O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith

Freedom, the 4th, and Faith

jesus_flags.jpgSome Christians are excited that, this year, Independence Day is on a Sunday. They will have flags prominently displayed in their sanctuary. They will sing “God Bless America.” Their choirs and orchestras may do a special patriotic presentation. Their pastor will speak of Christian freedom and American freedom and the faith of the Founding Fathers and tie it all together with a red, white, and blue bow. This Sunday, some congregations may even say the pledge of Allegiance.


Other Christians will cringe at this. They get squeamish when the American flag is elevated to an icon on the level of the cross, the bread, and the wine in a church service. They worry that we are confusing our allegiance to the Kingdom of God — and the international Church — with our allegiance to the United States. That, perhaps unintentionally, we are insinuating that America has a special place in the eyes of God. They insist that patriotism is fine, but it has no place in the Church, not even on Independence Day.

I’m curious where you land on this issue. Will your church have a patriotic service this Sunday? Will there be a flag on display? If so, does this bother you or not?

Let’s discuss.

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posted July 1, 2010 at 10:31 am

I fall into the second category. I’m not sure that I even agree that patriotism is fine, but I certainly agree that there’s no place for it in church. I do not say the pledge of allegiance; it feels wrong to swear allegiance to anything/one but Him, but I don’t fault others for doing so. I understand why people say they are “proud to be American.” Me, I’m not proud; I’m just blessed to live in a free country, because with that freedom comes the opportunity to share the Gospel without fear of persecution.

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L.E. Owens

posted July 1, 2010 at 10:39 am

Put me down in the 2nd group. I don’t have any problem with godly patriotism. I love my country. But you know what? Jesus wasn’t an American. The Church isn’t an American institution, so I think it’s best to keep them separate. Besides, our congregation has an Iranian family and refugees from Somalia and a few other internationals. To turn church into a celebration of America, even for one weekend, makes me uncomfortable in the way it excludes them.

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Adam Whitley

posted July 1, 2010 at 10:46 am

2nd group. Our allegiance is to Christ. Patriotism is a distraction.

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posted July 1, 2010 at 11:01 am

Put me in between. I am a veteran and proud of my time in uniform; I also happen to be the pastor of our church. This Sunday we will have the flags displayed appropriately, which they are almost every Sunday of the year. In addition, this year we are posting our Blue Star flag for the first time.
We will thank God that we have independence and the ability to worship Him freely, but will try hard not to idolize our country.
And I will be continuing to preach through the book of Habakkuk; this week is 1:12-2:17. That’s not EXACTLY a patriotic passage, but it is appropriate in light of the times and the priorities we need.

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Kenny Johnson

posted July 1, 2010 at 11:01 am

I’ve become increasingly more uncomfortable with patriotism is general. Now, first let me say that I think too much… And secondly, let me say that I don’t expect everyone to see this subject the same way as me — but take something like the 4th.
Am I really supposed to celebrating the independence of our country from Britain (a now close ally) which was won by a war that killed thousands of people (including Christians on both sides) over an argument of taxation and representation (yes, I’m simplifying)?
I’m no extremist on this issue. I will gladly go to a 4th celebration and watch the fireworks and eat hot dogs. I just wonder sometimes if I’m supposed to really feel about it.
I know… I know.. some people would say, if it wasn’t for the War of Independence, we’d all be speaking English right now… Good point!

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Jeff @ WU

posted July 1, 2010 at 11:06 am

Reminds me of Bob Schuller’s sermon, I Am the American Flag.” Flags belong in the back of the sanctuary. Just learned about you yesterday, Jason. Keep up the work of the Commonweath of the Christ v. the Empire of Caesar.

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posted July 1, 2010 at 11:13 am

I’m firmly in the second group. The conflation of nationalism and religion deeply bothers me. It’s one of those things where it bothers me enough that I probably appear far less patriotic than I am because I don’t want to ever confuse the two. There’s a car around here that has a bumper sticker that says, “God loves America” and I cringe every time I see it. I think God loves Americans. And Mexicans. And Iraqis. And Ethiopians. And every people group. But America? Meh, I don’t think he cares much one way or the other.
I’m hopeful that our church will forgo the flag waving this week. I’ll certainly be disappointed if it does not.

