Flag Extremism and Christian Practice

Flag Extremism
I suspect the wonderful fragrance of the product they make is lost on those working every day in a perfume factory. And the stench is eventually not noticed by those living on a pig farm. Excess is not recognized by people continually exposed to it. And flag extremism is not seen for what it is by Americans who have lived with it all their lives and think it is not unusual at all. This includes Christians who don’t give a thought to the excessively elevated place given to the national flag in the U.S.

It will come as a great surprise to most Americans to be told that while all other nations have a flag, none of them have anything like a Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. None of them focus on their flag in the words of their national anthem. None of them have a “Flag Day” holiday. None of them have an extensive official protocol for the display and treatment of their flag. In most other countries the national flag is found on government buildings but otherwise is not seen much.

But in America when it comes to the Stars and Stripes too much is never enough. So on Independence Day and other nationalistic holidays the flag is promoted more than ever. And Christian in lockstep fashion evangelistically push the flag. You find this in circulating emails. You can see it on Facebook and other social media sites. Pictures of the American flag are posted and “friends” are guilt-mongered into reposting the image. Other posts can be seen declaring how proud one friend or another is to stand with hand over heart and say, “I pledge allegiance to the flag…”  And then there are those posts complaining that the Pledge of Allegiance is not said often enough in school or… wherever.

Related: The Pledge of Allegiance – Two Reasons Christians Should NOT Say It — by Matt Young

And none of this seems at all excessive to those who do these things. Flag extremism is the norm. But why should it be so for Christians? Aren’t we a people of the cross? But many blend the cross and flag and end up with a god that looks suspiciously American.

I came across a little piece one July in a church newsletter entitled, “I Am the American Flag.” Written in first person, it glorified the flag in the strongest possible terms. This is a portion of it:

I am the flag of the United States of America. My name is old Glory. I fly atop the world’s tallest buildings. I stand watch in America’s halls of justice. I fly majestically over institutions of learning. I stand guard with power in the world. Look up and see me.

 

I stand for peace, honor, truth and justice. I stand for freedom. I am confident. I am arrogant. I am proud. When I am flown with my fellow banners, my head is a little higher, my colors a little truer.

 

I bow to no one! I am recognized all over the world. I am worshipped. I am saluted. I am loved. I am revered. I am respected and I am feared.

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When I saw this I was disgusted. This immoderate exaltation of the flag is nothing less than idolatrous. What does it say about a church that would distribute such a personified self-adulation of the American flag which claims, “I bow to no one….I am worshipped….I am revered”? No doubt those who chose to distribute this piece would deny it is contains anything that smacks of idolatry. How could they do otherwise? The fact is that the power of idolatry is best preserved by remaining unacknowledged.

Christians from other countries more clearly see the flag extremism for what it is and recognize the danger it contains.  Theologian Geiko Muller-Fahrenholz wrote that when he was young he came to America and served a church in Philadelphia. The senior minister and his family spent their vacation in Vermont at the family’s summer house. Every morning the grandfather would gather all the children together before the flagpole.

One of the children would be selected to hoist the flag. Standing in line with their right hands over their hearts, the rest saluted the American flag. Muller-Fahrenholz, a German who had knew how Christianity had been subverted by nationalism in his country, thought to himself, “This is how it begins.” In a wonderful home, in wholesome events, during important celebrations, the emotional connection to the flag is forged. In the process national pride is reinforced. It becomes something seen as natural, right and beyond question, indeed, holy.

Also by Craig: The Nationalistic Corruption of Worship in America

While I believe there is a form of patriotism that is benign and appropriate for Christians -and have written about it here- I find myself wary of much that is regarded as patriotic in America. So I won’t be saying any pledges to the flag on the Fourth of July or any other day. I won’t be hanging the flag outside my home. I won’t be praising the flag by singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

But I will be thankful for the good that can be found in America. I will continue praying for and working for the nation to become more just and peaceful. And I will also continue to remember that the United States is not the kingdom of God and it does not deserve my highest loyalty. I will remember that the scriptures declare, “Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales…Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth” (Psalm 40:15, 25).


