Author Topic: The American Flag  (Read 7964 times)

RogerMartim

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The American Flag
« on: January 19, 2020, 10:51:23 AM »
I have long wondered about what I call our fetish with the American flag. I love my country and I probably would not live elsewhere, but I am of a firm belief that God is not the God of the good ol' USA, but that God is the God of the universe. Sometimes I feel that the flag adulation is way out of proportion—our Baal or Golden Calf. The article in the Fall 2019 Lutheran Forum, “It’s Time to Turn and Face the Flag” by Heather Choate Davis is timely and I was happy to see that I am not the only one with this concern.

I worked at a church in the East for many years. A new pastor had come in and he endeavored to remove the flag from its exalted place next to the altar. WWIII started, but after a long time he was able to win over with his gentle persuasion. Nowadays no one even gives it a second thought.

Not so with my mother’s church (LCMS) in the Midwest where the flag is stationed prominently at the altar with the state flag alongside. On July 4th and other patriotic holidays someone in the parish festoons an entire city-block length with the Stars and Stripes every couple of feet where the church is located. It is on a major street and so it isn’t missed by many. It is embarrassing as far as I am concerned. About 15 years ago the pastor, a retired navy chaplain, had the church spend over $6,000 for three flag poles at the narthex end of the church outside with the US flag in the center and the tallest with the state flag and the LCMS flag on either side. So much for good use of stewardship.

Again, I don’t think that the flag deserves such prominence in the churches that is almost in direct competition with the symbol of our faith, the Cross.

Michael Slusser

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Re: The American Flag
« Reply #1 on: January 19, 2020, 11:18:06 AM »
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Charles Austin

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Re: The American Flag
« Reply #2 on: January 19, 2020, 12:02:07 PM »
You are absolutely right, RogerMartim. After some renovation in the chancel of one of my parishes, during which some things were removed; I never put the flag back. It was three months until someone noticed.
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D. Engebretson

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Re: The American Flag
« Reply #3 on: January 19, 2020, 01:00:34 PM »
Some years ago my church purchased a set of large banners from Slabbink.  At first they were placed in the nave and the flags remained in the chancel area.  A few years after this a layperson (who was on the altar guild at the time, I think) took it upon herself to reverse this putting the flags in the nave and the banners up in the chancel area to the left and right of the altar.  Aesthetically it looks much more balanced, and although it didn't remove the flags, it moved them away from the altar area, which was helpful. At the time I was waiting for some backlash from the more patriotic crowd, but it never came.  I guess as long as they are there, they are okay.
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Charles Austin

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Re: The American Flag
« Reply #4 on: January 19, 2020, 01:13:29 PM »
I believe, as was told to me in the old old old days by some Augustana pastors, that flags in the chancel started appearing during and after The Great War, when the patriotism of people in churches composed mostly of immigrants - and many of them German - was questioned.
The furor or that war and the Second World War kept the flags in churches.
I see fewer these days.
Personally, I have always avoided bringing "national holidays" into the liturgy. But at times it's unavoidable. My stress has always been on the non-national, universal nature of the faith. When we had recent immigrants in the congregation, or visitors who were not citizens, I always pointed out that the national flag was even more inappropriate.
We always prayed for our country, its leaders both locally and nationally, and we always said that our blessings - which are many - did not mean that we were extra-special as a nation in the eyes of God, but  that we are to be a blessing to others.
I have always like the verse of the "This Is My Song" hymn, sung to the Finlandia tune:
   My country's skies are bluer than the ocean,
   And sunlight beams on clover leaf and pine.
   But other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
   And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
   O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
   A song of peace for their land and for mine.
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Brian Stoffregen

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Re: The American Flag
« Reply #5 on: January 19, 2020, 01:31:30 PM »
I wonder if it makes a difference for those denominations that do not number: "Do not make graven images" as one of the Ten Commandments. At what point does pledging allegiance to a flag turn the flag into an idol?


In addition, when there is talk of "desecrating" the flag, that assumes that the flag is "sacred". I don't believe that Christians can consider the flag to be something sacred.
"The church … had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

J. Thomas Shelley

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Re: The American Flag
« Reply #6 on: January 19, 2020, 01:57:57 PM »
I wonder if it makes a difference for those denominations that do not number: "Do not make graven images" as one of the Ten Commandments. At what point does pledging allegiance to a flag turn the flag into an idol?


