December 12, 2017

Another Look: What About the Flag in the Sanctuary? (Or How To Get Fired Really Fast.)

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A Classic iMonk Post for Memorial Day, 2014

Sometime when I was in seminary, I first heard the term “civil religion” and started to understand that some people had a problem with the American flag in a church sanctuary. The flag- and its companion, the “Christian” flag- have been in every church sanctuary I’ve ever been in, and both flags are in the chapel where I lead worship today.

Where I live today, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if there are churches with the Confederate flag in the sanctuary.

In the culture where I live, a pastor of a typical church who removed the flag would be fired. A pastor who started a process aimed at removing the flag would be starting a process to find another job. Removing the flag would be seen as something like a declaration of atheism or endorsing Al-Queda. Or both. Multiplied. By 10.

One of the reasons I like Shakespeare is that he had the ability to see all points of view with some kind of sympathy. I think I’m a bit like that, for better or worse, and if applied to the flag-in-church issue, it comes out something like this in the minds of those who want the flag displayed in church sanctuaries.

1) We’re grateful for the right to worship freely in this country, so we display the flag as a way to say we’re appreciative of that right.

2) We don’t worship the flag, and it’s rare that you would see any reference to our salute/pledge at all. You could come to 99% of the worship services in any church and the flag would receive absolutely no attention.

3) If the government is wrong on an issue like abortion or if it attempted to restrict our ability to speak out against homosexuality, we would quickly say the state is wrong and the Kingdom of God is right. In other words, the presence of the flag doesn’t assume that the state holds a higher authority for us than the Bible.

4) Nor does the flag’s presence assume we all support the policies of the government. There are many churches that display the flag, but many of the members believe the war in Iraq is wrong.

5) Don’t assume that the flag means we see ourselves as citizens of the nation rather than as citizens of the Kingdom. This may be confusing to someone from another culture, but it wouldn’t be if they asked for an explanation. We are clear on this.

6) The Bible tells us to be good citizens and to show proper respect to government, and that is all the presence of the flag does. Tha’s good, especially for children.

Because this is the usual approach to the flag issue among the Christians I know, I don’t suffer under a great need to see the flag removed. It could be a lot worse, and it probably is in some minds, but of all the hills a pastor has to die on, I wouldn’t recommend this one.

But there are times that I have problems.

For example, at some public ceremonies in church or the chapel, the flags lead in a procession. This would include things like graduations and Vacation Bible School If you don’t know what that is, I don’t think I can help you.

When the American flag is brought in leading that procession, with the Christian flag behind it, there is a problem. At a church I recently spoke at,the flagpole in front of the church had both flags flying, with the American flag on top. Problem, at least in terms of what the symbols are saying.

Flag etiquette is clear that this is proper, but for Christians, it is symbolically blasphemous. In fact, when the flag is used in any way other than as a passive part of sanctuary decoration, symbolic contradictions almost always emerge. Pledges, salutes and so forth are close to acts of “veneration.” (Those who criticize Catholics for bowing, etc. to statues might want to take pause and thing about the parallels.)

Another problem arises with the fact that, even when simply passively present, the flag identifies the congregation with the nation of America in a way that, at least visually, takes clear precedence over other loyalties. My Chinese friends, who understand patriotic symbolism very well from their culture, would never look at the flag and assume that its presence means Jesus is Lord and America is not. It will appear to them that the claims made in the church all happen under the permission and watchful eye of the state.

That’s the wrong message.

In actual fact, there are so many abuses of the flag by “God and Country” zealots, that ordinary Christians who don’t share those fanatical sympathies look as if they agree with all the inflamed rhetoric of the flag wavers.

In good conscience, leaders of churches should at least move the flags out of the main worship space. They can be respectfully be displayed in other places in a church facility if members of the congregation feel it is important to show proper respect and gratitude. The use of the flag in symbolic superiority to the “Christian” flag and the Bible should never happen. (In fact, what is the “Christian flag” anyway?” Get rid of it as well.)