Craig M. Watts is the minister of Royal Palm Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Coral Springs, Florida and Co-Moderator of Disciples Peace Fellowship. He authored the book Disciple of Peace: Alexander Campbell on Pacifism, Violence and the State (Doulos Christou Press: Indianapolis, 2005) and his essays have appeared in many journals such as Cross Currents, Encounter, the Otherside, DisciplesWorld and more. Craig blogs on the Disciples Peace Fellowship’s, “Shalom Vision.”

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  • Frank

    Christians often mistakenly idolize, make part of their identity and worship things like the flag, their money, their jobs, their sexuality, etc…. It’s all misplaced. The only identity we have is in Christ.

    • Daniel Olson

      I love it when we agree brother!!! LOL

      • Frank

        Me too! And I long for the day when we agree on other things as well. You’ll come around I hope. :)

  • bluecenterlight

    ” I fly atop the world’s tallest buildings.” I spend a lot (probably too much, Lord help me) on Pinterest. When you go through the architecture section you see amazing things being built, none of them here. Nations rise and fall, it is the natural progression of things, 500 years ago Sweden was a superpower. So what happens to a persons faith when it is inextricably tied to a country in decline? When God shakes everything that can be shaken, what will be left standing? I am with Frank, in Christ alone do I place my trust.

    • Daniel Olson

      Yes… I fear America will cannibalize itself long before Christ’s return. must keep my faith in Christ and The Kingdom of God.

  • dl

    Oops, that last verse is ISAIAH 40:15, 25…

  • Drew

    I appreciate that you take the 4th of July not to celebrate our country, thank our troops, or relax for a day and enjoy freedom, yet decide to condemn anyone that you deem to be “too patriotic.” While some of your examples cross the line (that poem is egregious), most of your examples are harmless. Instead of hi-jacking the 4th to set up a Pharisee legal system, I suggest relaxing a bit and having a good day, Craig.

    • Eric

      Nothing was said in the article that condemned anyone for being “too patriotic,” words you put in quotation marks which never appear in the piece. He is, however, challenging the flag fetish that is prevalent in America. The excessive flag-centric patriotism he objects to doesn’t honor Christ, not matter how well it gets blended with the cross. But he affirms the natural love of country as home. Dave, however is right. While Watts is right that other nations are not nearly so flag-centric as the U.S., several have something similar to Flag Day. far fewer have a flag pledge. He’s on the mark with the main point butunfortunately the factual errors weaken the piece.

    • nkcwu

      I’d think his idea of relaxing and enjoying a good day is through writing an article that challenges us to think over what we value. In this case, the lore and environment surrounding the United States flag. The fact that he might be a bit overboard with his rhetoric doesn’t mean he’s any less correct in pointing out what we might actually be doing.
      As for being a Pharisee, the closest to such a person is you.

      • Drew

        “I know you are but what am I” is Pee Wee Herman logic befitting of the pre-school crowd that it was intended for. I expect more out of you, nkcwu.

        “Well, he exaggerated, and he’s factually wrong on some points, but still, a great article!” Sorry, but the fact that he is overboard and incorrect with his rhetoric does detract from his point.

  • Dave Miller

    Craig, it is hard to take you seriously when you have such big flaws in your second paragraph. As a missionary serving in Mexico, I can attest to the facts that Mexico has a flag, a flag day, a pledge to the flag, and a ton of reverence both inside and outside of the evangelical church for the flag. At many VBS events around the country, you will see not only the pledge to the Christian flag, but to the Mexican flag as well with the familiar “Firmes, YA!”

    I am surprised you would make such a sweepingly broad and incorrect argument about such an important issue.