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posted July 1, 2010 at 11:20 am

yeah, i was thrilled to read boyd’s myth of a Christian nation because he put into words how I had begun to feel.
i like a separation

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Jay Caruso

posted July 1, 2010 at 11:24 am

I’m in the first group. There is absolutely nothing wrong with paying homage to the great nation we live in and doing so is not elevating the flag or country above God.
It’s about THANKING God that He has allowed for a country like the United States to exist where we as Christians (particularly those who come from countries where religious freedom does not exist. It has beem my experience that such people are more patriotic than many Americans who take for granted the freedoms we have) can worship the Father and Jesus Christ without any fear of retribution either from our government or other people.

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Tim M

posted July 1, 2010 at 11:25 am

I’m in the second group, as well. If I were going to be home, I would go to my own church where the sermon will be on “Prayer and Politics” based on our church’s commitment to read and prayer through the Psalms. But since I’ll be out of town, I’m not likely to attend a service because it will most likely mix (or completely be) too much American patriotism.

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posted July 1, 2010 at 11:26 am

I can’t serve two masters. I’m an alien and a stranger here in America. So as to whether people within my church will, I don’t know. But I won’t.

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Garrett Anderson

posted July 1, 2010 at 11:44 am

I’m preaching this Sunday–its my one hour of work as a pastor. My series on Galatians took me to Galatians 5 (no I didn’t plan it this way…it was ordained to be so) 😉 However, this is a good opportunity to compare and contrast our understanding of freedom as individuals (individualism as much as much as Americanism is our idol) with Christian freedom which for Paul…Jesus too probably and so, I guess, for me too…is found in becoming a servant or slave (gasp!). We only walk in true freedom when we are becoming what God has created to become…servants of God and one another and the world in sacrificial love.
I find it helpful (don’t know if my hearers do) to frame our singing of America, the Beautiful or My Country ‘Tis of Thee as prayers…offerings of our nation’s ideals given up to God for judgment and purification, made in gratitude.

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Jesse Medina

posted July 1, 2010 at 11:48 am

I’m in the second group. Quick story related to this:
This Father’s Day I attended a church that I’m checking out. I went without my wife as she was out of town. The church had a guest speaker and before he spoke a word, he started singing the national anthem. I’m confident that everyone at that church, where the sanctuary holds at least 800 people, stood up and sang along…except me. After the service I was gently and cordially confronted by a former naval officer who wanted to know why I didn’t stand. Being on the spot, I fumbled out a surely disappointing answer. His response, “I just think you should think about who you might be offending when you do that and what God thinks about that. I fought for your freedom to be able to be here, today.”
He wasn’t rude. In fact, he was very nice. But he clearly thought I was an idiot for thinking that my devotion to God should not be mixed with my devotion to anything or anyone else. Even the very things God has blessed me with as a citizen of America.
That’s what this comes down to for me. Especially considering the unique purpose of music and singing in the church (in other words, music/singing = worship), the national anthem poses a particularly troubling dilemma. Not least because faith has nothing to do with my patriotism. Being an American does not make anyone Christian and being a Christian does not make anyone American.
Church should be a place where national ties, ethnicity, gender, etc. do not matter. There is neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek. There is only Christ. What are we saying, then, when we exalt our citizenship of a particular country at a time when we gather for the sole purpose of exalting Christ?

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Jonathan Charlie Chang

posted July 1, 2010 at 11:49 am

You know, I’m not sure what will happen this year. From 2008 to 2009 we attended an Independent Baptist Church. They went all out and got people from all the branches of the military to carry the flag for memorial day.
This year we’re back at my church I grew up in which is Southern Baptist. I’m sure we’ll sing “God Bless America.” I’m just looking forward to the donuts though.

