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.