a generous paradoxy: i pledge allegiance?

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Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

a generous paradoxy: i pledge allegiance?

a couple days ago, i began a 3-part series called a generous paradoxy with peace through weakness. in continuing with that theme, i wanted to share about something i saw here in little rock last week.

while driving down i-430, one cannot miss a particularly imposing church. it’s unnecessary and helpful to say who it is, but let’s just say it’s a very prominent church in little rock with several thousand members. what struck me this particular day, having driven past it hundreds of times, were the three flags waving over the church.
flying highest was the american flag. to its right, flying slightly lower was the arkansas flag. to its left was the flag that caught my attention. as you could probably guess, this flag, flying at an equal height of the arkansas flag, was the christian flag.
let me offer a couple quick notes. first, i am generally opposed to flying the american (or state, for that matter) flag in the context of the church (inside, outside, whatever). i’ve talked before about the mixture of christianity and nationalism and it has dangerous effects (as we’ve seen throughout history). i’m not opposed to being proud of your country (i certainly am) and i’m obviously not opposed to faith in christ, but when the two become indistinguishable, it’s very scary. second, i’m also opposed to flying the christian flag, quite frankly. clearly, flags, at the most rudimentary level, are simply symbols of identity. if i carry an american flag to ireland, it identifies me and the symbols on the flag say something about my history and tradition. likewise, there’s a sense of identify given by the christian flag. the problem i find, though, is that there’s an heir of imperialism and pride and exclusivity to flags. historically, i’m taken back to constantine imperializing christianity and marking his soldiers’ shields with the cross. there just seems to be an inherent imperialism to me about the christian flag.
with that said, what most struck me was the fact that this church was making a very clear statement by the way they chose to fly their flags. flying the american flag above the state flag implies that the united states are more important and more revered than the individual states. it’s a clear and universal symbol. what, then, does it mean that the christian flag is flown lower than the american flag? it’s a matter of allegiance.
part of what’s scary about wrapping the bible in the flag is that when that happens, what is hidden is the bible, not the flag. it seems that our nationalism has become the key hermeneutic in interpreting scripture and not—as it should be—the other way around. (not to insult your intelligence…but by key hermeneutic, i mean the thing that “unlocks” the way you interpret the bible. it’s almost like the lens in which you view scripture.) when we begin with national pride, it’s easy to make scripture it into that mold. if i believe that america is the savior of the world, one could easily (and it happens often) see the united states as a surrogate “chosen people.” that’s scary. and it’s sinful.
i’m not suggesting that this church is more concerned about the united states than it is about christ. clearly i don’t think that’s the case. i do believe, though, like many churches around the country, they have pledged allegiance to what are often competing forces.
i didn’t plan this, but much like my first paradoxy post, i am reminded of a derek webb song. in a king and a kingdom, webb sings,
my first allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or a man
my first allegiance is not to democracy or blood
it’s to a king & a kingdom
powerful stuff. take a listen.

i’ll be back soon with my final post in the series with, a generous paradoxy: an inconsistent truth.