Friday, May 16, 2008

"Friendly" Fire (in the church of all places!)

A news report from DeLand, FL tells the story of threatening notes being left at church aimed at the church's pastor. "Resign or else" kind of notes. Sadly, the pastor has taken a "leave of absence" and taken his family, including young children, out of town for their safety.

His "crime"? He removed the US and "Christian" flags from his church auditorium.

Anyone who knows me knows that I bleed red, white and blue. I'm proud to be an American and not ashamed to say so. On Veterans Day and Memorial Day you'll likely find me participating in a municipal ceremony. We recognized our Veterans at church and thank them for their service in protecting our freedoms. We serve coffee in red, white and blue cups on July 4th weekends. That doesn't mean I'm always proud of my government, but I'm all for flag waving in the appropriate place.

I'm not sure church is that place.

The Body of Christ (ie. the church) is all about being the citizenry of another Kingdom. And when we come together to worship our allegiance is first to Christ. All other allegiances must be secondary. Unfortunately, in this country, too many of us, especially those of us who lean right (and I'm in that group) have equated patriotism and nationalism with godliness. If that be the case, what do you say to Chinese Christians who live in a country where their government outlaws the open expression of their faith? Should they fly the Chinese flag in their houses of worship? If nationalism and Christianity are inseparable, the answer would have to be "yes". Yet I somehow doubt that's an issue in China.

When did the display of US flags in churches become common place? Did our theology change after Betsy Ross said, "Here it is!"?

Having said that, I also believe that being Christian requires me to be a good citizen of the country of my residence. I vote (even in primaries!). I have a flag decal on my pick up truck! I pray for my leaders and for our military personnel in harm's way. My chest swells when fighter jets fly over. So if you choose to comment, please don't fashion me as some left winger. This isn't about patriotism. It's really about our concept of what it means to be a Christian.

And what of threatening your pastor for making a decision you don't like?

Oh yeah. Where did the "Christian flag" come from anyway? (Coney Island, 1897) Seems like the church survived somehow for 1900 years without it...

More later on that.


Matt said...

Nice post Rick. Here in France we would never think of flying a French flag in the church's building...

I think one of the problem that churches in the US have to deal with is the reality that there is a large portion of the population that is "Christian" and therefore this group can be treated as a political entity.

Recently we had a medical doctor from another church come and talk about Christian Ethics at the beginning of life. He talked about the sanctity of life and the how abortion is against God's will. But his message did not have a political edge to it. In France believers can't imagine a political solution to abortion. We just don't have the numbers. They'd say in an ideal world it would be outlawed but we aren't there. So responses have to be on the creative and constructive side.

In the States you have the blessing and the curse of being "able" to influence politics...

Here's a link to the Evangelical Manifesto that deals with some of the same issues in the US.



Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

Yes, the US devotion to their flag appears strange to British eyes. We fly our flags for various celebratory days, at half-mast on the death of a public figure, and, of course, wave them at international sporting events to cheer on our athletes, but we do not equate our flag with our country. "Saluting the flag", American-fashion, is totally unknown here. We might or might not have a "colour party" for, say, a Parade service, but that is rather a different issue.

Christy said...

My husband and I left a church over an issue like this one. It was on a Sunday that also happened to be July 4th. The worship service featured the local ROTC bringing the flags into the sanctuary and the "praise and worship" consisted of "God Bless America" and other patriotic songs. When the ROTC brought the flags in, they lowered the NC and Christian flags, leaving the American flag standing, for the congregation to say the Pledge of Allegience. Like you, we have no problems with saying the Pledge, but we will never pledge allegience to any flag higher than the Christian flag. The straw that broke the camel's back was when the pastor got up and talked about what a wonderful service it was and how "people can say whatever they want about this country, but it is the Promised Land." WHAT?! What Bible is he reading?

We left in the middle of the message and never returned.

The Pastor of a Small Rural Church said...

What a mature way to handle a disagreement with the pastor. What a pansy butt. I'm a pastor's wife and I just have to say, if you disagree with something my husband does, please be a man or woman and just tell him to his face. None of this note writing business. For petes sake, at least sign your name to it if you really can't come up with enough grit to approach your pastor.

As for the rest of what you wrote... I totally agree.


Lady Eli said...

If God is not allowed in government and we are taking God out the pledge of allegance in school, then why keep political flags in Church?

Bill and Peggy said...