The denominations which follow the Reformed numbering of the Decalogue are some of the largest customers for such "independent" Sunday School & VBS purveyors as David C. Cook, Standard, and Gospel Light; all of which have shamelessly promoted "opening excercises" for der kinder beginning with the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag; a parallel pledge to the "Christian flag"; and, last but not least, a pledge to the Bible.

Of course these denominations include many who reject the "formalism" of Creeds.
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James S. Rustad

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Re: The American Flag
« Reply #7 on: January 19, 2020, 05:45:19 PM »
The congregation I was a member of for a number of years was German Lutheran.  I grew up in a Norwegian Lutheran church.  I noticed a number of differences.  Among these were the cookies and other baked goods, the coffee, and the flags (US and Christian) behind the altar.

One day I was going through church records (the congregation's 100th anniversary was coming) and I noticed that meeting minutes were in German up until the late thirties or so.  At that time they switched to English.

A month or so later I was helping clean the church and took a closer look at the US flag, thinking that maybe it should be replaced.  When I held it out from the staff a bit I thought it looked a bit off.  It took a few seconds to realize the reason -- it only had 48 stars.

When I mentioned these things to an older member of the congregation, he said that flag was from when we were trying to be known as the "good German Lutherans".

As part of the cleanup we moved both flags out into the narthex.  Our experience was the same as others have mentioned.  No one said anything about it.  I'm not sure anyone even noticed.

Voelker

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Re: The American Flag
« Reply #8 on: January 19, 2020, 07:16:56 PM »
When I mentioned these things to an older member of the congregation, he said that flag was from when we were trying to be known as the "good German Lutherans".
I know some older members from a parish in central Missouri who spoke about their parents' experiences in WWI. The anti-German sentiment in the area was quite virulent. Thus the placement of flags in their church was more than wanting to be seen as "good Germans" — it was closer to "Please don't burn down our church. We love America." It was then that the Lutheran schools in the area switched over, almost overnight, from German to English instruction.

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Re: The American Flag
« Reply #9 on: January 20, 2020, 09:35:33 AM »
There are many wrong reasons to put a US flag in a church.  But, our nation is also a gift and blessing to us for which we should thank God.  Also, we are called on to obey and give obedience to the earthly leaders God placed over us.  Can a flag in church represent this without represent giving allegiance to the nation over and above God?  As a kid, when I saw a US flag in church, that is what I assumed, that the church was thanking God for the nation, not that it was worshiping the nation.  I can't help thinking that some of the impetus to remove flags has less to do with an abstract stand against the worship of earthly leaders and nations and more to do with the dissatisfaction that our nation is far from perfect and has recently made decisions that people disagree with.  Perhaps the removal of the flag has to do with a sense that all politicians are dirty and forgetting that the position of leadership of a nation is also a God given vocation.  No, I don't think it is appropriate to put the flag right by the altar but somewhere in the Nave is fine by me.

David Garner

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Re: The American Flag
« Reply #10 on: January 20, 2020, 09:45:03 AM »
When I mentioned these things to an older member of the congregation, he said that flag was from when we were trying to be known as the "good German Lutherans".
I know some older members from a parish in central Missouri who spoke about their parents' experiences in WWI. The anti-German sentiment in the area was quite virulent. Thus the placement of flags in their church was more than wanting to be seen as "good Germans" — it was closer to "Please don't burn down our church. We love America." It was then that the Lutheran schools in the area switched over, almost overnight, from German to English instruction.

This was always my assumption as well.  It is not a bad motivation, but it bears an historical context that is no longer present, if you are right, and by extension I am right.

We have a relatively small rural parish.  We have a whole lot of veterans in our parish, and a large number of what would be considered "Christian conservatives," people who are patriots and love their country.  We remember the president, the armed forces, and the police in our petitions each Sunday.  But we do not have a flag in the nave, and we won't.  Again, I don't blame those who have done this in history for their motivations.  The motivations are good and pure.  But I align myself with those who suggest mixing national patriotism with the Church is generally a bad idea.  Leave the flags in the parish hall, or elsewhere on the grounds.  The nave is subject only to the Kingdom of God.  We are American citizens, but our Kingdom is not of this world.
Orthodox Reader and former Lutheran (LCMS and WELS).