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posted July 1, 2010 at 12:10 pm

I’m thankful to be an American (usually). I’m thankful for freedom (we haven’t lost all our freedoms yet).
But the “God Bless America” idea seems incredibly arrogant to me. I’m tempted to make my own bumper sticker that says, “America Honor God.”
What our country is currently is my struggle, not the love of this country, the intents of our founders, or our wonderful nation. This is a great country, i’m thankful to be here. It isn’t wrong to thank God for living in a country that is free to worship him. But the arrogance behind much of what passes for patriotism is not a good thing. I think it better for churches to forgo the many speeches on how God has blessed “our great nation” & just focus on the thankfulness.
(This doesn’t even begin to focus on the pastors who will be claiming that the USA is “God’s chosen people, the New Israel.” Heard this too much as a child.)

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J.J. Carlson

posted July 1, 2010 at 2:38 pm

I’m not bothered by it at all because, after all, the Bible specifically talks about how we should respect our governmental authority. I would go as far as saying that the Bible also asks that we respect and honor our country, even be patriotic. I don’t think that that means we need to put the flag next to Jesus and say, “Hey, Jesus loves America! Jesus and America are buds. I love Jesus, and I love America, so Jesus is American!” Okay, I went a little far with that.
Will my church have a flag displayed? Maybe. I don’t really attend church much, so maybe I should ask the pastor if they will be using one in the service this Sunday.
Thanks for the thoughts, Jason. I love reading your stuff.

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posted July 1, 2010 at 3:39 pm

It’s Canada Day up here, and as a semi-outsider, I’d say compared to US, Canadians in general have healthier attitude toward both patriotism and religion, not taking either too seriously.
I’m a firm believer that religion should have no place in government or politics, and the mixture of religion and patriotism is especially troubling. The arrogant assumption that ‘god is on our side’ is a reason for a lot of misery and destruction on our planet.
While being one of the most Christian-infested nations in the world, US is one of the least Christ-like.

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C. Michael Pilato

posted July 1, 2010 at 4:32 pm

I’m of the mind that a worship service is a worship service is a worship service — regardless of what holiday falls nearby — and that the object of that worship should consistently be Almighty God. As a member of my church’s worship team, my conscience demands that I review the material that is presented “from the stage” for its appropriateness and utility toward the goal of corporate worship. Songs of praise to America generally don’t make it through my filter.
Does this mean I’m not thankful for the religious freedoms I enjoy in America? Gosh, no — quite the opposite! I thank God that I’m able to worship Him freely. I thank Him even more that I’m not forced to worship the State or its leadership, too/instead. But when God observes the Earth, does He really see our arguably arbitrary, oft-defined-through-bloody-conflict geopolitical boundaries? Does He really offer and/or withhold His blessings on whole countries? If so, what algorithm does He apply to figure that out? Is He not more interested in the individual?

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posted July 1, 2010 at 4:54 pm

At my church (Methodist), there’s a discussion this year about displaying the flag in the sanctuary this year. This is a first, because we got a new pastor last month (Methodist pastors move a lot) and the previous pastor wouldn’t do it. I’ve also been told we’re going to sing patriotic hymns and such. Personally, I’m uncomfortable with all these displays of nationalism. They are, by natural, exclusionary and exclusion has no place whatsoever in the church. The motto of the UMC is “Open doors, open hearts, open minds” and this doesn’t jibe with that.

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Jason Elam

posted July 1, 2010 at 6:09 pm

I believe the most manipulative, dangerous religion in the world is that which comes wrapped in a flag of patriotism.
Whenever we take the focus off of Jesus during our worship gatherings we are missing the point of our gathering and offering our attention to things that are simply not worthy compared to the majesty of Christ. We also run the risk of associating Jesus with things he might prefer not to be associated with (wars, abortion, government corruption, materialism, greed, etc…)
As followers of Jesus, I think we should be grateful, not proud, to be Americans. This may seem like a minor variation, but it would have a major impact on our national psyche. Grateful people are generous, sacrificial people. If God was the primary object of our affection and the only banner that we rallied around, the world would be a much different place. Third world countries would be fed, most wars would be brought to an end, and the world might just witness a genuine expression of the love of God that extends beyond all geographical and national boundaries.
It is often said that America is the “greatest nation on earth”. I wonder if that is God’s perspective. It could be that God sees the U.S.A. as just one small part of a world that He created to bring Him glory and nothing more.
Attempting to see our nation from God’s point of view could change the way we try to incorporate patriotism into our worship services on July 4th, Memorial Day, or any other time of the year.