As I said, in most rural American cultures, this is a deep generational issues that goes all kinds of emotional and sub-rational places no one really wants to visit. But it is an adventure in evangelical symbolism, and it can provide an important moment to say that symbols convey a message. Our message should always be Jesus Christ: King and Lord, with no competition from any other loyalty.

Comments

  1. Patrick Kyle says:

    Many Missouri Synod Lutherans worshiped in German, so during the World Wars moving the US flag to the front of the sanctuary was a show of patriotism. One of my pastors moved the flags to the back of the sanctuary for a year, then quietly moved them to the parish hall.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      My (ELCA) church still worships in German. We did so exclusively until WWI, when we added an English service. That also was a period of frantic patriotic displays as federal agents routinely attended services and took notes on what was being said. We don’t display the flag now, and haven’t in the ten years I’ve been here, except occasionally as part of a historical display and even then not in the front of the church.

  2. For those of the WW2 generation the flag holds great emotional meaning, God and country. For those of the Viet Nam generation it holds a cautionary meaning, assuming that “God is with us”. To those of the subsequent generations it is an anachronism or a cipher. Its presence or absence is not even thought of.

    In my Nazarene church there is no flag display, even though we are at the door step of Camp Pendleton Marine base and have quite a few marine families in our congregation. Tomorrow we will probably recognize those who have served, and are currently serving in the military, but none of it will be equated with Christianity. No Pledge, no Star Spangled Banner, not even America The Beautiful.

    And that is the way it SHOULD be!

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > For those of the WW2 generation the flag holds great emotional meaning, God and country.
      > For those of the Viet Nam generation it holds a cautionary meaning, assuming that
      > “God is with us”. To those of the subsequent generations it is an anachronism or a cipher.
      > Its presence or absence is not even thought of.

      You are close to the truth here, at least as far as sweeping generalizations can go; I agree this generally describes it.

      But the “anachronism or a cipher” for “subsequent generations” may be a bit of a mixed bag. There are certainly many my age or younger for whom it is an unconsidered cipher; but beyond those the reaction seems to be very polar [reflecting our polarized society].

      For me, personally, the flag is indeed an anachronism in all the negative connotations of the word. It represents an obsolete view of the world which brings much regret that misguided policies and ideas are pursued without question and frequently with violent abandon and terrible cost. But many my age are at the other side – they are vigorously nationalist in a way my father [who served in the marines] never was. It will be the Millennials and those who follow them who decide the fate of this symbol – I see no uniformity in the GenXers.

  3. As a Canadian who has lived in the US on several occasions, I can say that the flag thing baffles me.

    I’d also add that in every instance I’ve seen, the US flag is to the speaker’s right and the “Christian” flag (an unknown entity anywhere but the USA… did you folks make this thing up?) is to the left. By flag etiquette, I’ve been told that puts the American flag in the place of honor.

    • Being Canadian, I had to re-look at that photo, I just thought it was a courthouse. I had no trouble finding the flag, but the cross was camouflaged. I don’t know how many times I have thought a church was a court house or some kind of legislative chamber because of that flag.

      A Christian flag?

      • …and every time I see a flag in a church (once I figure out it is, indeed, a church), I always think, weird, all photos of churches in the US are taken on the 4th of July. I never clued in that the flag stays there year-round, I just assumed patriotic Americans were over-decorating.

        I would be massively distracted by a flag if it sat up front near the person preaching.

        • Robert F says:

          Apparently, citizens of the USA have a flag fetish unmatched in most, if not all, of the more developed nations of the world, and only paralleled in dictatorships where it is enforced by government coercion. That means that even the discussion of whether or not to fly the national flag of the USA in churches is fraught with idolatrous concerns and language unmatched anywhere. This should be concerning to all Christians who are citizens of the US.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      EG’s right.

      Using the pic at the top as an example, the American Flag is on the congregation/audience’s left. This is “The Flag’s Right”, and is the superior position over the Church’s Flag on the congregation/audience’s right (the Flag’s Left). The positioning of the two flags means “The State on Top, the Church on the Bottom.”

