Native Americans have objected to the "pilgrim feet" in "America the Beautiful."

"Am I a Soldier of the Cross?" is too militaristic.

The line "when failing lips grow dumb" is offensive to the hearing handicapped.

"Good Christian Men, Rejoice," and "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" are too sexist and will have to be altered.

"Faith of Our Fathers," on the other hand, will be retained, but with a footnote suggesting that "martyrs," "mothers" or "ancestors" may be substituted for "fathers."

The United Methodist Hymnal Revision Committee, in the uneviable task of producing a hymnal for the 9.4 million-member denomination, has kicked off an avalanche of reactions from partisans of every view.

The United Methodist 1984 General Conference directed the committee to revise the church hymnal, bringing it in harmony with the contemporary theological and social beliefs of what is unquestionably the most diverse Protestant denomination in the country, while at the same time respecting "tradition."

The measure of that diversity is reflected in a poll throughout the denomination last late year that ranked "How Great Thou Art" and "The Old Rugged Cross" as all-time favorites. But the same two hymns, said the Rev. Carlton R. Young, editor of the hymnal, also topped the most-hated list.

As news spreads of some of the committee's proposed changes to old favorites, outraged clergy and lay persons are flooding denominational publications as well as Young's Nashville office with their views.

Fred S. Collins of Dutton, Mont., in a letter to the editor of the Feb. 21 United Methodist Reporter, objected to the committee's vetoing "Am I a Soldier?" Citing a portion of the hymn itself, he challenged, " 'When that illustrious day shall rise, and all the armies shine in robes of victory through the skies . . . ' where will the United Methodists be? In a blind battle to change the language."

Lee Wallace of Glen Burnie, Md., in the same paper, charged the committee with "nitpicking about words" instead of "telling Christ's story to the world as He asked. How can you hurt our Lord so?"

"Do not change the wording to agree with a group of sex-prejudiced females who do not want God to be our father," one protester wrote the committee, adding, "I hope you get sued by the author's descendants if you do."

If a hymn is copyrighted, "we have to get the permission of the copyright owner" to change the words, Young said.

"Hymnals need to be revised every 20 or 25 years," said Young, to reflect changes in theology, in social principles and in the prevailing culture. There have been a lot of those changes in the last 25 years.

Young, who was also editor of the denomination's last hymnal revision in 1964, observed in a telephone interview that the task of developing that book, "wasn't anything compared to this one."

In addition to the sensitivities to racism and sexism that have developed in recent decades, United Methodists today also are concerned with "care of God's creation, disarmament, nuclear warfare," Young said, and they want their hymnal to reflect those viewpoints.

Four ethnic minorities -- blacks, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans -- are represented on the hymnal committee, Young said.

It was the Rev. Harold Jacobs, a member of the Lumbee Indian nation from Pembroke, N.C., who called attention to the "America the Beautiful" line, "O beautiful for pilgrim feet, whose stern impassioned stress/A thoroughfare for freedom beat . . . . "

Jacobs said, "White men have trampled over the Indian to beat that freedom path." The committee check-marked the stanza either for revision or deletion in future sessions.

" . . . Whiter than snow, Lord/Wash me just now . . ." in "Have Thine Own Way, Lord" has been changed to "Wash me just now, Lord/Wash me just now," to eliminate the racial connotation. For the same reason, ". . . for our race so freely given" in "For the Beauty of the Earth" will become ". . . to the world so freely given."

Predictably, it has been the changes for gender inclusiveness that have generated the most heat among Methodists, as "God of Our Fathers" becomes "God of the Ages," and "Good Christian Men, Rejoice" is changed to "Good Christian Friends, Rejoice."

Unlike some of the more extreme attempts in some quarters in recent years to make liturgical materials totally gender-free, the new Methodist hymnal will not tamper with familiar references to God or Jesus, such as "father," "king," "son," "lord." "Oh Worship the King" and "Fairest Lord Jesus" are safe.

But "man," "mankind," or "brothers," when used in the generic sense, are likely to be replaced.

Thus, in "Joy to the World," the line, "let men their songs employ" becomes "let all their songs employ."

Of the approximately 600 hymns the new book is expected to contain, about 300 will come from the present hymnal, Young said.

Among the newcomers will be more than "60 spirituals and hymns from old traditions," plus selections from thousands of new hymns constantly being written, including a "rich repertoire" of hymns dealing with the nuclear issue, he said.

The new United Methodist hymnal will be the first to use the Revised Standard Version of the Bible for the Psalms and other scripture portions, instead of the well-loved King James version.

Although United Methodists are not bound by church law to use their denomination's hymnal, 86 percent do, Young said.

Young has developed an extensive consultative process to help him and the committee keep in touch with grass-roots Methodism as they pursue their task. Some 36,000 persons receive updates twice a year on the decisions of the committee. But a more representative reader consultant network of 800 is contacted "sometimes weekly," he said.

The average United Methodist congregation, Young estimated, probably does not use more than 50 hymns a year.

But from one congregation to another, they're not the same 50. The hymnal "is always too large for the individual church and not large enough for the church at large," he said.