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posted July 1, 2010 at 6:22 pm

Instead of ‘God Bless American’ why not ‘God Bless Us Everyone’? I think, Sunday I’ll just quietly thank God for our blessings and pray for those who have needs and then, maybe, pop a few fire crackers with my kids.

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Jana Riess

posted July 1, 2010 at 7:10 pm

2nd group for me too. Since July 4 is a Sunday and I am scheduled to teach Relief Society, I’m organizing the whole lesson about the religious character (or lack thereof) of our nation’s founding. Let’s just say that it may result in a whole different kind of fireworks . . . I am bringing red, white, and blue cupcakes to soften the blow for the more conservative class members. 😉

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posted July 1, 2010 at 10:27 pm

When Jason does not like the facts
He builds straw men to stab in the back
I guess it makes him feel braver
Than those dumb ass flag wavers
But he’s a good guy; he knows better

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Tim Payne

posted July 2, 2010 at 4:15 am

I actually just posted something on this exact topic on my blog. I am definitely in the second group on this. I think it’s okay to be loyal to your country above other countries. I also think that we should show respect to those who are in charge and to those who have served by giving their time, energy, and lives to protect us and ensure our freedom even if it’s just out of common courtesy.
What I have the biggest problem with is when the American flag is displayed in the church, especially when it’s above/more prominent than the Christian flag or when it’s the only flag displayed. I just can’t figure out why Christians are so adamant about being patriotic and loyal to a country who doesn’t feel the same way. I actually think that keeping the church and state separate is a good thing and we just need to keep our priorities straight.
We shouldn’t be more devoted to the country in which we live than to the Kingdom to which we belong. Nations will come and go, but the Kingdom of God will reign forever.

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posted July 2, 2010 at 9:49 am

I think people are a little too worried about this. I are really shocked at how many people are offended by this.
We have plants on our stage and sing about the wonders of God’s creation sometimes but we don’t worship the earth.
Worship is in the heart and removing a flag or patriotic songs isn’t going to stop people from “worshiping” patriotism if that is what they do. We don’t “Worship” fathers on Father’s Day if the pastor preaches on that. We don’t “worship” Christmas (or Mary, or human baby Jesus) if we have a nativity set and sing “Silent Night” or “Mary Did You Know?”.
I think of the Fourth of July as a chance to remember where I live and how much I have to be thankful for because of that. And those are all gifts given to me by God. I don’t mind being reminded of that once a year- if a once a year service causes someone to worship America, they have far far deeper problems than anything that can be solved by removing a few flags.

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posted July 2, 2010 at 12:00 pm

I am truly thankful to be an American and to have all the benefits that come with that, however, my allegiance comes first to the Kingdom and my country falls somewhere after that.
The closest thing we will get to in showing our personal freedom this Sunday at the church I’m apart of is a ‘Born in the USA’ countdown and a ‘Happy Fourth of July’ welcome.
But we will celebrate our freedom not only in this country, but especially in Christ.

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posted July 5, 2010 at 11:39 am

Our service wasn’t exactly a traditional patriotic one. Our floral arrangement had little flags among the red roses, but that was it. The sermon was about Freedom – but focused on how we’ve been given freedom by the Father and how our choices effect our destiny. He only tied it to the 4th in that we have freedom of choice and religion that other countries do not have. And that our founding fathers did form this nation for those freedoms – but it wasn’t whole sermon. Besides – that is what the 4th of July is about – celebration of our Freedom to be a nation under God.

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