Revisiting the Christian and State Relationship.

Archive for the ‘national flag’ Category

My second July 4 as a Christian anarchist

Today is my second fourth of July as a Christian anarchist. How does it feel?

I used to experience a great sense of pride and identification with my nation of birth. When television stations signed off early in the morning, they played the national anthem of the United States. Purple mountain majesties, flowing waves of grain, old glory flying on the wind, the martial roll of the drum; all these I robed myself in. With my righteous nation I was one. She was heroic and my ancestors died to defend her freedoms. It might not be perfect but it was America.

But we are all (hopefully) on a journey to increasing self-awareness. The more one learns of history, the more one sees beyond the propaganda of one’s youth. I have learned many things about the nation of my birth that I was not previously clear about. Now I can see her as not the innocent and righteous lady, but as a machine for the imposition of totalitarianism. Did her founding fathers so intend her? I think not. Do her current custodians so intend her? Again, I think not. Is it going to happen anyway? We will see.

The band Styx had a 1970s song titled “Suite Madam Blue.” The last lines of the lyrics were:

Red, white and blue
Gaze in your looking glass
You’re not a child anymore
Red, white and blue
The future is all but past
So lift up your heart
And make a new start
And lead us away from here

I would like that. But I do not think it will happen. As a Christian I pray daily for those recognized as persons in authority. I pray for their conversion, and that we will be able to live a quiet and peaceable life. But I believe that we are in for different times.

The confidence of many people in the state is low. Some older generation Americans seem oblivious but many of the young are alert and unsure where things will land. This is not something that can be patched up. Old wineskins are full of holes. I perceive extraordinary change coming.

Centuries ago people fought for holy causes. More recently, people die for the nation-state. But the internet is showing us all our blemishes. Every incident of police brutality, excess, or torturous tasering or pepper-spraying is an argument against granting the state coercive power.

I do not believe that the state as presently constituted will long survive. Either we will lose the freedom of the internet or the state will collapse. We will not have both.Nor are there guarantees that the (very likely) next iteration of nation-state will be any improvement over this. But we will see.

This July four I feel nothing. As I look at the flags rippling in the summer wind, I do not feel betrayal, or even anger. I think that I did last summer. I do not now. Now I see through the illusion. I appreciate the vision even as I see it as unrealistic. The future likely holds secession, economic hardship, and mayhem. Debts will be repudiated. Larger states like the USA will go the way of the USSR. I ask myself what is ahead, and recognize that I can trust in God but not much else. Independence day? Rather, illusion day. May God help us; there is no help in man. This does not mean I feel cynical or wounded, but that I am ready for the lightening to strike. I am braced for it. Time will tell.

The flag salute declined

We respectfully decline

We mean no harm, disrespect, or injustice to persons or nations. We follow the Bible plan of living quietly and peacably with all men, praying for those in authority, and seeking holiness (Isaiah 32:17; Lamentations 3:26; 1 Thessalonians 4:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:12; 1 Timothy 2:2; Hebrews 12:14; 1 Peter 3:4). To human persons and nations we grant our respect but not our worship. We deeply appreciate the liberties recognized in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. However, we cannot in good conscience pledge allegiance to the flag or participate in the flag salute.

Beginning and development of the Pledge

The pledge was never spoken by George Washington (d. 1797), Thomas Jefferson (d. 1809), Patrick Henry (d. 1799), or any of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence. Francis Bellamy, militant socialist, wrote the pledge in 1892. In its original form, the hand-motion attending the pledge was a salute almost identical to the Nazi, arm outstretched, “Heil Hitler” (“Hail Hitler!”).

The wording of the pledge was modified in 1954 when, in a movement begun by the Roman Catholic organization the Knights of Columbus, the words “under God” were added. The current wording is,

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.

Ultimate allegiance

Consider the question of ultimate allegiance. As a Christian, one’s personal allegiance is to God and all the things of His kingdom; one has no secondary allegiances. He does not hold a dual citizenship. Jesus warns that we are incapable of serving more than one master, i.e. that we are incapable of executing dual allegiances (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13).

For the Christian, any pledge of loyalty to a state must be secondary to one’s loyalty to God. This is made clear in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:3). In the New Testament, the swearing of oaths is prohibited (Matthew 5:33-37; James 5:12). In spite of this, the leaders of states have usually insisted also on loyalty to themselves. Respect can be given but never a loyalty that compromises faith. We may stand in respect, but we may not pledge (Esther 3:2, 5; Romans 13:7).

Jesus indicates that fallen human beings are psychologically incapable of serving two masters. Attempts to uphold loyalty to both God and state lead–always–to the corruption of faith. Inspired writ warns again and again of the peril of compromised loyalty through combination of church and state (Daniel 1, 3, 5, 6; Acts 4:19, 20, 24-30; 5:28, 29; Revelation 13, 17, 18).