Thanks Rick, I like what you had to say. I feel bad for the guy for having to leave, Christians often embarrass me with their behavior, especially in America. If you recall, you introduced me to Jerry Falwell back in the day, I won't judge his life but I don't agree with any political involvement in church, it is never the place. However, I do believe Pastors should have freedom of speech, just like everyone else. But, I do think their is a time and place for everything. As I sit in Baghdad, I cannot imagine an Iraqi flag being flown in an Iraqi Christian church, yes they do exist.

Anonymous said...

I've always wanted to ask someone a question somewhat about this, so here goes.

Why, as Christians, do we place our hands over our heart and "pledge allegiance" to a flag? Shouldn't we only pledge our allegiance to Christ? It's bothered me for many years, and I LOVE our country, I respect our flag, I vote in every election, support our troops, and am very proud to be an American. I just don't feel right pledging my loyalty to a flag.

What do you think?

~Leah in Alaska~

Andy Lawrenson said...

The flag issue doesn't bother me. The issue that bothers me is:
a. The note, I'm sick of the anonymous, and a "group of us feel" mentality. Where is the back bone and shouldn't we as believers put Matthew 18 into action if our beef is legit.
b. Notes with threats. Somehow I don't see that as Christ-like, or the actions of a true believer.
c. I'm tired of believers confusing tradition with the Word of God. Some traditions aren't Biblical so don't get your drawers in bundle when they are done away with.

Another member in that church that knows who wrote the note needs to put Matthew 18 into practice and do a little "house cleaning".

The Beaver Bunch said...

I really struggle when it comes to criticizing church staff members. I think often times, the congregation thinks that b/c they hold a "church title" that they have more of a direct line to God and should therefore be "Holier." Anyone who's spent any time with a pastor knows that although they are men of God (hopefully) they are far from perfect, just like everyone else that walks into the building.

I absolutely adore my pastor (and the rest of the staff...for the most part). Even when I don't like some of their actions, I look at the condition of their heart. Was it done out of love? Was it to glorify God? If I don't know these answers I ask. Usually, it doesn't get that far.

The flip side to that is that I continually pray for our pastors. I know that they need it and it is my small way of doing my part as a member of the congregation. Plus, I get joy out of it as well when I hear/see a powerful sermon, song, event. I know that thru my prayers I contributed, and for that, I am blessed.

The Beaver Bunch said...

I also just wanted to say that I don't necessarily think all pastors are wonderful. And some certainly need to be challenged in their practices. I am simply speaking of MY pastor and staff.

terri c said...

I like this post and I think it is not too strong to say that when patriotism becomes blind and becomes mixed up with love of God, it can be idolatry. For too long in our history in the US that has happened, and folks have somehow come to believe that the interests of the US are the same as the interests of God. That *is* dangerous, and it seems important that we remind ourselves that being a Christian stands above being a citizen regardless how good a country is.

KaraP said...

As the wife of a Marine and the daughter of a Air Force MSGT, I feel compelled to respond. I understand that you felt compelled to leave because the flags were lowered or dipped. But according to proper flag etiquette, the US flag should never be dipped to any person or thing. No flag should be placed(flown) above it.

The flag is not displayed in our church sanctuary unless there is a military or police funeral.

I look at the threats this way, as much as we don't like it, the church is a microcosm of society. The parts we like and the parts we don't. I believe as a country we have become far too politcally correct. Save the feelings of a few to the detriment of the many. It is the way of life that we live today.

Rick Lawrenson said...

It is true, proper flag etiquette is that no flag on US soil can be higher than the US flag.

But doesn't the church have an even higher standard of "etiquette"? And isn't there a mention in our Constitution that the church is free from government control?

So, should a flag displayed in a church representing the Christian faith be lowered beneath the flag of any nation?


KaraP said...


I was addressing Christy regarding the ROTC unit and the fact that they dipped the other flags. They are trained according to the military standard, not according to a church standard.

If you have an issue with it, don't invite an ROTC unit or a military unit to present the colors. The same would happen with a boy scout troop, I believe.

I don't believe it is government control, it's a breach of etiquette. And, while Christy was offended by the Christian flag being dipped and not the US, I would be offended by the etiquette not being followed. Same as it offends me to see people flying the flag improperly, upside down, burning it, stomping on it. But my dad and my husband fought for their right to do that as a "free speech."

Rick Lawrenson said...

I don't believe I said I had an issue with it. Just asking some questions...

And if you read my post carefully you'll see that I even question such a thing as a "Christian flag".

Another question: who controls flag etiquette, if not the government? Then if it is the government who decides what proper flag etiquette should be (and I have no problem with that), and a government etiquette prevails in a worship service....?

Just questions.