Flags in the church

Flags in the church

When I first entered the ministry, an older pastor told me of the history of divisions over flags in the American church. He’d had considerable experience as an interim pastor and had known these divisions in the churches he served. Soon I found out back in the fifties my own churches had been divided over this issue, also.

A new pastor had settled into the pulpits of the yoked parish and not much later removed the flags from the platforms of the churches. I don’t know if he simply moved them to the front corners of the sanctuaries or removed them from the sanctuaries entirely, but the reaction from certain people in the congregations placed his call in jeopardy. My understanding is that he never recovered the trust of the people and didn’t stay long.

In one form or the other, this account could be told about a large number of congregations around our country during the twentieth century. Christians fought and divided their churches over flags—the United States flag and the Christian flag. Should there be any flags in the sanctuary? Should there be such a thing as a Christian flag? And most commonly, which side should the American flag be on?

The rule almost no one knew as they argued and fought, splitting their churches, was that if there are two flags on the platform to the right and left of the pulpit, the flag to the speaker’s right has precedence; whereas if the flags are down on the level of the congregation, the flag to the congregation’s right has precedence. But then you’re still left with the question whether the American flag should be brought into any sanctuary of a Christian church;  and if it is brought in—most typically, along with a Christian flag—should the American flag be given pride of position over the Christian flag?

If you wonder how intense the battles were over this issue, watch the church battles today over masks. Or rather, if you want to understand the church battles today over masks, study the battles fifty and seventy-five years ago over the American flag in church sanctuaries. Both battles and their severity can only be understood when viewed in the context of patriotism, love for the fatherland.

Back at the beginning of the twentieth century, Theodore Roosevelt wrote:

There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag… We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language… and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.

More representative of the common man who held membership in churches across America, John Wayne said, “Sure I wave the American flag. Do you know a better flag to wave?”

In the face of such patriotism, the Church and her flag were relegated. In twentieth century America, it could be no other way. Motherhood. Apple pie. America.

My thesis, then, is that the battle over flags is still going on and it still has to do with patriotism.

Fifty years ago, to honor the American flag was to honor motherhood and apple pie. It was to join in the culture war summed up by Merle Haggard’s Okie from Muskogee:

The symbolism of flags hasn’t changed. What has changed is their size and placement and the things they symbolize. Back in Haggard’s time, honoring the flag was honoring a free America. It was mocking pot-smoking, draft-dodging, hippies. Those defending the American flag were part of Nixon’s “silent majority” and among them it was “my country, right or wrong.”

Over the intervening years, things have flipped so that masks today no longer celebrate the land of the free and the home of the brave, but the land of the victim and the home of the fearful. Victimhood and fearmongering are the commitments of our new and loud majority. Or almost-majority. We all thought we had lost the country to them after eight years of President Obama and what seemed a certainty that Hillary Clinton would follow him into the White House. It seemed the victims and fearmongers intent on shaming Christians and mocking God would consolidate their hold on the seats of power there inside the Beltway, but then Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. All of us were flabbergasted—some happily so, but not the God-haters who drink up the blood of the unborn.

The bloodthirsty ones who thought the country was now theirs were flabbergasted, then livid; and soon seditious; and now they are in full-blown riot in the streets (they or their children).

Not everyone who hates God and despises President Trump is rioting in the streets, but none of them seem much concerned to stop it. Impartial observers would easily admit these riots are of a fabric with the constant attacks on the working men and their president the elites have been unleashing daily since before our President’s inauguration four years ago. Socialists, Democrats, and the God-haters have shown themselves willing and able to speak sedition, commit a variety of felonies, and spend billions of their own dollars to overthrow the rule of law which put Donald Trump in the White House.

Three years into their revolution, COVID-19 showed up, and it was their dream! Imagine some heretofore unknown way to reverse the President’s economic gains, shut everyone (but inner-city rioters) up at home, wipe out small businesses of hard working men and women who cast their vote for President Trump, give civil authorities an excuse to keep churches and other large assemblies from meeting, cause the Western world to listen to the lying media and their experts as if their lives depend upon it; then, later, require every last citizen to cover his face with the unAmerican flag. As I said, it was a dream come true.

The American flag has been replaced by the unAmerican flag of those who mock apple pie, motherhood, and the United States; who despise Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump; who drink up the blood of the unborn; and who hate God. Now COVID-19 flags are everywhere, proclaiming the high and loud moralism of those hippies from fifty years ago who thought they had won the battle to destroy America’s soul. Sure, they lost one skirmish along the way, but now they are intent to do whatever is necessary (whether or not it is lawful) to win the next skirmish and move on to accepting the People of God’s unconditional surrender.

There are several statements above that baby-slaughter and hatred of God are central commitments of this new patriotism, so why support and defend the decisions of elders and pastors in congregations across our country making the decision to submit to the civil authorities’ mask orders? Why should we wear the flag of those who hate God?

Fifty years ago the American flag was a political tool signifying patriotism, but today’s mask-flags aren’t simply a political tool. They are also medical devices our civil authorities, both wicked and godly, are requiring citizens to wear to help stifle a deadly contagion.

Yes, some today refuse to wear masks because they love their country and its liberties. For them, disobedience of mask laws is an effort to protect the rule of law. Yesterday’s placement of the American flag in their sanctuaries is the political equivalent of keeping the mask-flag out of their sanctuaries today.

In the end, there are those who parade their COVID-19 flag everywhere, those who turn their backs on the COVID-19 flag (almost) everywhere, and Christians who think about things higher than nations, flags, and politics, covering their mouth and nose because their mayor and elders asked them to. They submit.


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About The Author

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Pastor of Trinity Reformed Church since 1996, Tim and Mary Lee have five children and lots of grandchildren. Tim's books include "Daddy Tried," The Grace of Shame," "Church Reformed," and a new book for elders. Tim spent ten years in the PC(USA) and twenty in the PCA. He's now a member of Evangel Presbytery.

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