Another day, another flag story. Recently, a pastor in North Carolina raised a Christian flag high upon a pole outside of his church. Under that, the Stars and Stripes. The pastor is making a plea for religious freedom and is encouraging people to recognize of the primacy of obedience to God over national allegiance.
But his action is misguided. Christianity is not an ideology, but it becomes one when a symbol of it is raised in violation of the U.S. flag code as a protest: “No other flag or pennant should be placed above . . . the flag of the United States of America.” This is a revolutionary action, not a simple protest. As the Pledge of Allegiance already states, the American flag flies under the providence of God. We should be able to recognize the primacy of God without disrespecting our nation’s flag.
It’s interesting that it is a Baptist church which has raised the Christian flag over Old Glory. For quite some time Catholics were tagged as being questionable citizens. Catholics of the 19th and 20th centuries bent over backward to demonstrate that they could be both good Catholics and good citizens. Now all conservative Christians are feeling the pull between government and God.
Tension does not a revolution make, however. Rightly are Christians frustrated by the continued erosion of traditional beliefs in this country, both in society as a whole and in the government. But this frustration should not find vent in disrespecting the flag which represents more than just this President, this Supreme Court, this Congress. It stands for all the women and men who have lived to make this country what it is, and those who gave their lives at home and abroad for our safety.
This is one nation, under God already (whether he is recognized or not). The flag symbolizes the country working together; it’s a symbol of common ground (incidentally the U.S. flag predates the Christian flag by over 100 years). It’s not an anti-Christian symbol.
Today, instead of discussing a contentious issue, I must fly my flag in your face to let you know just where I stand. Will there be death penalty flags and higher minimum wage flags? Or can we just discuss things reasonably without flaunting ideologies?
It’s not just the Christian flag. The rainbow flag has been superimposed on the White House and on countless profile pictures on Facebook and Twitter. A small resistance movement has placed the Vatican flag over their profile pictures (like the Christian flag, the Vatican flag originated in its current form after the American flag). The battle flag of the Confederacy has also been in the news of late. This is a sensitive topic for many, but it has at its root a rebellious symbolism against the flag of the United States, who defeated the Confederacy in 1865. Many Americans served and died for that confederate flag, and this is no small consideration. But often it too is flaunted as an ideological resistance movement.
What results is a pledge to a flag of our own making. It sounds less like a pledge to unity among people who don’t always agree, and more like this:
I pledge allegiance to my flag
Of my favorite ideology
And to the cause, for which it stands
One assertion, under my sovereign self
With isolation and incivility for all
We should lower our ideological flags, and beneath the Stars and Stripes, work towards a more perfect union.
Dominic Bouck, O.P., is a Dominican brother of the Province of St. Joseph and a summer intern at First Things.