There are at least three notable things with this “hymn.” The first is that it is a Civil War hymn, celebrating the triumph of the Union. The second is that it is odd when Canadians sing it, as if we had some kind of dog in that fight. The third is that it’s strange when Christians (no matter their nationality) sing it, thinking that it is about anything else other than the American Civil War.
I thought about all this again when reading Michael Horton’s the Gospel-Driven Life:
We expect presidential speech to be peppered with references to God and our leaders to give some indication of their personal relationship with Christ. We want the nativity scene in the city park, even if it means that it has to sit beside other religious symbols. Sometimes, we even sing about the triumph of the Union in the Civil War by invoking the language of Christ’s last judgment (as in ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’) or the imagery of the new heavens and earth in the book of Revelation for ‘America, The Beautiful.'” (162)
Sure, the Battle Hymn has a catchy, martial kind of tune (and that explains its popularity more than anything), but pretending that it is a genuine “Christian” hymn is a tad silly odd.