      In US Flag etiquette (copped from my Dad’s 1930s-vintage Boy Scout Manual), the US Flag is always on “the Flag’s Right” or top with one exception: The Church pennant or flag goes in a superior position to the US Flag. (I’ve seen photos of Navy ensigns where the Church pennant flies above the American Flag/Naval Ensign when a Chaplain is aboard to hold services.)

      So under Flag etiquette, if flags remain in the sanctuary, the arrangement in the pic should be reversed: CHURCH Flag on the congregation/audience’s left, US Flag on the congregation/audience’s right.

      • Thanks for the confirmation.

        As an additional note, in every church I’ve ever been in the USA, and in a Lutheran school I used to attend there, (and regularly pledge the two flags AND the Bible, along with the class) the American flag was flag’s right.

  4. That awkward moment when you bring up the subject of removing the flag from the sanctuary and you get sincerely puzzled looks akin to those who are thinking “why did the pastor suddenly start talking Russian? I don’t speak Russian.”

    I’m glad I’m not the only one driven slightly batty by this.

    • Like David, I appreciate someone besides myself bringing up this topic. I agree that it is the wrong hill to die on, but I can easily see the ultra conservatives, who typically champion the presence of the American flag, using its removal to make a polemical statement. By removing the flag, they would reinforce what their pulpits have been saying ever since we lost the “culture wars” that America is no longer a Christian nation.

      And by their cultural definition of Christian, they are correct. It is interesting that all the alarmist warnings about how far our culture would sink have come true. So, from the conservative fundagelical perspective, they have prophesied correctly. Taking down the flag for them would simply be an affirmation that this country is no longer one they can be proud of. I am amused by the irony that even though many took umbrage with Jeremiah Wright’s “God d*** America!” comment, and especially his reason for it, the reality is that they would agree with Wright’s sentiment.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        For doesn’t God exist only to PUNISH PUNISH PUNISH PUNISH PUNISH?

        (Some of these Culture War Christians should be throwing a hissy-fit every time someone’s Saved. Because that means God can’t go all Wrath on them. Like Jonah throwing a hissy-fit when God spares Nineveh.)

    • I’ve gotten that same look of bafflement, but under even worse circumstances. Once, a long time ago in a church that shall remain nameless, they sang the National Anthem (i.e. Star Spangled Banner) as the closing hymn of the Sunday worship service on a 4th of July weekend. I was flabbergasted. I wasn’t as far along then as I was now (I was still firmly in the TR camp) but even I recognized that Christ’s Church is to transcend national identity, and we are to celebrate His Kingdom, not our nation, in worship. I said as much, loudly and insistently, to anyone I thought might be rational enough to understand this important distinction.

      With one notable exception, they all thought I had lost my marbles. There have been times when I’ve felt more alone and out of the loop, but not many.

      • So, not to let my Canadian brethren off the hook here, I have been in many 1 July services where O Canada was sung. My wife and I have taken to attending the local Mennonite church on Canada Day to avoid that.

  5. Robert F says:

    In the ELCA church where my wife serves as musician, the so-called Christian flag and the USA flag both are in the sanctuary. The pastor does not allow patriotic songs to be sung during worship; today, a special Memorial Day ceremony will be held, with a patriotic song, after the Sunday worship service and out of doors, next to the church graveyard. Although I think the senior pastor would choose to have both flags removed from the sanctuary, given his liberation theology slant, the influential older parish laity would not tolerate it.

    Christian flag? Does not the cross suffice?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      That “Christian Flag” in the picture… I think it started out as an Episcopal Church flag, but got generally adopted in American Protestantism as a “Christian Flag”. And the design (with the dark blue canton) does echo the American Flag.

      At St Boniface, we have two flags flanking the sanctuary area, with our Church Flag (commonly called the Vatican Flag) in the superior position.