Brian Stoffregen

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Re: The American Flag
« Reply #11 on: January 20, 2020, 10:16:20 AM »
How do we witness to the world, as Paul says it, "Our citizenship is in heaven" (Phil 3:20a)? For the earliest Christians it meant suffering at the hands of the government. I've said this before, one should not read Romans 13 without also reading Revelation 13. Sometimes the government is an agent of God, sometimes it is a "beast" that opposes God's people.
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J. Thomas Shelley

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Re: The American Flag
« Reply #12 on: January 20, 2020, 10:51:23 AM »
We remember the president, the armed forces, and the police in our petitions each Sunday.  But we do not have a flag in the nave, and we won't.  Again, I don't blame those who have done this in history for their motivations.  The motivations are good and pure.  But I align myself with those who suggest mixing national patriotism with the Church is generally a bad idea.  Leave the flags in the parish hall, or elsewhere on the grounds.  The nave is subject only to the Kingdom of God.  We are American citizens, but our Kingdom is not of this world.

In my Greek Orthodox parish the flags (American and Greek) are in the parish hall; except for two occasions when they are carried into the Nave by youth in Greek constume for a Doxology.

The Doxology is celebrated twice a year, at the Feast of the Annunciation, which coincides with Greek Independence Day; and "Oxi" day (October 28) which commemorates victory over the Italian invaders during WWI.

The Doxology begins with the singing of the Kontakion "O Champion General" (addressed to the Theotokos and concludes with the Great Doxology; the same Christocentric hymn which is the bridge from Orthros to the Divine Liturgy.   Sometimes the Greek National Anthem is sung as well.
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Dan Fienen

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Re: The American Flag
« Reply #13 on: January 20, 2020, 11:14:25 AM »
I have mixed feelings at the crusade to extirpate the horror of having an American flag, usually paired with some sort of Christian flag in church. I can certainly understand not wanting it there or even thinking that it is inappropriate there. But the vehemence with which some excoriate those churches who have an American flag "up front" and their pastors who have not staked their ministries on removing it, seems to me over the top. At least as over the top as those who would see not having a flag there or removing it as being disloyal to the country.

Having a flag at the front of the church has been compared in this thread as setting up a golden calf in the church. Really?!? :o With Matt I have to wonder if the vehemence from some is more of a reflection of their dissatisfaction with America and their snobbish disdain for the sometimes excessive bourgeois displays of patriotism. Sneering at America and at displays of patriotism has become an almost knee jerk reaction among some of those who consider themselves among the intellectual elite.

I can understand that the impulse to put American flags in the church grew out of a real need to emphasize that even German Lutherans can be loyal Americans during the rabid anti-German sentiments during the World Wars. And so with that need passed, the need to have the flag there has passed and it is perhaps not the most appropriate. Similarly a absolute refusal to recognize national holidays within the church.

There is a danger to allow patriotism and national loyalty to be confused for loyalty to God. God is not an American. It is important that we remember the sentiment expressed by a quotation attributed to Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War when he was asked if God was on the North's side, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side,” said the President, “my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.” (An interesting First Things article on this quotation may be accessed here.)

I look on national holidays, especially Independence Day, as opportunities to celebrate the blessings God has given us in our nation, and there are many things right about our nation, to encourage concern and prayer for correcting the errors that we have made and continue to make as a nation, and to suggest ways that we can as Christian Americans balance our dual loyalties to our God and our nation, with loyalty to God having first place. Rather than ignoring the place that nation has in our people's lives or by implication suggesting that nation should not have a place in their lives or be viewed as the enemy, why not treat those occasions as opportunities to sort through our loyalties?

I would not encourage the placing of an American flag in the sanctuary, and would not discourage any opportunity to move a flag already there to a different place. (Don't forget that sometimes those flags are also memorials given by or for loved individuals with all those attachments to be considered.) But getting the flag out of the church will not be a top priority for me.

Pr. Daniel Fienen
LCMS

Dan Fienen

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Re: The American Flag
« Reply #14 on: January 20, 2020, 11:23:07 AM »
How do we witness to the world, as Paul says it, "Our citizenship is in heaven" (Phil 3:20a)? For the earliest Christians it meant suffering at the hands of the government. I've said this before, one should not read Romans 13 without also reading Revelation 13. Sometimes the government is an agent of God, sometimes it is a "beast" that opposes God's people.
I would also suggest that Revelation 13 should not be read without also reading Romans 13. Revelations 13 does not negate Romans 13. Governments are human institutions and so are never an unmixed blessing. But as Luther reminded us in his explanations for the First Article of the Creed, "good government" is a blessing from God. Even if governments have at times and places made themselves enemies of God and God's people that does not remove them as intended to be part of God's providence and remove our obligation to be subject to our government, to pray for those in authority, and to work for the good of the government where we have been placed (Jeremiah 29:7) when we can without violating our greater loyalty to God.
Pr. Daniel Fienen
LCMS