Pledge of Allegiance in Church = Idolatry?

22 thoughts on “Pledge of Allegiance in Church = Idolatry?”

  1. My father had the American flag removed from the altar space at his Baptist Church where he attends, because he felt like it was wrong to have such a strong symbol in a place where we are supposed to be focused on the worship of God . . . for the very same reasons you sited here he convinced the deacons to have it removed or at least moved to the hall or back of the church.

  2. I find that there is a tension to this issue. Certainly, there is the duty of a Christian to obey the authorities that have been placed over him or her (see Romans 13). However, there is also the example of the early Church defying political and religious regulations, because it conflicted with what God was telling them to do.

    Personally, I find it unnecessary to have an American flag on a church altar, but I also have a compassion and concern for soldier fighting overseas. I know that these experiences can be tragic and difficult, and the last thing I want is for American soldiers to feel unappreciated, or even hated, by American Christians.

    And yet, Christ-followers must not merely agree with every political action that America takes (especially if it doesn”t line up with the ethics of the kingdom of God), but we must learn to disagree respectfully and lovingly.

    As my pastor would say, there”s nothing wrong with being patriotic, but we just need to remember that America is not our kingdom.

  3. I”d like to contest the fact that freedom of religion is a Christian ideal. Jesus commanded people to follow him or face eternal damnation. Early Christians as early as the fourth century began to build animosity against Jews and a pagan state on religious grounds. Constantine mandated (not suggested) the Christian faith throughout the Roman Empire. The catholic church he set up persecuted people on the grounds of (or under the guise of) belief throughout some of Christianity”s darkest times (crusades, inquisition), and then heroic reformers like Luther, Zwingli and Calvin led people away from that church and then started persecuting people in their own provinces who clung to their old ways. In the New World, half of New England was formed because of the cleaving of religious dissenters from mainstream society. If you say freedom of religion is a Christian ideal, it is surely a recent development. Though even now, the amalgamation of patriotism and faith has led us to be more suspicious than ever in regards to other faiths with national identities in conflict with our own. This “holy nationalism” is bad for both faith and state.

  4. I plan on opening a talk I am doing for some teens next week with the following story. A man is walking in Rogers Park (a rough neighborhood in Chicago) and is mugged, beaten, and left for dead. An alderman walks by seeing the man crosses the street and decides to contact the police cheif about increasing the beat in the area. Later as the man sill lies there a negihborhood pastor walks by. Seeing the bloodied man he crosses the street, and commits to hold a candlelight vigil for the healing of the neighborhood. Finally a young islamic man sees the bloodied body, picks him up and carries him the three blocks to a nearby hospital… Of course we instantly recognize it as the Good Samaritan, but with our own nationalism worked into it.

    We must always be wary of anyone who thinks that the voice of God and the voice of the nation are the same. The Psalms remind us that the nations (our included) are the dust on God”s scales. I would not want to ever worship dust in the presence of God.

    I think Jeff”s pastor has it most right!

  5. I totally appreciate the thoughts on idolatry. I think that we have left behind talk of idolatry in the past, as though it is something that only Baal worshippers had to worry about.

    However, a couple of points where I have a different view.

    Worship is not just something we do on Sundays. We offer up our lives as living sacrifices every day, Romans 12:1, in everything we do, Col. 3:17, whether to the one true God, or to other gods (like self, for instance). We can worship other gods (idolatry) in even our smallest actions and thoughts every day. In fact, we commit idolatry like that so much more than in “official” ways.

    So if it is idolatry to say the pledge in church service on Sunday, then it is idolatry to say it any other time and place. But I maintain that it is not idolatry.

    Allegiance to a nation and allegiance to God are not mutually exclusive. In fact, in the United States it is recognized that citizens of other countries reside in the U.S. have a dual allegiance. The only sticking point is that in the case that there is a conflict, U.S. law says that allegiance to the U.S. trumps allegiance to the other state. At any rate, in Acts we have support for civil disobedience in that case, “we must obey God rather than man”. But we are blessed to live in a country where there is usually not any conflict. In those cases, God does want us to have allegiance to our own country: obey the laws, don”t commit treason, etc.

  6. I could not agree more, Jesse.

    I take it a step further and choose (in ALMOST every case) to refrain from saying the pledge of allegiance at all. I understand that it is part of our national heritage and all that, but it certainly is idolatry.