  6. What is this Christian flag of which you speak? In my mind, it summons up images of the Chi-Rho and the Milvian Bridge, but as a modern phenomenon, I don’t even know what that would look like. I’ve worshipped in a fair few churches in a fair few countries and I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen one (only been to one church in the U.S., though, which might have something to do with it- though even then I don’t recall seeing it. Maybe I just didn’t know what to look for). Where did this Christian flag tradition come from, and how old is it?

    I think I’d feel very uncomfortable if my national flag were put up front in a worship service. Just seems oddly out-of-place, like putting it prominently in an art gallery or a concert hall or something. Art and music are for everybody. So is Christianity. It just seems unnecessarily limiting, is all. I guess many of us non-Americans are weird like that. (Speaking of which though, when I first saw that photo at the top, I did a double-take; for a split second, the bit hanging from the front of the pulpit looked remarkably like the Chinese flag, albeit with some extra stars, or perhaps a hammer and sickle, stitched into the upper-middle for good measure!).

    • Highwayman says:

      I’d never heard of it before, either, so have just looked it up (I had to look up ‘Memorial Day’ as well). The flag is described and illustrated in Wikipedia and seems to be mainly an American thing, although apparently it’s also popular in Africa.

      Displaying the national flag prominently in the sanctuary seems a bit odd, but on reflection I suppose it’s no odder than describing the British monarch as the head of the Church of England.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        The flag is described and illustrated in Wikipedia and seems to be mainly an American thing, although apparently it’s also popular in Africa.

        So’s the Prosperity Gospel.
        (And then there’s those anti-Homosexual laws in Uganda, passed with major financial backing of American Culture War Christians…)

      • I’ve been to Anglican churches in Canada with plenty of Empire symbology, including Union Jacks and lots of military-themed stained glass.

  7. David Cornwell says:

    Many American Christians have an inability to see beyond our national borders. Also some of our denominations have identities that are identified by geographic markers such as “Southern,” Missouri,” “American,” etc. The headquarters of most of located within our boundaries. Many would hesitate to identify with a church headquartered in, say, Brazil or a country in Africa. We are a nationalistic and militaristic people in many ways. Flags are our markers and we are prepared to march behind them.

    This is a generalization of course. The Catholic Church is truly catholic in many ways. And there are other rebuttals.

    We have another King. He breaks, dissolve, integrates, and overrules our boundaries and divisions, whatever they may be.

    This was hastily written. Now I’m off to church.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Also some of our denominations have identities that are identified by geographic markers such as “Southern,” Missouri,” “American,” etc. The headquarters of most of located within our boundaries. Many would hesitate to identify with a church headquartered in, say, Brazil or a country in Africa.

      How about Rome?

      • David Cornwell says:

        True, but still more “catholic” than most others.

        Concerning the flag: In one of the small towns where I was pastor the little church had an American flag flying. I had not been there long enough to tackle this issue, but it was brought to my attention by a pastor from a Anabaptist congregation that joined with us to hold the local summer bible school. My conversations with him, over time, convinced me that this was an important issue. But it takes a period of time with the people, sometimes longer than one has in the UMC, to tackle issues like this one.

  8. We had a Greek flag quite prominently displayed when I attended a Greek parish. There was an American flag as well.

    I have seen the Vatican flag in many Catholic churches, and a Brazilian flag in a Pentecostal church frequented by mostly Brazilians.

  9. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Last time this article got posted, we had a hilarious typo in one of the comments:

    Guy was trying to comment “At my church, we have flags of all nations hanging in the sanctuary.”

    He left out the “l” in “flags”. Hilarity ensued.

    • So what you’re saying is, that Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist crowd should have been protesting with signs that said, “God hates flags”?

  10. Again, a wonderful post. And great comments. I am not too surprised at the objective thoughts here, tho. Lots of smart people on this list who think for themselves. The book, “The Kingdom of God,” by John Miller illustrates the problems Israel had parading two flags around.

