For the first time in my voting life, the presidential candidate I voted for did not win. To say that there is shock is an understatement, not necessarily for me, but for my friends and family on both sides of the divide. Some celebrate, others mourn, others are afraid. Throughout this entire election cycle, and especially last night, as my Facebook newsfeed blew up with blessings and curses of God, I have never been more convinced that flags do not belong in sanctuaries.
With everything that could be talked about why talk about flags? Because they are a symbol. I do not mean they are merely a symbol of a nation, there is more to it than that. An American flag elicits a response. It can be pride, hope, hate, or disgust. A flag can by a symbol of patriotism or a symbol of our identity, and that is why it can be a problem. The church is not American first. It is not even American second. The church is not American at all. Christians may find themselves in this country, but this country is not the only place Christians are found.
The wedding of nationalism and faith is a dangerous game. I write this post cognizant of what date today is, November 9th, the anniversary of Kristallnacht. There we saw the beginnings of the depth of evil and danger when nationalism and faith become one. The church is not bound to any nation, we have to remember that. To be Christian does not mean one is American. The First Amendment actually guarantees the reverse of that to be true as well, to be an American does not mean one is Christian.
But, there are Christians in America. The Church finds herself in many places, and one of those places just elected a president loved by some and feared by many. So what is the response of the church in a time like this? Remove the flags. As Christians we can be citizens, we can work through societal structures, we can be subject to governments, but we don’t tie our identity to a nation. We don’t bind the destiny of the church as a whole or Christians as individuals to a flag, we are bound to a person.
Removing the flags is only a start. It is one step we should have taken long before last night. One I have advocated as a pastor in my own parish long before any candidate was put on the ballot. If you are going to say God bless America, then you need to say God bless Great Britain, God bless France, God bless Iraq, God bless Syria, God bless Afghanistan. America has no special place, no right to existence above or beyond any other nation at this time. The Church lives in and among all nations, but the church is bound to none of them. If you don’t want to remove the American flag, put the flags of every other country in too.
In the end, why this matters, is because everything the church does sends a message to those outside of it and inside of it. To those outside we tell people they don’t belong if they don’t belong to that flag. To those inside we tell people that that flag defines you. But the fact is in Christ is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. Distinctions of this sort stay outside of the room where heaven stoops down to earth and we taste the incarnation. At that rail, Christ comes in, with, and under the bread and wine not for a country, but for people.
For Illegal Immigrants.
For my friends.
For my enemies.
Christ comes for people, not to save a country. Americans can be Christians, but America cannot because the church does not exist outside of flesh. As Christ does for people, so does the church. We exist not for a country, but for people.
For Illegal Immigrants.
For my friends.
For my enemies.
And where Christ is, there is His people. We need not fear who is in office. The tomb stands open. We need not worry about what will happen to us. The tomb stands open. We do not pretend that anything is a threat to the church because there is no such thing. The tomb stands open.
“Though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us, WE TREMBLE NOT WE FEAR NO ILL, they cannot overpower us.”
So we take down the flags, and lift up our eyes to the one who died on pole. To the one who was placed into a tomb. To the one who came out it. Who gives us his life, death, and resurrection not so that we hoard it, but so that we carry that love to people who need it. We don’t gloat when our candidate wins. We don’t cry when our candidate loses. We press on and reach out to those who do not hope as we do. We reach out to people.
To Illegal Immigrants.
To my friends.
To my enemies.
2 thoughts on “This is why flags don’t belong…”
The separation of Church and State has long been a cornerstone of our American Democracy, from William Penn and Roger Williams foundings of Pennsylvania and Rhode Island to Gov. Thomas Jefferson’s authorship of Virginia’s Act (which was introduced to the General Assembly in your vicarage town of Fredericksburg), to the adoption of the Bill of Rights and the establishment of our Federal Government. However, the display of our National Standard is right and appropriate at times by the church, particularly for Funerals of those who have served both Christ and Country, and other occasions (Particularly where we rejoice in our Freedom to Worship, something all but two majority Muslim nations deny to Christians). While it is right and good to remember always Christ came for all, let us not forget that many of us have ancestors who were forced to flee homelands to be able to worship Christ as Lutherans, recalling the sacrifices they made in coming to the New World, and seek not to dishonor them by seeking to justify one’s dislike of an electoral result by attacking the display of our National Standard.
Jeff, perhaps you are misunderstanding me. I am not “seeking to justify one’s dislike of an electoral result.” I clearly state that this is the result of an entire election season that invoked God on either side. That clearly demonstrates a dangerous wedding of political allegiance and faith. Moreover, to suggest that calling a thing what it is is dishonoring an ancestor sets a problematic precedent. What sacred cows can’t be touched? Being grateful for freedom to worship does not necessitate patriotic displays in an arena that no country is allowed to claim because the Lord of heaven and earth has already claimed it. The church owes it life to no flag. Whether we have freedom or not our existence is secured. Frankly, I’m not convinced funerals should have flag draped coffins if the person was a Christian. Doing so suggests that the citizenship on earth meant more than the baptismal identity. Funerals in general should not be about the one who dies but about the one in whom the person died. While I can’t speak for all Lutherans, flags made their way in as a way to avoid persecution, not to honor a country my forebears in the LCMS were concerned very little about. We were never interested in being American Lutherans but German Lutherans in America. Finally, I’ll never apologize for pointing out the fact that any identity that claims to hold a place on par with baptismal identity is idolatrous at best. It is not Christ and Country on equal terms. It’s Christ.