Dallas (Oct. 11, 2001)--A billboard marked the entry to the church's parking lot. Splashed all over was a United States flag with a caption: God Bless America.
The American flag has replaced the cross as the most visible symbol in many churches across the country since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on Pennsylvania, New York and Washington, D.C. This hasn't set well with some Christians, who say faith transcends nationality so the flag has no place in sanctuaries. But others say the show of patriotism is a much-needed comfort.
"Our whole country is grieving--we need that symbol right now," said Barbara Adams of Dallas as she made her way into Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, a congregation of 18,000 members.
Prestonwood's billboards and massive flag display didn't stop at its parking lot. Inside the church, leaders unfurled a giant 50-foot flag during worship Sunday as the room swelled with patriotic music.
"It makes you feel good," said Colleen Holleman of Dallas, one of the worshippers. "What the terrorists did hurt everybody so bad. I've cried buckets. Seeing that flag makes you feel better."
Elsewhere, in Dallas, the Rev. Michael Tuck applauded the country's patriotism but not the display of flags inside sanctuaries. He has a flag hanging in the back of his church, away from the worship area.
"It isn't that we shouldn't be patriotic," said the priest at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross. "But the government's position and God's position aren't identical. I never thought it appropriate to have symbols that might confuse that issue."
The sale of flags has skyrocketed since the terrorist attacks. While no one debates whether flags belong on the doorsteps of homes, Christians are embroiled in a dilemma over whether they belong in church.