  11. Revmike says:

    As a foreign national permanent resident of the USA… and a pastor… I find it challenging to preach in the shadow of flags (mind you, I find it challenging to preach under the cross for a whole other different reason. 🙂 !!!). That said, as others have, it’s not a hill I want to die on just yet. In my current church appointment I’ve experienced some pretty blatant racism (and I’m a white male… I just have a very very southern accent… as in the deep deep south… Australia). I would feel just as perplexed and challenged if I pastored a church in my home country with the Union Jack and the Southern Cross flying in the corner. I will say that the presence of an American flag makes me deeply uncomfortable in the sanctuary. I have no problem with the national flag and whatever other flag (seriously though – the Christian flag???!!! Who comes up with this nonsense) flying in any other part of the church building. The twinning of God and Country together is deeply problematic…

    • I work in a Christian school and there is a Christian flag in every classroom, alongside the American flag. Makes me want to shake someone…

      • CatelynStark says:

        Ditto. At least I’ve managed to get a Christian flag that is half again as large as the American one. We are also supposed to lead our homeroom classes in the pledges to both flags every morning. I don’t, but when I do, I start them off with the Christian flag first. I don’t like having the American flag equated with Christianity, but it isn’t a hill I’m willing to die on yet.

        • There’s a Christian school near me that has three flagpoles outside: the tall one in the middle flies the biggest US flag in the state of Maine and the normal-sized ones on each side sometimes have a state flag and a Christian flag—but usually they’re also flying US flags, reminding me of Calvary’s Hill and how much I should be grateful to the US for dying on the cross for my sins.

          The school is also tied to a church that held a “second amendment Sunday” last year, complete with the pastor wearing a loaded pistol on his belt, displays of gun paraphernalia, and application forms for concealed weapon permits.

  12. That photo could have been taken in any congregational church here in Maine. And, in the baptist church where I’ve been for 22 years, the sanctuary is more austere but the position of the flags is the same—the US flag on its own right (the congregation’s left) and the Christian flag on the other side. An eagle above the staff of the US flag, a cross above the Christian flag. It’s like it was written in the bible.

    In all the years I’ve been at First Baptist however, nobody—not nobody—has mentioned anything in my hearing about the flag. It’s as if it doesn’t exist (well, nobody but me and my buddy Ed, but we’ve muttered to ourselves quietly). I assume that the janitor has to move it occasionally to vacuum, but other than that it’s a non-issue. I am prepared, however, if it becomes an issue, to take a stand against flags in the sanctuary, but it would have to be from somebody’s effort to have us salute it or otherwise commit idolatry.

    Michael Spencer was right. Any pastor who tries to remove the flag will just as quickly get himself removed. If it hadn’t been an issue before, it would become one pronto. Really not a hill to die on in most churches.

    • In a Baptist church that I attended in Canada, someone moved a Maple Leaf into the sanctuary for Remembrance Day (Veterans Day for you guys). After the service, someone moved it out to the hall. But it got moved in again by someone else a week or two later. Out. In. Out. In. A fine little battle, until the pastor finally just hid the thing for good.

  13. We have an American flag on the left side of our sanctuary, towards the front. Sometimes it gets hidden behind a fake ficus tree next to it. The point is that no one notices it much. But as Michael Spencer said, best leave it alone. And that’s exactly what I will do.

    But just to be ornery, and to test and see if anyone notices (especially behind the fake ficus tree), I wonder if anyone would notice if I replaced it over a few Sundays with other red – white – blue flags? I happen to have a Cuban flag, I could also try flags of Texas, Chile and perhaps even a French flag.

    • The Cuban flag and the French flag would get you stoned as a heretic. Not sure which one would work faster.

      • The French lag would probably lead to stoning, well, with metaphors, at any rate. The Cuban flag would be seen as humor, being that I am a Cuban-American.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      If you want to get weird, I’ve got a WW1 German and a WW2 Japanese naval ensign…

      And there actually are flag designs out there for the United Federation of Planets (Star Trek) and Equestria (My Little Pony), but I don’t know of any being actually sewn and sold, so you’d have to get one done on commission…

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      One classic way to deal with a flag in a situation like you describe is to simply quietly remove it. Some weekday morning when no one is around, just put it in a storage closet. It could well be that no one notices, in which case the problem is solved. If someone complains, play dumb.

