on pledging allegiance and the national day of prayer

Remember when July 4 is near and churches have “patriotic” Sundays? Remember when we say the pledge of allegiance to the USA in the worship service? We can all recite that pledge. 

Now, remember the pledge to the Christian flag? I don’t. We say it once a year, best I can tell because we feel we ought to in order to balance out pledging our allegiance to something other than God in the middle of worship–our country. Why would I remember something that doesn’t seem to have much to do with allegiance to life in the kingdom of God?

Don’t get me wrong, I love my country. At the same time, I recognize that the Scriptures are more interested in my allegiance to God’s kingdom, one that is above every earthly nation (including mine) and that seeks to incorporate every earthly people (thankfully, including mine). God’s kingdom doesn’t have earthly borders and is just as obstinate as ever God has been (just read Scripture from the very beginning) about ignoring our borders regardless of how important we make them out to be. Our baptism is more significant that our nationality.

So I find it tremendously compelling that for the Church, our standard text that pledges allegiance is not something recited to a flag symbolic of the kingdom, but a prayer that seeks to form us into kingdom-allegiance people: The Lord’s Prayer. The earliest texts come from Matthew and Luke. They are slightly different in form and set in different narrative contexts within each of those two gospels. Yet the prayer that we pray with Christians across time and geography lays a claim on our lives that is greater that any pledge we can make to any love that is second to God’s kingdom, such as love of country.

“Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

In our national pledge, we declare certain things to be the case, not unlike the way we make theological declarations in the Creeds of the Church. In the Lord’s Prayer, we assume some theological things about God and we leave open the potential impact of those assumptions, saying, in effect, that we are shy about making some declarations. In particular, we leave open the possibility that our lives and the world’s societies, including our own, are not faithful to the will of God as it is done in heaven. We all fall short. We all need heaven to intersect us with its gracious and healing rebuke.

Particularly, we American Christians, who so often fashion ourselves as the New Israel and who seem preoccupied sometimes with becoming a Christian Nation (some claim this would be a return to glorious days of the past, others do not make such a claim), need to hear this loving rebuke from Christ’s prayer for the Kingdom. After all, Christ’s interest is that disciples would be made of all nations/peoples; no nation is singled out for special attention.

So this is my prayer for the National Day of Prayer this week: Let’s pray to be a kingdom people rather than an American kingdom people. Inasmuch as we insist upon that adjective, we fall short of the biblical vision of the Church as Christ’s body that radically cuts across all the boundaries that we use to deliniate who is brother, sister, friend, enemy. Scripture seems to think, as I said earlier, that baptism is more significant than nationality. Perhaps Scripture is correct on this point–what then?

Seems as though we may still love our country, but that love must involve a great humility, lest our primary lens for interpreting the world becomes the allegiance symbolized in the pledge to our flag rather that the allegiance we are formed in as we pray the prayer our Lord taught us, saying…

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3 thoughts on “on pledging allegiance and the national day of prayer

  1. One of the areas in which I’ve been reading lately is the so-called (by Samuel Huntington) Clash of Civilizations. Huntington’s greatest mistake, from my point of view (if I were a political scientist I might see things differently), is his failure to consider the trans-national & trans-cultural (in his terms, trans-civilizational) reality of the Church. Of course if all he experiences is Christian Americanism and Pledge of Allegiance churches, we can understand his error.

    That “pledge to the Christian flag” is completely hokey. One of the churches in our area does three pledges at its Vacation Bible School – American flag, Christian flag, and to the Bible. Heretic that I am I think they’re all misguided.

  2. Guy, I can’t decide if you are pinko-commie or a Watchtower wannbe. ;-)

    Seriously, I feel obligated to comment because today I purchased my first “real” American flag. I dropped my check in the mail today in response to a USO fundraiser letter and in a few weeks I’ll have flag suitable for public display.

    I too worry that nationalism gets far too easily blurred with American Christianity. A hymn that has stuck with me since my early days in East Texas brings a proper balance:

    This is my song, Oh God of all the nations,
    A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
    This is my home, the country where my heart is;
    Here are my hopes, my dreams, my sacred shrine.
    But other hearts in other lands are beating,
    With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.
    My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
    And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine.
    But other lands have sunlight too and clover,
    And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
    Oh hear my song, oh God of all the nations,
    A song of peace for their land and for mine.

    The tune is called Finlandia, and the words originally spoke of Finnish nationalism, but the modified words in the Methodist hymnal showed both love of country and a perspective beyond country.

  3. Richard:

    Good stuff. And, yes, hokey is the word for it. The first place I encountered it was also in an East Texas VBS program.

    Jim Bob:

    I like that hymn too. Significantly, it holds its love of country close but humbly, avoiding misplaced triumphalism. And it is ultimately a prayer submitted to the God who loves all his creation.

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