In a holiday-weekend change of pace, I attempted visits at three different churches. Each visit was a “fail”: one church was no longer meeting, and I left the other two without even sitting down. Sigh.
In many churches, on Sundays near Memorial Day (or Independence Day or Veterans Day), one often finds the U.S. flag on display, even if it isn’t displayed on other Sundays. In my judgment, any national/political symbol is out of place in a church house, but I haven’t ever been forced to make an issue of it on a congregational level. In a church two years ago, it was close: I was told that flags had recently been removed months before we moved in, and I was glad for that.
In another church (to which relatives once belonged), the table used for communion was actually draped with an American flag one Sunday as the remembrance of Jesus began. The very thought of this table decoration ought to elicit more than a sigh or polite gasp. A shriek of horror would not be out of place. I’m cursed with a fabricated image in my head of what this looked like, but the ludicrous image to the right is the best I can do now.
One of my three church visits on the Sunday before Memorial Day resulted in a particularly quick exit: I walked into the sanctuary and immediately had my eyes treated to children processing onto the stage with national and state flags in their hands. By experience, I knew something of what was coming,¹ so I left . . . and I took to the computer shortly after!
Below are two views on the observance of nationalistic holidays (which views might be said to extend to Americanism and church in general), stated as succinctly and objectively as possible:
View A. Christians ought to be good citizens and ought, as such, to be associated with patriotism. Allegiance to the flag goes hand-in-hand with allegiance to God. American folks look favorably on honoring the military; honoring the military in church is an opportunity to support something that most people view as a necessary good.
Sacrifice is an honorable idea; the sacrifice of military heroes ties in well with Jesus’ sacrifice.
View B. Allegiance to a nation was not taught by Jesus, and neither did the apostolic writers commend it. The government is a recognized civil authority, and our temporary citizenship in an earthly nation ought to involve a level of good citizenship—certainly including submission to government (where there is no conflict with God’s authority). The flag, however, is out of place in the Christian gathering for worship / edification / instruction; its honorific display flies in the face of allegiance to God. The penchant for blending political and spiritual affiliations waters down both of the above.
Sacrifice is an honorable idea; Jesus’ sacrifice is singular and should not be compared in any sense to the sacrifice of military heroes.
Maybe you’re not very interested in what I said about those two views, or in my own thoughts on how churches handle national holidays, and that’s fine. I only hope your views will be guided by what you read in scripture and not by tradition or political affiliation. I close with two brief quotations.
I grew weary long ago of those who love usurping God-time with praise for their country and the illusion of this world’s freedoms. I think they insult both God and country. . . .
People who are so fond of praising and serving “God and country” do not comprehend that our God is a jealous God.
– H. Arnett, 2012
¹ My wife and I have adopted the general practice of not going to any church we know or care about on these holidays. It’s easier that way.