Why “See You At The Pole” Makes Me Nervous, and How I Would Change It

Today is the national See You At the Pole prayer event. If you don’t know what it is, just Google it.

When I was touring with my band Satellite Soul, we played nearly every year at a See You At the Pole rally somewhere in the states. There was always something about it that made me a little bit nervous, but for a long time I didn’t have the language to describe my intuitions. I’ve tried to sum it up over the years and this is why I get a little fidgety. It’s the fact that Christians organize an event during which they gather around a flag pole and pray. I’ve seen it at least a half-dozen times and it just seems off to me. There’s simply something creepy about a bunch of young children holding hands in a circle around an American flag praying.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for kids praying. I’m all for them holding hands in a circle. I’m all for them meeting up somewhere on school property once at the beginning of the school year to pray for God’s blessing and guidance. There is also something admirable about kids in our day and age who are willing to meet up with other Christians and seek God’s favor, especially on school grounds with the separation of church and state and the school prayer issues looming in the background. All of that seems good to me. But does it have to be done around the American flag? Is the flag what we want at the center of attention when we pray? It really bothers me.

I think it actually goes against the concept of each Christian being first and foremost a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. I’m trying to imagine what that might feel like to the Native American who is a Christian, or the foreign exchange student. I’m wondering how many times the sins of our nation are named at a given See You At the Pole prayer event without ever mentioning the sins of slavery, the eradication of the Native Americans, or current economic injustices among them?

Praying is something we should do, and something we should try to encourage our children to do. But, public prayer should be done with absolute humility especially in light of Jesus’s teaching on prayer from Matthew 6:5-6: “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” That’s pretty tough to get around.

However, I don’t think I would stop the event, even in light of Matt. 6. I think there’s a way to do an event like this with humility & in a way that doesn’t draw undue attention to ourselves. I don’t even think they ought to change the name – the flagpole exists on nearly every school grounds, that’s fine meet up there. So, once you meet up at the flagpole, just move twenty feet over to the side and circle up without reference to the flag. Allow God, not country, to be the center of our prayers. Don’t make this about America, make it about the kingdom of God which is no respecter of nations. After all, the apostle Paul taught us to say, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” (Gal 3:27-28). Those national distinctions fall away when we pray.

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  • Jubal DiGriz

    The word you seem to be searching for is “theocracy”. History has proven that whenever religion and government mix it wrecks both.

    Perhaps the worst part is that there has never been, and never could be, a “nondenominational” theocracy. Every Christian should be an ardent and paranoid defender of separation of church and state, because it’s a near certainty that if religion becomes law an aspect of their faith will be criminalized regardless of denomination.

  • Brad

    I never saw it as a patriotism thing. I always figured it was just a way to organize an event. Every public school in the country has a flag, and so you are guaranteed a standardized predetermined meeting-place.

  • Zach

    In my humble opinion, its all in how you look at it. I think every country has parts of their history they’d all like to wish never happened, but can’t.
    Lets talk about all the babies put in trash bags in china, genocide in various countries, etc… Somehow people like to vilify America, but the truth in my opinion, is that in this current day, we are the only ones standing up for those countries (see all the monies we send overseas to support them all financially). European countries like to call us the bad guy, but they are quick to ask for our military support when something might go awry.
    As far as see you at the pole, I think many are praying for the salvation of not only their friends, but of the leaders of this nation. I don’t think there is anything divisive about that. I think any Christian native american or other ethnicity of Christian would ask for the same thing of the leaders of this country.
    I would agree that the flagpole is not the only place they could pray, but i think it helps us all remember that on this day, we are united as Christians in the USA.

  • Paul Schwartz

    Recently I was asked by a young man looking to join the military about my 6 yrs of military service and being a Christian and if I was conflicted. Short answer: yes I left the military after I became a Christian. I went from worshiping the Flag and believing in God, to worshiping God and believing in the Flag. I hear what you are saying however, like a lot of things in this country and world we start with good intentions and where we finish is somewhere else.

    • John R Huff II

      Excellent comments. I am sick and tired of people wrapping themselves in the flag and saying we are fighting for democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan. How many more young men have to die. The son of a bitch W Shrub should have been enough of a wake up call. And now, Obama is playing politics in some ways as Shrub. Get the f… out of other countries affairs unless we are asked to intervene. This country is in debt because of spending money on unnecessary military wars and defense. It is a sin.

  • John R Huff II

    Mr Zach , we are not united as Christians arounf the dumb flag pole. We are united as citizens of all races, faiths.etc. Get off your flagpole and accept reality please.

    • Zach

      Tim was addressing Christians, not all faiths. This is the ‘reality’ i’m addressing.

  • John R Huff II

    Well Tim they should fall away, but unfortunately for some who haven’t gotten any sense , it hasn’t.

  • Fayella

    I have always seen the gathering around the flag as a reminder that we need to pray for our country as well as the individuals we come in contact with daily. I know that personally, it is easier for me to remember to pray for my immediate friends and family, but I neglect to pray for those leading our government and for the country as a whole, even though recent events have shown how badly our country needs prayer. The See You at the Pole events that I attended really didn’t place that much significance on the flag other than as a reminder to pray for our leadership.

  • Barry1234

    It’s just a good place to gather since every school usually has a flag out front. Gee Whiz- always something to complain about. It’s a great thing- and it makes sense.

  • Barry1234

    Your common sense is rare apparently. You are 100% correct.

  • Mike

    In 1990 when youth
    ministers in Texas first challenged young people to meet on a common day
    to launch their school year in prayer, one of the concerns what how to
    help those who wanted to pray together find each other. It was noted
    that virtually every school has a flagpole, and the flagpole provided an
    easy-to-identify place to gather. Also, one issue that the teenagers
    were praying about was the spiritual health of their country and their
    leaders, in obedience to 1 Timothy 2:1–2. Hence, the location and name
    of the event!

  • Craig M.

    Circling the flagpole is a way of symbolically surrounding our country in prayer. I see nothing wrong with the flagpole being the center of attention in a prayer. When we pray over a sick person they are often surrounded by those praying for them. That is not to say they are being put first or glorified over God. How can you pray for someone or something if you are not giving it attention?