I have not always had many of the more ‘controversial’ views that I hold today. For most of my life, I embraced a typical evangelical stance on everything from theology to politics. However, as I have been engaging the Scriptures for the past 6 years, my views on several (not all) of these issues have transitioned in significant ways. One distinctive that is more than obvious is that I finally chose to embrace my Anabaptist roots. As a child and teenager, I was a cultural Mennonite, but a theological conservative evangelical and therefore a conservative political advocate. Now, I have a strong suspicion of all things ‘empire,’ yet I also realize that not everything that the empire does is evil. There are many ‘greater goods’ that the empire can accomplish. Nevertheless, I am weary of the cross and the flag being too closely held together. In this post, my hope is that you will see that I have been on a journey and that many of my views that frustrate my more conservative readers did not come about on a whim, but have been part of the spiritual journey that God’s Spirit has me on. This is a speech I gave for my Oral Communications Class in College back in 2004. Here is “An Image of My Former Self…”
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands; one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
This is a pledge to never forsake the greatest country in the world. As we gaze into the stars and stripes of the flag, we reflect on the price of freedom. The blood that has been spilled for you, for me; in the days before us. Where the American flag soars through the sky, so freedom soars higher than anything else in the land. We are a free people, the flag reminds us of that freedom; and the pledge is a promise to uphold all that the flag represents. The pledge of liberty.
The Pledge of Allegiance has a unique history that is worthy of mention. The original version was written in 1892 by a socialist clergyman named Francis Bellamy. It read: “I pledge allegiance to my flag and the Republic for which it stands; one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” In 1924 the words “my flag” were substituted with “the flag of the united states of America.” Then, 1942 the government officially recognizes the pledge. In 1954 the words “under God” were added after “one Nation.” President Eisenhower approved this addition on Flag Day. This was stirred up a few years earlier by Louis A. Bowman who was a member of the Sons of the American Revolution. This would be approved in light of the atheistic communist threat.
President Eisenhower said this at the Flag Day ceremony:
“In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource in peace and war.”
In, 2002 the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals rules that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in the public school system is an unconstitutional blending of church and state. This was in favor of a father named Michael Newdow from Elk Grove, CA. Then, in 2003 US Supreme Court says it will come to a decision about whether it is a blend of church and state. By 2004 US Supreme Court droped case because the father of the student did not have sufficient legal custody of his daughter. Therefore, the high court avoided having to address this question of separation of church and state.
The Pledge of allegiance obviously has caused much controversy over the last couple of years. Does a policy that requires teachers to lead students that are willing to recite the Pledge that includes the words “under God” violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment? (Government can’t establish a state-religion). For those who would say that it does, it is because they look at history and see that the infamous words were added much after the adoption of the Pledge by our US government. At a first glance it does appear that it is a pro-religious statement, which cannot possibly be all-inclusive. For instance, this statement does not appear to apply to pluralistic or atheistic streams of thought. So, how does this not infringe on the Establishment Clause of the first Amendment?
What if I answered that by saying that the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, represent the fact that all men have “certain unalienable rights” when considered in it’s context? Allow me to explain. It is more than apparent as we look back to when our country was founded, that our entire governmental system was based on the belief that the government could never infringe on the inalienable rights that were given by a Creator. The Declaration of Independence proclaimed:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men…”
The founding fathers decided that they must establish a limited government that would never infringe on these God-given rights. With this, comes the right to choose religion or to choose otherwise. The government’s authority over the individual is limited because of the foundational belief that God has created all men with such rights.
The phrase “under God” also was a direct attack on the Communist system of the former Soviet Union. In the early 1950’s, the threat that Communism had on our free society was great. In our democratic republic society, we have already established that our government’s foundation is on our “certain inalienable rights” that we were created with as stated in the Declaration of Independence. Communism does not recognize such rights. This worldview excludes a Deity, and therefore excludes that people have these rights. Our country’s basis of rights is because at the root of our philosophy is our belief that these rights had to of come from somewhere. Or perhaps Someone.
The question then becomes, how can a government claim to be religiously neutral and still have a monotheistic statement? It is impossible for any philosophy to have a foundation that is completely in every respect neutral. So foundationally, yes, our country is based on a monotheistic God. However, that does not mean that operationally America is religious or not religious. What it means is that the “under God” that our Pledge to the flag contains, is merely in reference to the belief that every person does indeed have “certain inalienable rights.” With this as our government’s foundation, a person has the right to choose any religion or the lack their of, in order to suit that person’s personal convictions. If we remove “under God”, we will be removing the philosophy that granted us religious freedom in the first place. We must not allow this to happen. Our freedom to choose a religion or to abstain depends on the implication of that phrase. We must remain as “one Nation, under God.”
WHAT HAS YOUR JOURNEY BEEN LIKE SPIRITUALLY, THEOLOGICALLY, AND POLITICALLY?