Idolatry

Idolatry means the worship of that which is other than God. But we have no allegiance to the will of the majority or to the flag. Someone has said that if the flag is a symbol of anything throughout history it is that it has been the battle standard of the state, raised when its agents act to kill, burn, and maim the people of some other land. All flags are soaked in innocent blood. To revere these then becomes an idolatry or even the worship of crime and murder at massive scale.

The respect shown the United States Flag crosses the line into worship. No other nation has combined a Flag Day, a Flag code etiquette, a national anthem dedicated to the flag and a verbal salute to the flag. In many places in the United States, school children are daily required to salute the flag.

The Flag Code requires that the United State Flag be placed in the superior position.

When used on a speaker’s platform, the flag, if displayed flat, should be displayed above and behind the speaker. When displayed from a staff in a church or public auditorium, the flag of the United States of America should hold the position of superior prominence, in advance of the audience, and in the position of honor at the clergyman’s or speaker’s right as he faces the audience. Any other flag so displayed should be placed on the left of the clergyman or speaker or to the right of the audience (Title 4, United States Flag Code, Section 7, k).

Thus, if displayed according to US law, even inside the church, the inference is that worshippers are rendering primary allegiance to the state.

The law in the Flag Code says that “The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing” (Title 36 USC 10, PL 344). Here, the law blurs the line fatally. It moves beyond representation and insists that the symbol itself has a substance, considering it a “living thing.” If it is a “living thing” and it is not God, and we are saluting, pledging, singing, we are going too far. We have passed to idolatry.

Should anyone doubt that the flag is regarded as holy, let it not be forgotten that there are laws against desecrating it. To desecrate is to de-sacralize, to divest of sacred character or office. But the flag is not holy. Some are so urgent to prevent the burning of the flag that they are willing to burn their own Constitution. We may, as always, render respect; but never worship.

The republic for which it stands

The concept of republic sounds good: the organization of a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives. Such is intended, in theory, to bypass the arbitrary exercise of authority. Unfortunately, after two centuries of the American experiment, the result is a bloated, distant, exploitative, intrusive bureaucracy. After 232 years, we see that the “representative” theory is a failure. Politicians agree to vote for each other’s new laws, spending the wealth of future generations (deficit spending—what your bank calls an overdraft).

We do not inherit national wealth from our ancestors; we borrow a national debt from our children. When the state spends trillions of dollars that it does not have, that will not be paid back by the generation that spent it, this is thievery. “Spend now, pay later” is an awful policy when applied personally; how much worse when the policy is “I spend now, your children pay later.” It is stealing (Exodus 20:15; 23:2; Proverbs 4:14-17). How evil it is to eat your children when you are starving (Deuteronomy 28:56, 57); and that much moreso when you are not!

In a monarchy, the king may be a problem but the royal family has a vested interest in the good management of the nation, for his wealth is their wealth. But in a setting where candidates vie against each other for a few short years in office, it is in their self-interest to portion out the resources under their authority as rapidly as possible into the arms of those who have placed them into power. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours, and never mind about tomorrow.

A republic at its most basic level is a situation where every citizen has an opportunity to try to coerce the other citizens. Elections are periodically held determining who coerces and who is coerced. Since everyone had their opportunity, those who lose are expected to endure the imposition laid upon them. We can do better than a republic; better than a monarchy; we need not the state.

Under God

To claim to be “under God” risks credulity. Few persons are unaware that the United States has a long list of depredations to its account. It permitted slavery, slaughtered more than a half million of its own in the “Civil War,” killed thousands in the Mexican-American war, thousands more in the Philippine-American War, imprisoned Japanese-Americans during WWII, and nuked Japan in the same war–while it was urgently trying to surrender. While developing chemical and biological weapons during the cold war, it experimented on its own citizens. And this is not the whole list. Such is no description of a nation operating under God.

Indivisible

In case you thought this “indivisible” part of the pledge sounded wrong, maybe you were thinking of the Declaration of Independence:

…whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government… (Declaration of Independence, 2nd paragraph, July 4, 1776).

Imagine that: a national pledge of allegiance that argues with the founding document of the same nation.

Liberty and justice

The pledge insists that America stands for liberty and justice for all. History tells a different story. Orientals, persons of African descent, Native Americans, and other minorities have all seen how “liberty and justice” has not always been “for all” in America. Liberty and justice for all is a fine ideal. We believe in it but the United States has not sustained it. Oppression has been practiced, our own Constitution subverted. Will we pledge our allegiance to such a state?

Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all (Mark 10:42, 43).

Our allegiance is to Christ and His kingdom. We appreciate the opportunities for liberty we have through the state such as they are. We gladly pray for the leaders of the nation, but we will not worship the image that they have set up.

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