way, Americans may be singing a different tune next July.

The UCC, a Protestant denomination with roots stretching back to the Pilgrims, has recently published a new hymnal in which lyrics to several tunes, including “America the Beautiful,” have been changed.

Three new stanzas now appear in the song, including one that reads “Oh beautiful, two continents, and islands in the sea. That dream of peace, nonviolence and people living free.”

All mentions of patriotism have been dropped, ostensibly because they suggest conflict and militancy. Mentions of South America have been added, in the interest of hemispheric inclusiveness.

The UCC has not stopped with “America the Beautiful,” they have altered popular Christmas carols so that Jesus is no longer referred to as male, but as the non-gender specific “Child of God.” Grammar has also been changed in traditional African-American spirituals so the words to “Steal Away” no longer read “I ain’t got long to stay here,” but “I don’t have long to stay here.”

There is no doubt that the UCC had the best intentions in mind while making these alterations. However, in changing the words, they have also changed the purpose of the songs.

When Bates wrote “America the Beautiful” a century ago, she had a specific rhythm of wording, emotion and music in mind. To change her work of art in the name of political correctness is akin to sneaking into the Louvre and taking a brush to “Whistler’s Mother,” in order to transform her into “Whistler’s Father.” Greater equality has been achieved, but it has been achieved at the price of art.

Modern writers and artists should be sensitive to equality and fairness, but Bates wrote “America the Beautiful” at a time when these ideas were not often considered. Militancy is present in her hymn because militancy, through the Revolutionary War, brought forth a nation she loved. A nation that, at the time, had little knowledge of the principles and lifestyle of South America.

The same is true of the other altered hymns. Whether or not Jesus was the son of God, it is documented that he did exist. He is a historical figure and he was a man. African-American spirituals were written by people with a unique identity and manner of speech. Changing these songs is an attempt to change history, and should be avoided.

These alterations also open the door for other changes. Will “Chronologically gifted MacDonald had a commune of non-human beings,” someday replace “Old MacDonald had a farm?” Will parents of the future read their children Hans Christian Anderson’s tale of the “Vertically Challenged Mer-person” instead of “The Little Mermaid?”

It is true that hurtful comments have no place in any considerate, enlightened vocabulary, but changing art, even in the interest of modern concepts of sensitivity and equality, is wrong.

If the UCC considers traditional hymns to be offensive, they should write modern hymns that fit their modern ideas. It would be better in the long run to remove the hymns all together and replace them with new ones, instead of changing the lyrics and the content. They should not tamper with music that represents the ideals of another time, no matter how wrong they consider those ideals to be.

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