Does the American Flag Belong in Your Church?

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Please stop and consider how we evangelicals have been conditioned not to see any conflict between nationalism and Christian discipleship.

I grew up like most white evangelicals in the American South. Being a Christian in the Bible Belt meant that it was common to regularly fuse Jesus with nationalism. Unfortunately, it’s taught in churches everywhere and rarely questioned.

I can remember reciting the pledge every morning in public school right before a “moment of silence.” And of course, I’ll never forget pledging to the Bible, the Christian flag and the American flag at Vacation Bible School. Nationalism was a big part of my childhood and adolescence.

I don’t recall ever having seen my faith in Christ as being incompatible with a zealous patriotism. That’s of course until I read Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon early on in college. That’s all it took to get the wheels turning. I then began rethinking Jesus and the Kingdom of God.

I seem to remember that this was at the height of my patriotism, around the time of the bombing of Baghdad in 2003.

After reading Bonhoeffer, who believed no nation’s flag belonged in the church, I began to reconsider the oft-neglected Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. I began to ask myself some scary questions.

Like … what if Jesus really meant what he said?

Greg Boyd’s Myth of a Christian Nation seemed to mark a major turning point in my thinking. I also thought that Lee Camp’s Mere Discipleship was sobering. I read several other works by Anabaptist thinkers, and even visited with a plain Mennonite. Those were some intense times.

All of this happened within the last SBC church I served in as minister to students and education. I began teaching what I was learning, and I encouraged those in my sphere of influence to find a new identity in Christ and pledge allegiance to the Lamb.

I taught through enough of the Sermon on the Mount to prompt young people and a group of adults, on their own initiative, not to participate in the upcoming July 4th patriotic service. Their lack of enthusiasm was obvious to the entire church. And while I had purposely taken my vacation that Sunday, what transpired there naturally fell back on me and my ministry.

The very next Sunday, I was broadsided with, “What’s this we hear about you teaching people not to say the pledge?”

The truth is that I never told anyone not to say the pledge. What happened that Sunday when the flag was marched down the middle aisle was the result of a small group of Christians connecting the dots. The events that followed resulted in my resignation and exodus from vocational ministry.

I don’t regret it. It has been a defining moment in my journey with Jesus. And it has shaped me for the next season of ministry to the Body of Christ.

Please stop and consider how we evangelicals have been conditioned not to see any conflict between nationalism and Christian discipleship.

Will we allow another generation of our children to be taught that America is the hope of the world, or will we tell them the truth about a King whose Kingdom is not of this world, but is for this world?

David Flowers David D. Flowers received a B.A. in Religion from East Texas Baptist University (2005) and a M.T.S. in Biblical Studies from Houston Graduate School of Theology (2012).

More from David Flowers or visit David at http://daviddflowers.com

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  • Twinsfan1

    David, you’ve said some tough stuff here, and you’re probably already aware that you will receive some (okay, A LOT) of flack from folks here.

    I have to admit that I agree with you, at least to a great extent. In my former congregation, the flag is seen as the symbol of a nation that is still allowing us to worship freely, and I’m cool with that.

    But after reading “Hitler’s Cross” by Erwin Lutzer (waaaaaayyyyyy back in the mid-90’s) and seeing the pictures of Nazi flags in the churches in Germany, I’ve been uneasy with flags in churches – including the “Christian” flag. And btw, Lutzer is a VERY conservative guy that no one could accuse of being a liberal or PC.

    My problem with the Pledge of Allegiance is that I think many Christians are more concerned with national pride than with personal devotion to Christ on an individual level. Ask many of them about the 2nd (or 1st) amendment, and they’ll go off like a firecracker. Ask them how much time they put into personal reading and application of the Scriptures, prayer, and actual ministry, and you’ll get a lot of hemming and hawing.

    I’m all for national pride as long as it doesn’t obscure one’s primary devotion to Christ.

  • Tim

    You have left us in suspense, the question is: “What actually happened that Sunday?” What did the small group of Christians connecting the dots do that brought about your resignation?

    • Tim

      Oh, and to answer your question of whether the flag belongs in the church… The answer is no :-)

      • diamar

        Agreed….no other ‘Gods’ before me. Anything secular placed along side the cross may be seen as ‘worshiped’ by association. I love my country and I served it faithfully. But it just doesn’t compare to the exponential love I have for the Creator, His son, and the Holy Spirit, which I utilize every single day of my life. I certainly do appreciate a country that allows me to do that without fearing for my life though. Peace

  • John

    David, you are certainly brave. I agree with others that you are likely going to catch some heavy criticism in the responses (because that’s the evidence I’ve seen in the past.)

    I used to work at a Christian bookstore and I laughed when the manager brought in a Patriot’s Bible to sell. I still get disgusted when people treat the constitution like it is God’s inspired word. And I have asked people how capitalism (which is based on greed) really meshes with Christianity (which is based on generosity and service).

    American Patriotism is not Christianity no matter how much we work to make them the same. I agree that Christ pulls us from our own culture (American, Thai, Kenyan, Iranian, etc) and puts us in a new culture, his Kingdom. There is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free. Thanks for boldly proclaiming the truth.

    • diamar

      John, fascinating point about in his kingdom there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female. How does that fit in with gay marriage? Sorry to throw a wrench in the works, but I’ve been trying to make the point that gay people who love each other and want to commit that love in fidelity before God, esp. in America, should have the right to.

      If there is neither male nor female, then there is just LOVE, and that, as a pastor, is good enough for me to officiate a marriage of two people who pledge their faithfulness to honor each other before God until they die. I think it’s beautiful. No, I’m not gay…nor is my wife, nor any of my kids…but they are tolerant.

      I promise I’m not just trying to stir the pot, but am truly searching out other opinions by which to learn my own standings. Thanks for your patients.

      • Bob Pena

        As only an American I would say gays should have the right to marry, but as a follower of Christ when the bible speaks against this sin and others I must chose Christ or man. This does not mean I hate gays, adulters, liars, etc., too many Christian get caught up hating the sinner instead of the sin. We can love and should love people who sin, we can start with ourselves.

      • Twinsfan1

        diamar, I would be willing to have this discussion through email, if you’d like. Not because I’m afraid of public debate, but because it allows me to be more thorough in my thinking and answering so we can avoid the harshness that often comes unintentionally through these kinds of exchanges. My position would probably mirror Bob Pena’s (below), but I can also speak from the perspective of having gay friends and family. If you would like to discuss it, my email address is twinsfan1964@gmail.com.

  • Peter Mahoney

    The battle rages on in the south where I pastor. We have the flag on display, but only along with other flags of other nations we have gone as missionaries. Nationalism cannot be mixed with being a Christ-Follower just as no man can serve 2 masters. Christians are aliens in this world and my citizenship is in heaven… and there is no duel citizenship.

    Thanks David for your bold stand… you would not have lost your job on my staff.

  • Southern Female Pastor

    The Kingdom is eternal, not my nation. To me, however, my devotion to my nation is important because one will never have a positive (kingdom) influence if he doesn’t love that person/nation. A flag is militant to some (the Japanese as I found out on 9/12 from the Japanese lady I was tutoring) but the flag is a symbol of the land that I love that God graced me to live in. My highest allegiance is to God but I do hold allegiance to my country as all people should to their nation. This should not be militant in any way. & I can’t imagine doing the pledge in church. The flag is a visual reminder to pray for her. We are one body but we still live in many nations. The beautiful, mystical bride of Christ.

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