    Admittedly, I “pledge” my allegiance to different gods on a daily basis through my actions, but this particular act seems pretty blatant in placing it before God. And it is one that I can easily remedy by just refraining. Great post.

  7. Thank you all for your comments and challenging thoughts. Shall we continue the discussion?

    Jeff – Surely there is tension to this issue. Especially for those of us who have served in the military or have military family – it is an issue that is very close to home. I want to emphasize again that I am very thankful for their service and do not write this article out of any sort of disrespect whatsoever. I do feel, however, that in the context of a worship service our allegiance and devotion should go to God alone – anything else seems…wrong, or at least disrespectful to God. Imagine how it might be perceived for one of the President”s children to pledge their allegiance to another country while sleeping in the White House – it just doesn”t seem like they quite appreciate their American-ness and status as daughters of the President, does it?

    Josh – Allow me to clarify what I mean when I say that freedom of religion is a Christian ideal. You”re right, the history of Christendom has seen many abuses and many “holy wars,” instances where Christians were forcing their religions on others or face punishment, even death. I do not deny that fact. However, I do dispute the idea that such actions were/are sanctioned by Christ. Free will is inherent in the Gospel message. God wants us to choose him, make no mistake, but he will not force himself upon anyone. Any attempt by his followers to do otherwise should be denounced as anything but Christian – Constantine, the Crusaders and any other historical Christian figure. This is what I am referring to when I say freedom of religion. Sorry for any confusion.

    Kevin – Great story for the teens – I have imagined similar scenarios with the Great Samaritan parable in an attempt to bring it home. Good work…let me know how it goes!

    Tom – You are right, worship is not something we just on Sundays, it is the entirety of our lives. That said, worship, while it may be encompassed within the “everything” of our lives, is also a deliberate action confined to a specific space and time. The obvious analogy is a marriage – everything you do shows your love to your wife from cleaning the dishes to complimenting her hair, but love is also those quality times spent with just her where you make it a point to tell her the things you don”t normally tell her, but actually do believe. I hope that makes sense, I”m trying to be brief, but concise.

    To address your other point, you”re right, devotion to God and allegiance to God are not necessarily mutually exclusive. However, I take issue with you on one point: simply because we have the freedom of religion in America, does not mean that nationalism is not vying for our worship. There are, as you pointed out, many idols we allow into our lives and they take many forms: from the “bad” like money and sex to the “good” like family and community – I see nationalism as a similar potential idol and see any pledge to the allegiance thereof, particular in a time and place that is reserved solely for God, as borderline (if not flagrant) idolatry.

    Looking forward to your responses!

  8. I agree that it”s not true that nationalism is not also vying for our worship. (sorry for the double negative!) I see idolatry as a matter of the heart. So we do have to examine our heart when we are doing things like saying the pledge of allegiance. By the same token we also need to examine our heart when we are signing a contract to work for someone, and even when we say “I do” at our wedding. But all three of these commitments can be placed under the authority of Jesus.

  9. Jesse, THANK YOU for writing this. It is a subject close to my heart, ever since my church started adding the pledge to both the American flag and the Christian flag to every Sunday morning service. I am so torn. I am there to worship God and pledge my allegiance to Him above all other things, and my country or some flags representing ideas are not even a close second. It is not about lack of love for my country…my son is a soldier and others in my family have served as well…I do believe in service to country.

    Yes, worship should be always and not just on Sunday morning. But just in that one little space of my week I would strongly prefer not to tear my attention away from the Lord to cheerlead for the USA. Still, I find myself standing and mumbling resentfully through the pledge every service, because my protesting would probably run someone else off the rails…or at least that is what I tell myself.

    No simple answers. Still, it is good to read someone else who feels the same way. Thanks for making me feel a bit less alone in this.

  10. In 10 th grade I stopped saying the pledge of allegience….because I felt spiritually uncomfortable (“un-churched”) doing so. Haven”t said it since….(and I”m 62!) Last Sunday, visiting a church (to review it for networking purposes as a street evangelist)….the pastor asked everyone to stand and say it. I remained seated and closed my eyes. (Period.)

  11. P.S. to my previous post – I printed this article (and all Readers” Comments). Made copies. Mailed one to pastor I referred to. Will do same to other pastors who require pledge. This is fun!

