Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Flags in the Sanctuary

** I fully recognize that some people, perhaps even some of the seven people who read this blog, will disagree with me. I respect, and even appreciate, disagreements ~ provided that the way we deal with our disagreements is appropriate and respectful. **

I've been thinking for the past few days about allegiances. This does not come as a surprise to me, since we've just recognized Independence Day. The reality that this year July 4 fell on a Sunday brought about more of my own reflection than previous years had. Plus, I've never had a blog before this year ... maybe that's why I feel compelled to write something.

I'm not comfortable with the national flag in the sanctuary. In fact, I'm not comfortable with so-called 'Christian' flag (or any other flag for that matter) in the sanctuary. Don't misunderstand ~ I love that I live in this nation; I believe these United States of America may hold the key to global peace and prosperity, and to equality and justice for everyone in the world; I believe there is enough right about who we are as a nation for us to be able to responsibly address the things that are wrong; this is my home, and I am proud to be here. Further, I am proud to see the flag of our nation flying prominently in most places. The flag belongs on public properties, outside people's homes (if they desire), on school grounds, on the uniforms of public servants, and in many other locations.

The flag, however, does not belong in church sanctuaries. When we place something in the sanctuary, we are saying, intentionally or not, that the thing we place there is important to our worship. For instance, the pulpit is important to our worship ~ it's the location from which the Word is proclaimed. The microphone on the pulpit and on the leaders' lapels are important to our worship ~ they allow people who couldn't otherwise to hear and participate in worship. The paraments are important to worship ~ they beautify the worship space, and they remind us of where we are in the church year and of the different ways that G-d meets us through the year. Even the music stands are important to worship ~ they hold the sheet music to which the musicians refer as they play or sing to the glory of G-d (and when they are not in use, they are put away).

The flag, on the other hand, is not important to our worship. The flag of our nation is absolutely important, but not to our worship, and to have the flag located in the sanctuary is to confuse our allegiance. At church, we pledge allegiance neither to the flag nor to the nation for which it stands. Our allegiance is to the living G-d of all creation, not just of this one nation. The church (in this country) is not related or connected to the state. The state does not have any influence over or say in what the church has to say. However, to locate the flag in a church sanctuary indicates to those who enter that there is some connection between our worship and our nation. We certainly can recognize that we are blessed by G-d, and perhaps that we are uniquely blessed as a nation. But we most certainly are not blessed exclusively or in greater measure than any other nation. In the words of the sarcastic lutheran, I don't believe that we have most-favored-nation status in the eyes of the Almighty. To place the flag in the sanctuary, in my mind, implies that we believe we do.

Thinking of this issue makes me think also about the question of whether USAmerica is a Christian nation. There certainly are many people who would like for this to be a stridently Christian nation. The evidence is that most of the founders of the nation were, at least nominally, Christian. However, the founders made it a point to establish (what is commonly known as) the separation of church and state. Even if they had been faithful, committed, evangelical Christians, they recognized the necessity for the church to not be in control of the government, and for the government to be required to leave church alone. This separation necessarily requires us to not be a Christian nation.

Further, if USAmerica was tied in any way to the church, the church would be weakened. Perhaps the church (assuming a unified church, which will never happen (see, for instance, Paul's disagreements with Peter and the others)) would have more political power, have more say in policy-making.

But the church is not called to positions of power. The church is called to care for the widows and orphans, to recognize the marginalized, to work for mercy on behalf of all people without regard to affiliation (political, religious, national, etc.), and if the church is in a position of power, it cannot do this well. In fact, I even go so far as to rejoice that soccer games are on Wednesday nights, stores are open on Sunday mornings, and that there's a general societal disregard for the church's schedule. We can build a more faithful community, and speak a more prophetic word, if we have had to make a tougher and more meaningful choice to be part of a faith community.

I have no problem expressing allegiance to a nation, especially to a nation that uses its resources for the betterment of the nation's citizenry, and then for the betterment of the world. But when allegiance to nation takes precedence over, or gets conflated with, allegiance to G-d (flags in the sanctuary, for instance), my allegiance to G-d comes first. Allegiance to G-d doesn't diminish my allegiance to nation, but allegiance to nation will always be less than allegiance to G-d. I rejoice to see the flag flying; but when I kneel in worship, it's not before the flag, but at the foot of the cross.



  1. I had never thought of that but I think you are right, so thanks for that. I do love the hymn "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord..." Don't think there's a flag or country reference there, but I'm not sure either...

  2. Great post and well thought-out justifications for your position. I whole-heartedly agree with you (and have now for quite some time).

    The challenge of course, is repeating this over and over again to your congregation in a way that doesn't offend their patriotism or dismisses their contribution (e.g., having a son die in combat). To that I say, "Good luck!" I know many a minister who has gotten in a world of trouble over this very issue.

  3. Beautifully laid out ... thank you for your $.02.