    • 22044

      As I noted in my above comment, patriotism will certainly be excessive, but Christians can appreciate the nation they live in, as a foreshadowing of appreciating the eternal nation we’ve been adopted into.
      Good comment, Dave.

    • Eric

      Actually, Mexico is an exception, mimicing her neighbor to the North. It will be tough to name another nation with a flag pledge. Watts over-stated his case by saying “none.”But generally he’s right. Sad to hear that American evangelicals are teaching bad, theologically unjustifiable habits to Mexican churches, pledging to any national flag in the context of church.

      • Frank

        Thats kind of insulting to Mexicans, that they cannot make their own decisions and instead take their cues from the US.

        • Eric

          So is it an insult to the rest of the world to say America has been mimiced in all sorts of other ways, many of them unfortunate? Are you actually prepared to say that American culture has not been exported in ways that have undercut local cultures. Give it a rest!

          • Frank

            In your desire to prove yourself right you leave a wake of unchristian like and erroneous statements. Wake up!

  • 22044

    Yes, celebrations and appreciation tend to be excessive. It’s one day out of the year.
    Earlier I enjoyed watching the Capital 4th presentation on PBS. Good music, interesting to see the crowd there enjoying themselves.
    Maybe folks aren’t moved to observe today in that fashion, but relaxation and tolerance will be more beneficial for them than proffering unneeded criticism.

  • cordobatim

    I appreciate much of the sentiment, but need to point out that, in Argentina at least, Flag Day is a much more important holiday than it is here: government shuts down, many businesses close, etc.

  • Vernxu

    Exalting a physical representation of the cross is also idolatry. And much more insidious.

  • SamHamilton

    Yes, that church newsletter is problematic.

  • Cajunsmama

    And then of course there is the “Patriot’s Bible”, by Zondervan. Nothing like getting a little dose of idolatry while studying the Scriptures. Truly sad that Christian marketers will cater to anything that might sell.

  • geraldkinen

    About Old Glory! The article wrote was missing some key ingredients of meaning of which reason ,We The People, Love the flag. Not because somebodies point of view wants to make it into an idol. It is not an idol! It is where we as free imperfect people are living under the protection of God almighty. ¨The overlooked point in the Constitution,¨ As it is written, And the pledge.of allegiance (Loyalty to a country , group etc. Webster dictionary).(To the Republic) Definition Webster Dictionary note 1,b (A government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them¨ and governing according to law.)¨Not to be confused with (Socialism) Meaning, Webster dictionary (note 2 a. A system of society or group living in which there is no private property.) Exactly like Obama care and the democratic party!¨”We Shall be, In legal terms as well with God The word ¨shall is a mandatory word, (One nation under God,) Indivisible (Meaning) Impossible to divide or separate, Webster dictionary. With (Liberty), meaning, Webster dictionary ( The state of condition in which people are able to Act and speak freely ) And (Justice) Meaning ,Webster Dictionary ( The process of result of using laws to fairly judge and punish crimes and criminals) That is why we solute the flag and our men and women of the armed forces have fought and died to protect her so we all can live under the flag of freedom. Old Glory, Not an idol!

    • Ben

      As a
      national emblem, the flag is far more associated with war than any other
      American symbol. The representations of liberty personified, the Liberty Bell,
      even the bald eagle is not associated with war and warriors nearly to the
      degree as the flag. No one is said to have died for the Liberty Bell but it is
      common to speak of soldiers who have “died for the flag.” While all national
      symbols are problematic when brought before the Christian community in worship,
      even more so is the flag because of its connections with war in the minds of
      Americans. And when there are conversations about removing the flag from
      sanctuaries where it has been displayed, one of the chief objections to doing
      so comes from people who claim the flag should remain to “honor those who died
      for it.” Little thought is given by these same people to what the church is saying by flying a
      banner to honor those who “courageously fought and died” while killing others
      who were not American who also “courageously fought and died,” and for who
      Christ died.

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