  12. It seems to me that this is not an issue about being unwilling to place ourselves on the side of our own country (as opposed to some other country).

    Although for some maybe that”s an issue. Those people would not do things such as say the pledge ANYWHERE at ANYTIME, not just in church. I maintain they have a wrong idea of what the pledge is SUPPOSED to be. But if they truly in their heart think that it is denying God then they should refrain, of course.

    However, I think that the core issue here, for Jesse and others, is that they are unhappy about it being a part of their church”s ritual. The issue in that case is the institutionalization of things in the church. (my bias here is that I do not attend an institutional church) When a church has some kind of ritual that everyone is “expected” to do, then the implication can be that if you don”t then your heart is not in unity with God. (I can understand why such a thing would certainly be a distraction from setting our hearts on God during a church service!) This is especially the case with the pledge. When the pledge of allegiance is brought into the church, then the associated expectations are also brought in. So I can see that part of Jesse”s point. However, this can be a problem with ANYTHING that we bring in and hold up as a litmus test of our heart (or a litmus test of IDOLATRY!). That is legalism. What matters is our heart itself.

  13. I”ve thought this myself and I agree. Just wanted make a correction on the pledge. There isn”t a common between ”one nation under God.” Its often recited with a pause there, but there isn”t a common. Thanks for some great point of view!
    John

  14. Well, I have to respectfully disagree,and let me tell you why. I look at that as showing honor and respect. Not worshiping. Big difference. They took some time out (appropriately enough that it was the 4th of July) to recognize the brave men and women, and to give thanks for our freedom. Now if that happened every week…then we would have an issue. I liken it to anytime someone in your church getting a special award or recognition. We are not worshiping them, just acknowledging them. I think most of the people in church should be worried about much greater things than showing respect and acknowledging our country and it”s fighting soldiers on the appropriate day of our freedom. Like if the person next to them know they got drunk last night, or maybe someone might find out that he is having an affair with the girl three rows up! If they hinge their belief that loosely to where a service like that is considered idolatry then they aren”t focused on what the rest of the service is about. Sad that that”s what they remember from that service. Sorry, but i have to respectfully disagree. It”s like if a pastor says “pissed off” in a sermon, and everything else is spot on from the Bible, and the only thing they remember and complain about is that he said “pissed off” Thanks for the article though.

    Steve

  15. Alright, It”s been too long since I”ve posted on here and I suppose this would be a good one to get my feet wet in, seeing as how this is a very close to home issue. My step-father is a former U.S. Marine and this topic has caused many a flare up by him. I firmly believe that support of any militaristic ideals is against the teachings of Jesus. That said, I do not hate the troops, my closest friend is enlisted and I still love him to death. But I can not support the cause he fights for. I”ve studied military practices and this nation”s history too closely to believe that it is for the greater good of all God”s children.

    ”under God” wasn”t added until the 1950”s because in the era of the Cold War, having God on our side meant God wasn”t on the gosh dern Commies” side.

    The fact that we pledge allegiance to a country but try to justify it as a country that is under God is so confusing. Seeing as how the only ”nation” ever to be truly ”under God” in the bible was Israel.

    Also, even though the founding father”s principles may be aimed towards good morals, greater good, and christian ideals. It was not founded on Christianity.

    “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”- Treaty of Tripoli, Article 11

    This topic is highly disputed but that”s my stand on it.

    Also, the fact that a soldier can say he fights for God and Country is way too messed up. We fight for God by showing unconditional love and compassion, you fight for country with a rifle in your hands.

    “I know men and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creation of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for Him.” ?Napoleon

    How can a country founded upon force for the freedom of import tax from England say it is also fighting for God….

    Idk… this comment probably sounds like more of a rant. But I think I needed it. sry about that….

  16. Andy,

    Good comments. I agree with what you said about the country not being founded on Christianity. The philosophical climate at the time was one that attempted to have the moral convictions of orthodox Christianity based on “natural” observations, living of the borrowed capital of hundreds of years of moral reflection but acting like they had just discovered it.

    In my personal reflections I have come to a point where I no longer believe in the fundamentalist (or perhaps, gnostic) dualism that is only capable of seeing the world in black or white through American democratic moral ideals. We have tried for so long to prove that we are democratic to people who are heirs of the Enlightenment and explicitly rejected the revealed word (and Word) of God that we never even question whether democracy is really God”s best political system.