      • The thing is, I don’t want to remove it as many in my congregation like it there even if they seldom notice it. It would be interesting to see who would be the first to notice if I replaced it with a foreign flag.

        But that would just be a fun thing to think about, but not worth following through with.

        • It’s rather like the bullet that passes through between the ribs to lodge close to the heart but in a place where it will cause no further harm. The surgeon decides not to remove the shrapnel because the risk involved in the surgery is greater than leaving it in place. It clearly doesn’t belong there, but it can be overlooked.

          Similarly, in our church parsonage, rather than remove some asbestos tiles from the basement floor, the trustees opted to build a new floor over top. The cost of removal and the attendant risks were too high to justify “doing it right” so we decided to contain the poison and ignore it. The result is beautiful and functional and no one would know unless they were looking for it.

          So…I’m kind of digging the ficus tree camouflage idea. 😉

  14. Dana Ames says:

    We have an American flag: in the hall, in a corner. There is no national flag in our church building.

    We do, though have banners in church: one with Christ, one with Mary the Mother of God, one with St Seraphim, our church’s patron saint, and a hand-embroidered one of St Michael the Archangel. When we have a procession, the banners, choir, icons and people all follow the cross.

    Chaplain Mike, how about a discussion some time on what is holy and why? This is pertinent to a personal situation in my life, although I’m not sure if the other person involved would even read anything written by a liturgical Christian… sigh…

    Dana

  15. joseph tiseo says:

    As a fomer boyscout catholic I remember seeing the american flag (and a few others) on entry to the church but I don’t ever remember it up by the podium. I was never a very good catholic, only went because my mother dragged me. Have had much more enjoyable times at other deonominations but some things still make me scratch my head. The rockband singing and projectors and light shows at my sisters ‘church’, anyone and everyone going for communion at an episcopal church.. and everyone should have some idea what the southern batisits get up to( tho that was a lot of fun). When it comes to the flag thou, I’m not sure I’ve a problem with it.. but probably would have a problem with its removal. The strange thing is if it wasn’t there at all I don’t think Id care, but removing it to me would be an overt statement and I’m not sure its a statement I want to make or be associated with. I wouldn’t want to start services with the pledge of alegiance, but if we expect our leaders to say a prayer before starting business (and I do) then I see no problem showing respect to the country that has offered peoples of all religions as much as this one has.

  16. stickmanonymous says:

    The American fixation with flags is very weird.

  17. Richard Hershberger says:

    I just got home from my town’s Memorial Day parade. (It is a wholly legitimate effort: an annual effort going back to just after the Civil War, when the occasion wad Decoration Day, with the children marching to the graveyard to decorate the graves of veterans. They still do that.) There always is an element of weirdness to it. For years the parade included a pony with a dog riding on its back. Why? Well, if you had an actual dog and pony show, wouldn’t you put it in the parade? New this year was a marching band from a local Christian school. The school team name is the ‘Patriots.’ The band uniforms were a faux cowboy theme, and they played the theme from The Magnificent Seven. (In fairness, they played it competently.) I bring this up because the color guard leading the band had, in addition to the usual flags, the “Christian” flag. It was dipped, with the United States flag upright. The symbolism was unmistakable, notwithstanding that it was more likely than not the product of ignorance and stupidity rather than conscious intent.

    • I agree that I think most of this is ignorance — but that only means that we aren’t teaching about the nature of the Kingdom of God. Americans at least tend to conflate rather than recognize the distinction.

  18. Rick Ro. says:

    Because flags represent earthly kingdoms, I don’t like flags in sanctuaries. I understand the people that do, though. It’s pretty much a generational “the era you were born and grew up in” kinda thing. IF flags are being flown in the sanctuary or outside the church then, given the “nationalistic” (and earthly) nature of flags, I have no problem with the flag etiquette of the US flag being flown above or positioned “higher” than the Christian flag. (Kinda like giving Caesar his due.) To me, it’s like saying, “I live in the US, but I belong in His Kingdom.”

