Why Having an American Flag in Church is a Bad Idea

Travis wrote the following on his blog, Living as a foreigner . To comment and read his original post Click here.

This caught my eye while browsing my blog/news subscriptions today and so I thought I’d share it:

Shared by TravisM

I have to agree, American flags in churches (particularly ones up on the platforms, alters, or anywhere prominent in the worship environment) are so strange to me – Glad that where I worship doesn’t have one where we worship (just out front).

Note this is a shared article, not written by me, follow the links below to access the real article and comment.

Now I wrote this a few years ago (October 8, 2007), but I often think about it. I wrote it on a myspace blog back when myspace was the thing to have. I was writing a paper about patriotism and went back and found it, and thought it was worth reposting here.

I heard a story about an interview a Native American activist gave a few years ago. When asked, “What would you like this country to do for you and your people?” he answered, “Well, one small thing the government could do for us is to return Mount Rushmore to the state in which they found it.” The interviewer was shocked, unsure how a seemingly innocent symbol like Mount Rushmore would make a difference to the Native American way of life. The activist continued, “It would be a start, a small thing, but a start. You can imagine how humiliating it is for us to have had one of our sacred mountains defaced with the images of some of the bloodiest leaders in history– Roosevelt, Washington, Jefferson, and a man like Lincoln. It’s bad for our children to look up and see those images carved into stone. Some of them might take them as examples they ought to follow. What if some of our children grew up to be like Jefferson?”

This man lived by a story in which a monument like Mount Rushmore had very different implications than for the average American who had been told a story in which those four men were heroes. The community of Native Americans that he was a part of shaped his identity so much that he looked at the world around him with different eyes, seeing a different “real.”

If someone was to ask me the question, knowing I am an “activist” (or disciple” of Christ, “What would you like the church to do for you and your people?” I would answer, “Well, one small thing the church could do for us is to return the American flag to the place from which it came from.” At my interviewer’s shock and curiousity as to what that had to do with my identity in Christ, I would continue, “It would be a start, a small thing, but a start. You can imagine how confusing it is for us to have both the symbol of this country and the symbol of the Christian faith side by side on the platform of the church. It is almost as if the church is suggesting that the Lordship and power of Jesus Christ is equal to, or at least not opposing to, the lordship and power the American empire has. Yet the only way the American empire has gained its power and its citizens’ allegience is through violence and war. Christ came and taught us that we have much more powerful weapons than war. It’s bad for our children to look up and see those images next to each other, as if they were not in opposition. Some of them might take up the way of the American flag as the example they ought to follow. What if some of our children grew up thinking that violence is what brings true power?”

I live by a story in which a symbol like the American flag has very different implications than for the American who does not know Christ. When I see the American flag inside a church next to the cross, at the very least I see an out-dated obsession of clinging to the idea of a Constantinian Christian Nation. As the idea of postmodernity spreads, however, crashing down that ideal, it is a very exciting opportunity for the church. No longer do we have the option of successfully changing this nation “Christian” through laws and customs that do not require each individual to die and be reborn. Now we have the chance to focus on “being church,” identifying ourselves with the truthful story of the Gospel.

The American flag confuses our commitment to that truthful Christian story.  Nations and empires derive their authority from promising to do good for us if we will behave as cooperative citizens. As Christians, we submit to the truthful authority of Jesus Christ. It is by focusing on his truthfulness and forming a community that submits to his authority that we shape how we live and speak and act in this world.

One can only act in a world she can see, and one can only see by learning to say. The church’s language is a language that requires the self to be transformed to be part of that language. The presence of the American flag in our church is not a sign of transformation or of understanding the true enemy of the cross. It is not a commitment to the peculiarity of our story, and does not explain that it is through that story that we see the world for what it really is. It is a sign of defeat, sicne we have been domesticated and convinced that the nation we live in is really not all that different from the Kingdom of Heaven, and that they both stand for the same values. This fails to acknowledge that honor, courage, fidelity, and love have no meaning apart from Christ.

I relate to the Native American activist. I have no real expectation that my request will be carried out or even given much attention. Yet I make the request nonetheless, knowing that my silence would be unfaithful to the story I align myself with.

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