    I have come to the conclusion (tentatively) that God is not at all concerned with upholding our political rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. He calls out to us that He is life, in Him is liberty, and that happiness can be found nowhere else. To that end, as individual citizens, we are to “turn the other cheek.”

    But Paul explicitly states that governments are there to enforce laws as God”s emissaries. They might be morally corrupt, and their laws may not be perfectly just, but the expectation that such a scenario is possible this side of heaven is just another Enlightenment bias that is found nowhere in Scripture. God has given these governments the duty to protect their citizens and to stamp out injustice. Often this gets mixed up with WMD and personal vendettas, but when I saw the stories of how Saddam executed people in droves and dumped them in mass graves I, with trembling heart and much trepidation, thanked God for his terrible mercy to the Iraqi”s. It doesn”t mean that all the other stuff that surrounded the war and our plans to turn them into Westerners is right, but Saddam was a bad dude.

  17. Amen to that, Tom! It”s one thing to have a discussion about whether or not our particular country is following God (IMO, an overly-complicated discussion when it”s already complicated to talk about whether an individual is following God!). But that is beside the point of whether to have allegiance to your own country (as opposed to another country). The way I see it is this: *God* is the one who sets up authority (emissaries as you put it Tom). Every single person on this planet IS under the authority of the government, of some particular country. By pledging our allegiance we are SIMPLY acknowledging that, the fact about what God has set up. We are saying, I acknowledge that I am under the authority of the United States and I am willing to be under that authority (and suffer the consequences if I disobey, including civil disobedience). Or if we are under the authority of Iraq and we say a pledge of allegiance to Iraq, then we are saying we are under the authority of Iraq, and not the United States. No matter what country God has put us under the authority of, God wants us to acknowledge and be subject to that authority, but we do have the free will to refuse to acknowledge that (for example, in our hearts we could be refusing that authority by not saying the pledge, but remember it is a matter of the heart), but by refusing to acknowledge that authority we are refusing to acknowledge something that God has set up.

  18. I live in Japan, which has a rightwing that wants “Japan” to be “Shinto” in the same way that many Americans want “America” to be “Christian”. I honestly wish every American Christian on the “right” could spend a year living in such a country, a “non-Christian” country with a different dominant religion (or even a different *state* religion).

    I think back on how things were for the first couple centuries of Christians living in the Roman Empire, or at best, in a Jewish culture that was often hostile towards the new sect following Jesus. Almost all of the apostles went out into “non-Christian” nations and died in those nations. They took their lights into the darkness as Christ called us to.

    But don’t we American Christians tend to try and hoard our lights in one land and make it “a Christian nation”? And then we get really upset when someone dares to suggest that our loyalties to Christ and nation should be separate?

    I think of the cross of Jesus Christ and all it means. The absolute, holy, perfect Creator God. He loved the unloveable. The Clean came among the Unclean. The only deserving One came and gave His life to the undeserving. Grace. He came and died for us. He loved the wicked. Mercy came instead of judgment. He loved the outcast. He loved the sinners. He loved His enemies. He died for them all, both worthy and unworthy (and all are unworthy). Grace.

    Is *THAT* what the United States is about? Is the USA founded on the cross? Founded on GRACE?? Founded on Christ’s finished work of atonement? Founded on His agape love?

    If we focus just on the “name” of Christ and the laws of the old covenant, we can maybe convince ourselves that such things are “Christianity” and as such we have “a Christian nation”. But wow, where is the CROSS? Where is GRACE? Where AGAPE love? You can’t quite found a nation on those things. Not an earthly nation, anyway. That’s why He said His kingdom is not of this world.

    And, hallelu Yah, that is why His kingdom can penetrate, flourish, thrive and survive in *ANY* nation on earth — no matter what the state religion may be!

    Time to let the Cross of Grace break up the proud ground in our hearts! (A picture I did of that: http://art-for-jesus.blogspot.com/2008/10/praying-for-america.html)

  19. I strongly recommend reading the following:

    “The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church” by Gregory Boyd
    “Jesus for President” by Shane Claiborne
    “Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World” by Lee Camp
    “Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder” by Richard Horsley

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