By Jesse Medina
For many of us, whether we would express it this way or not, America is (or close to) a Christian nation. It is true that many of our foundational values as a nation, as expressed in the Constitution and elsewhere, appealed to Christian principles.
Ideas like inherent value, equal rights, freedom of religion (whether for or against Christianity), etc. – these are ideas that we hear about in church in varying degrees. There are also campaigns, of sorts, being led by some Christians who genuinely believe and/or want America to be a Christian nation because they are convinced that if we could convince others of this, then many of the problems plaguing our nation (divorce, abortion, homosexual agendas, etc) would be fixed.
This belief in a Christian nation is further sealed in our hearts by the Pledge of Allegiance:
I pledge allegiance to the flag
Of the United States of America
And to the Republic for which it stands
One nation, under God, indivisible
With liberty and justice for all
Liberty, justice, indivisibility… all under God? While many of us would agree that to be a patriot does not necessarily cause one to be a Christian, it is almost considered blasphemous to consider that a Christian living in America may not be very patriotic. Many of our churches, in fact, are led by former military men and women whether as clergy or lay people.
The American qualities present within Christianity are particularly emphasized on the Fourth of July weekend. For example, at my church over the past weekend, there was a man dressed in full military garb who gave a short speech about why he serves his country, how he loves his country, how he is thankful not just to enjoy his freedoms, but to fight so that others might do the same — it was an inspiring speech. To conclude his speech, he led the congregation in the pledge of allegiance, him saluting the flags onstage and the congregation holding their hands over their hearts, hats removed (it was an outside service), pledging their allegiance to a flag, a country. Pledging allegiance to a country… in the middle of a service designed to honor God.
I know it may not be popular to do so, and I know that there are many who would disagree with me, but saying the pledge of allegiance in a church service is idolatry – worshiping someone, or something else, when we should be worshiping God.
Its not that I am against the pledge of allegiance altogether; in fact, I think it to be a great and valuable resource to the American people. I say it now and again myself, depending on the circumstances. But we need to take a serious, reverent pause before we consider saying the pledge of allegiance during our worship services. Such an act, while it may not seem like a big deal, is a huge deal. Perhaps, even, the fact that it seems so small is what makes it a big deal – when we treat God and his presence as something trite, normal, or trivial, we are putting ourselves into a very dangerous position with Him as we are prone to abuse the very one we are meeting to experience and glorify.
I want us to imagine how Jesus might have responded if the Jews of his day had been pledging their allegiance to Rome in the midst of their sacrificing in the temple. I can’t imagine he would have allowed them to compartmentalize the two; even had Rome had an “under God” clause in it (by the way, in case you were unaware, the words “under God” were not added to the pledge of allegiance until the 1950’s — see more here). Or perhaps we should consider how God might feel if we replaced “flag” and “nation” with “currency” and “wealth” – no that’s too stark a difference in our minds. How about we replace “flag” and “nation” with “denomination” and “beliefs”? Now we’re getting a little uncomfortable, aren’t we?
I want to make something clear: I’m not advocating for an anarchist mindset or one where we become disrespectful of our history, our nation, or those who sacrifice so much to protect our freedoms. We should vow to our nation, promising to sacrifice for her. We should be thankful for those who have sacrificed on our behalf. We should even, dare I say, celebrate our nation’s birthday – but when it comes to pledging allegiance in a church service, that should be reserved for God.
The reason is simple: pledging allegiance to the State in the same breath that we are worshiping God leads to a conflict of interest. What happens, for example, when keeping our allegiance to the State results in being in opposition to God? What happens when our commitment to Christ necessitates a forsaking of our nation? It is all too easy to assume that we would be willing to make the hard decision, but more likely we’ll attempt to walk the middle line and thus compromise both our allegiance to our nation, and our commitment to God resulting in a lukewarm patriotism and a lukewarm faith.
Further, when any symbol is compared to, set aside as equal to, or pledged allegiance to when a cross – the very instrument that was used crucify the god-man who died a brutal death so that we might not suffer the punishment for our sins -is in the room, we have problems.
Church leaders: leave the pledge of allegiance out of your services. Everyone else: next time your church starts the pledge, exercise your freedom, and remain silent. If you are going to err, err on the side of devotion to God.
What do you think: Is there a line between patriotism and idolatry? Should we be reciting the pledge of allegiance in church?
Jesse is a twenty-something married guy living in Colorado who is trying to figure out what it means to follow Christ in the twenty-first century. He is finding that there is no one way to be Christian, no single belief system, no single Bible interpretive method. Faith is too messy for that. You can read more of his thoughts at his blog, Balancing Tension.