On Memorial Day Sunday, Wayne Mazingo, a Gulf War veteran, led our church congregation as we paused and pledged our allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. Afterwards, I spoke in remembrance of the meaning of the day and, as I prayed, I heard a few weeping.
A dear friend took me to task, suggesting it bordered on idolatry to pledge allegiance to the flag in a worship service. I disagreed and took the time to write the following in a letter to him.
I am pleased to have served my country in the U.S. Navy. I am humbled by the many who have sacrificed themselves to preserve our freedoms and moved forward our values. I stand in honor and remembrance of them. I salute the flag that stands for the Republic, under God, with liberty and justice for all. I appreciate the emphasis that the Christian Founding Fathers gave us: freedom to worship God, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, freedom of movement plus many other freedoms.
I believe that government is meant, according to St. Paul, (13) to oppose evil, punish the evildoer, insure the safety of its citizens, fight for the rights of others who are oppressed, secure justice or remedy injustice, secure peace and protect the innocent as much as possible.
I accept, in this fallen world, that there will always be “war or rumors of war” until Jesus returns. But until that day comes, strength is the insurer of peace. As Martin Luther said, “Without armaments peace cannot be kept; wars are waged not only to repel injustice, but also to establish a firm peace.”
I know that Jesus taught non-retaliation in the Sermon on the Mount, saying, “I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Matt. 5:39) But He was referring to personal non-retaliation, not national defense; nor was He referring to defending the helpless against the ruthless. To protect one’s family or neighbor by placing yourself in harm’s way is an act of unselfish love. Jesus Himself stated, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13). The late Francis Schaeffer said, “I am not a pacifist because pacifism in this fallen world in which we live means that we desert the people who need our greatest help.” (Quoted from Skip Heitzig, Decision magazine)
I thank God for all who risk their lives to insure my freedom. Let the words of John Stuart Mill smite us all with conviction: “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight—nothing he cares about more than his own safety is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.” Thank God!
What I didn’t say is that Wayne Mazingo is on disability from the Gulf War. He thanked me for according him the honor of leading in the pledge.
My friend wrote back:
“I have no problem with patriotism. I stand and proudly pledge the flag at a civic function. Part of my patriotism is based on the great freedom of religion and I am a firm believer in the separation of church and state; that, in my opinion, is why the Christian Church is so strong in our great country. My objection is giving homage to the state in the midst of a service of Christian worship.”
I agree! Patriotism is not the issue. The issue is, as you put it “separation of church and state.”
However, there is no such thing as “separation of church and state” in America’s history. There is such a thing as separation of the state from the church. Our founding fathers, because of their experience, were most fearful of the encroachment of the state into the life of the church. They knew the results of that kind of evil and suffered persecution because of it. So they came to these shores seeking freedom and the privilege of worshiping God according to the dictates of the Bible and their own conscience.
This nation was founded as a refuge from state encroachment. God was always a part of that search for freedom and worship. There was never any idea, otherwise, of building colonies apart from free religious expression, freedom to worship, building a just society upon the principals of the Bible and the idea that God was a part and parcel of it all. And so it has been from the beginning. In that sense the roots of our country are in the Bible. Biblical principals gave the ideas that sparked the building of this nation. This idea of a secular state, hostile to the Christian Faith (as we have to endure today) would never have entered the thinking of our early founders.
As a matter of fact, most of the great ideas for our great republic grew out of the understanding of the Christian Faith. The freedoms we enjoy and the accommodations we make to people of other religions are found there too.
Sad to say, some have tried to make this a secular nation (against all historical evidence) by omitting God from public life. They have turned away from the very heritage that has made us great. The revisionists on campus have done their job of rewriting American history. The facts are no longer known. We live with confused ideology and the secularists have taken advantage of us. Political correctness has become the new idol of the American mind. Only now are we beginning to see progress again in the public arena for freedom to wear our crosses, speak our witness, pray our prayers and acknowledge the presence of God in historical affairs and, I could add, say the pledge of allegiance in our worship services. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 have certainly focused our attention on “first things first” once again.
This is no call for a theocracy. God forbid! This is a call for the return to those principles and convictions that gave birth to this country and held us in good stead for the first 200 years of our nation’s life. We used to be known as a Christian nation. I am not sure we have been that, but certainly that is where our roots are and there is nothing wrong with knowing and emphasizing that. May God continue to awaken us to His will for our national life.
My friend continued the dialogue:
“The issue is saying the pledge to the flag in a service of Christian worship. To me, that conveys the message that God loves our country more than others and causes great concern to me. We are not God’s favorite, rather we are God’s children struggling to find the path to wholeness, saying the pledge in church hurts me no end.”
I wrote back:
That is the first time I ever heard anyone advance that argument: “That God loves our country more than other countries”. I never heard of that before, but as I think about it, God certainly loved the Hebrew nation above other nations. But, I don’t think that is the question at all.
That God directed our forefathers to this land to plant this country here, I have no doubt. God was active in the lives of the people that settled this land. They did what they did in response to the call of God to come here and plant a new nation. Although, I doubt that they were really thinking about those kinds of things, but certainly the Revolutionary Leaders were. They were building a new nation, under God. The pledge to allegiance honors both our history and our present attitude (which is like a prayer) that we believe that God is the Lord of this nation and we want to honor this fact with both our lips and our lives.
God loves all his children with a perfect love of this I am sure. I also think that God loves those who please Him. But how this plays out, I am not always sure, except to say that He gives us his assuring presence, in the person of the Holy Spirit, who is very real. I praise God for that.
I am not sure how helpful this exchange of ideas is to you. It is too long to be sure . . . but then I am known for my long-winded sermons. Please forgive me!
Is it important? In this day and time, I certainly think so. There is a lot of confusion about the issue of church and state in the minds of many. I pray this will help.