  19. I can’t imagine ever seeing a flag in a Japanese church. On the bright side, my church in Atlanta doesn’t have a flag, either.

  20. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    > In actual fact, there are so many abuses of the flag by “God and Country” zealots, that
    > ordinary Christians who don’t share those fanatical sympathies look as if they agree
    > with all the inflamed rhetoric of the flag wavers

    You’ve nailed it. This is exactly why I will always bow-out [very quietly if at all possible, but VERY loudly if confronted] on anything involving presentation of the flag. There are many who say “well, we only have the flag because…”, but the nut is: I do not believe them. It is coercive, they are demanding my tacit approval of their murderous world-view. I’ve heard plenty of the hateful, racist , fear-mongering, militant, and ignorant things those kind and gentle salt-of-the-earth god-fearing americans say when they believe they are only amongst themselves. If there is a flag – I’m out.

  21. At civic events if there is a recitation of the “pledge of allegiance” I will salute with hand over heart and stand at attention out of respect. But I no longer recite the pledge. I wonder if someone will ever notice and ask me about it. I hope that it will happen, but I suspect that no one pays attention to what anyone else is doing in those situations.

  22. CatelynStark says:

    I think the whole idea of associating Christianity with America got started in the late 19th century with the “one Christian America” movement. America as a united republic had nearly been destroyed in the Civil War, so there was still some strong feeling about that, plus that was the time frame when the Church was really getting started on the culture wars (the Temperance Movement, the Settlement Houses, the AMA’s work in Appalachia, etc.) Add to that the mass immigrations of the time period — all these foreign people coming in with their outlandish religions and diluting both the Christianity and the bloodlines of our Anglocentric culture — and it’s the perfect setup. The only wonder is that we escaped the late Victorian period without a governmental declaration that Christianity is, in fact, the state religion.

  23. Charles Harrell says:

    I don’t think our God much cares for any form of fanaticism. I certainly hope not. To me, this subject reminds of Shakespeare; “Much Ado About Nothing”. I have a difficult time understanding how respect for one’s nation could be considered “idolatry”. Pharisees abound still. . . .

  24. Charles Harrell says:

    It is coercive, they are demanding my tacit approval of their murderous world-view. I’ve heard plenty of the hateful, racist , fear-mongering, militant, and ignorant things those kind and gentle salt-of-the-earth god-fearing americans say when they believe they are only amongst themselves.

    I’m thinking that Jesus might not agree with those thoughts. However, He selected tax assessors, drunks, and prostitutes for his associates so maybe he would be tolerant of bigots.

  25. Government is a divine institution as is marriage. Neither are fundamentally “Christian” but both are given protocols for function in the Scriptures which are to be taught in the church, both general protocols for all of humanity and special protocols for believers. The government of the United States is recognized as legitimate and our right submission to it by means of displaying its flag. This is not the only means but it is a constant means. And this is in keeping with Paul’s instructions in his letter to Rome regarding Christians having a disposition of cooperation and honor toward those in governmental authority.

    Nothing prescribes the display directly and nothing forbids its absence. But to those who seem to believe it is merely on display because most congregations do not know the difference between the United States and Christianity are grossly stereotyping which is ironic seeing that most of these “smartest person in the room types” feel they are beyond and above stereotyping but when it fits their agenda, well let’s all look the other way.

    The fact is for many churches it is simply a matter of principle, doctrinal principle.

  26. Wayne Essel says:

    I’m absolutely in favor of removing all flags from the sanctuary and any processions. And eliminating all secular songs from the hymnal (like God Bless America, America the Beautiful and The Battle Hymn of the Republic…). And I’m not in favor of anyone wearing a uniform to the service, but I wouldn’t legislate that one.

    There are just SO many contradictions between Jesus’ message and the state of our nation.