I love my new flag. I’d forgotten how bright and vibrant the red, white and blue colors are and how much they had faded on my old flag. I love the sound it makes when it snaps in the wind and the way it looks when the sun shines through it.
But I have a problem with the flag. Not my new one, but others I see.
There is a church not far from my house that proudly flies the flag in front of its sanctuary. Actually, it flies three flags – the United States flag, the Texas flag (of course) and the Christian flag. But here’s the problem. This Baptist church flies the American flag above the others.
The symbolism is inescapable, and the message is mixed at best. While I don’t believe churches or the Church need a flag, if congregations insist on having one and flying it, should it be beneath the U.S. flag?
“If you choose to fly an American flag outside your church, are you choosing to give to government something that belongs to God?”
Consider the symbolism here. As a conservative Christian, I believe the only symbol we need is the cross. It reminds me of the death Jesus died to redeem humanity. It is a powerful reminder of sacrifice and salvation, stronger than any flag.
The “Christian” flag dates to an impromptu speech by Charles C. Overton, a Sunday school superintendent in New York, on Sept. 26, 1897. Overton was the guest speaker at a rally kicking off the new Sunday school year. Seeing an American flag near the podium, he began talking about flags and their symbolism. He turned his speech into a campaign and by 1907 had teamed up with Ralph Diffendorfer, secretary for the Methodist Young People’s Missionary Movement to produce and promote the Christian flag.
To this day, I can recite from memory the pledge to the Christian flag, a product of growing up Southern Baptist and attending years of Vacation Bible School.
This leads to my problem with the flag, or flags. Title 4, Chapter 1 of the United States Code details the “laws relating to the flag of the United States of America.” The code is very explicit about displaying the flag and in the section about “position and manner of display” clearly states: “No other flag or pennant should be placed above or, if on the same level, to the right of the flag of the United States of America.”
So, when a church erects flagpoles outside its building and hoists the American flag and the Christian flag, that church immediately puts itself in an unwinnable situation. By law, the church cannot fly the Christian flag above the U.S. flag, and the U.S. flag must be at the center. Yet by scripture, the church cannot put country equal to or above Jesus Christ. By raising the U.S. flag over the Christian flag and making it the center of attention, the church near my house appears to put country over Christ.
Jesus gives us the solution to this quandary, a way to serve both God and country. In his teachings, Jesus is clear when it comes to choosing and serving. He does not give us the option of putting him less than or equal to anything else. Nor should anything else be at the center of our lives. When an attempt was made to force Jesus into an unwinnable corner between God and government, he made a clear distinction and told the hypocrites trying to trap him to “give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21).
If you choose to fly an American flag outside your church, are you choosing to give to government something that belongs to God?
It doesn’t have to be that way. There are places to fly the U.S. flag, including the front of my house, where I proudly put my new flag. I can love Jesus and love my country. But as a Bible-believing follower of Jesus, I cannot put my country above Christ; nor can I say America is even equal to him. I can love both, but not equally.
June 14 is Flag Day, commemorating June 14, 1777, when the Second Continental Congress authorized a new flag as the symbol of a new nation. While June 14 was celebrated for decades, it wasn’t until 1949 that Congress made it a permanent observance and President Harry Truman signed it into law.
“As a conservative Christian, I believe the only symbol we need is the cross.”
This year June 14 is on a Sunday. If not for the small print on our calendars, most of us would have no idea. It’s also the first time my church will meet in person since early March. It will be an emotional time worshipping God together after months of separation.
That day, I’ll proudly place my flag in the bracket on the front of my house. I’ll stop when I pull out of the driveway on my way to church and admire those bright colors. I’ll be reminded that the fabric of the flag is stronger than the material it’s made of. Then I’ll drive to my church, where we’ll once again sing the songs of faith and “give to God the things that are God’s.”