An Image of My Former Self: Why We Must Remain "one nation, under God"

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…”

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“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.”

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WHAT HAS YOUR JOURNEY BEEN LIKE SPIRITUALLY, THEOLOGICALLY, AND POLITICALLY?

OTHER THOUGHTS?

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  • http://chrisnickels.wordpress.com Chris

    Thanks for this post, Kurt (and I really like your blog by the way!). This is an interesting piece about the history of the pledge and the adding of “under God”. I think you’re on to something by suggesting the phrase speaks more to the philosophy of the founders (& their Deist beliefs) and the focus on inalienable rights. I see the adding of “under God” in the 20th century as paralleling how Christianity became more prominent in the nation over time (not being that way at the beginning). Thanks for your post-I hadn’t thought of this from that angle.

    • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

      Ya… thanks for the complements. I actually am indifferent towards the pledge of allegiance now though. I invite you to re-read the intro to this post :-)

      • http://chrisnickels.wordpress.com Chris

        heh-I noticed after posting that I used the wrong tense (blame it on my typing skills & chasing my 1yr old around as I was trying to comment!). Your speech simply reminded me one historical angle concerning religious transitions in US history (I was an undergrad History major who had some interest in that subject). Sorry if my comment gave the wrong impression to anyone :)

        My journey has brought me to a place where I would not affirm the pledge, for many of the reasons you stated. Actually my journey seems to be very similar to yours; I’ve also landed in the Anabaptist/Mennonite community, though I did not have roots there.

        • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

          Very cool Chris… I was wondering where you were going with the original comment as I was under the impression that you were anabaptist as well :-)

          Shalom!

  • http://www.christmyredeemer.squarespace.com Daniel Levy

    Hey Kurt,
    what a great post, brother. I find myself on an interesting journey of faith that is led by God’s Spirit. I myself am beginning to embrace the Anabaptist tradition.
    Thanks for this post!
    Grace and peace,
    Daniel.

    • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

      Thanks Daniel!

  • jocojo

    Love your stuff Kurt, and love the Journey you are on & glad that I get to be a small part of it. Have an amazing week!

    • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

      Thanks friend!

  • Jennifer Reimer

    Hi Kurt,

    Thank you for your thoughts. Although this is my first response to your blog, I frequently read your postings and I enjoy the fact that you make me think.

    If I read your article correctly, your main argument for retaining “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance is that “[T]he words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, represent the fact that all men have ‘certain unalienable rights.’” However, I feel like you’re linking two unrelated events. You offer statements in the Declaration of Independence as support for retaining McCarthy Era additions to the Pledge of Allegiance.

    You suggest that “under God” merely reiterates the belief of the Founding Fathers that people (not including slaves or former slaves as people, but that’s another topic) have inalienable rights. I think it’s fair to say that a sizable portion of Americans are uncomfortable with reciting the phrase “under God” in the Pledge because the phrase is not perceived to be a statement of rights, but a claim to a religious belief. If “under God” really is just stating a claim to our inalienable rights, what would you think of a changed Pledge that read something like (I know the prose is a little awkward, but please indulge me):

    “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands; one nation, whose people have certain inalienable rights, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

    Also, I think some of your statements regarding Communism are a little broad. However, I don’t believe this really presents a flaw in your reasoning. Before people become agitated, let me clarify that I am Capitalist. However, it is my understanding that Communism itself is not atheistic, but rather the Marxist interpretation of Communism disallows religion. I’m not an expert on this area, but I believe there are several religious groups which could be considered to be Communist, such as monks of a variety of religious orders.

    Just my thoughts :)

    Jennifer Reimer

    • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

      Jennifer!!! Thanks for your thoughtful response! No. No. No… Please re read my introduction to this post… I am demonstrating that this is my old way of thinking. I intentionally disagree with what I wrote in 2004. I affirm your critique fully! I think church and state need to remain completely distinct :-) I invite u to read my fourth of July post as well :-)

      KURT WILLEMS http://groansfromwithin.com http://twitter.com/kurtwillems http://facebook.com/kurtwillems

      Sent from my iPhone

      • Jennifer Reimer

        Ok – sorry for the misinterpretation, lol. Also, sorry for the delayed response. I was away from the computer for a while and then I went to sleep because I’m 8 hrs ahead of you, haha. I did read your 4th of July post :) It was very interesting. If I get the chance, I’ll try to add a brief comment there.

        Take Care Coz!

        JR

  • jason

    flip-flopper!!! ..hahaha…looks lke you have confused some foks :)

  • http://mystic444.wordpress.com mystic444

    Thanks for posting this “Image of my Former Self”. It’s always interesting to be able to see how a person has developed over the years. You’ve certainly come a long way in 6 years. But one ‘sudden’ change can have tremendous repercussions that can all be realized very quickly.

    The major changes in my theological and political positions came about 23 years ago. I have gradually developed in many ways since, as I did an awful lot of reading (of things my fundamentalist friends call “doctrines of demons” :grin: ) and thinking. My most recent development came this year. I decided to check out the accusations which are so frequently made against Islam: that it is a religion of violence and terrorism, and advocates that all ‘infidels’ (including Christians and Jews) be killed (unless they agree to convert before you get a chance to murder them). I had other preconceptions about this religion, based on what I was taught as I grew up: that Islam teaches that the Jews got everything backwards; it was Ishmael who was chosen by God, NOT Isaac. I understood that Islam rejected all the ‘Jewish’ prophets. As I started investigating, though, I quickly found out – by reading what the Qur’an itself has to say, and what Muslims say about their religion – that all of those accusations and preconceptions are utterly false. Islam holds to the faith of Abraham, and believes God’s blessing was on BOTH Isaac and Ishmael. It recognizes the “Jewish” prophets as having been sent by God, including (and most especially, perhaps) Jesus, whom they acknowledge as the Christ. (They don’t even call the prophet Muhammad “Christ” – only Jesus). And while they do not believe in the pacifism which you and I advocate, the Qur’an unequivocally teaches nonaggression. Fighting is only permitted in self defense. When ‘infidels’ physically attack them, they may fight back. As soon as the ‘infidel’ quits fighting, the Muslim is required to cease fighting also. Under no circumstances does the Qur’an allow for ‘preemptive’ warfare. Noncombatants, whether male or female; young, middle aged, or old, are never to be harmed. The self proclaimed “Muslim” terrorists are “wolves in sheep’s clothing”, acting in violation of the most plain and clear teachings of their own ‘holy book’. (I just read this morning a news account concerning the trial of one ‘Muslim’ terrorist, in which the terrorist claimed he was a Muslim warrior. The judge picked up a Qur’an he had with him, and read several passages which were clearly contrary to the terrorist’s actions – and then told the terrorist that he clearly didn’t have Allah as his God; he worshiped murder and violence, not Allah.) My research has resulted in several articles on my blog defending Muslims against false charges, and showing the truth of the relationship between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (at least as the Qur’an and Islam believe).

    Anyhow, I also used to be very conservative and Evangelical; but as is evident from some of my comments on your blogs, I’ve “come a long way, baby”! :lol: I’ve no doubt gone much further away from my Conservative and Evangelical roots than you have. But I enjoy reading your thoughts, and the comments of your other readers. Again, thanks for this illustration of growth and change in you life.

  • Janie Mock

    Kurt, Why do you think that “God’s Spirit” leads different individuals to hold beliefs that are in complete contradiction?

    • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

      Janie, That is a very good question… I suppose that our understandings of what the Spirit has said on some issues needs to be held in tension. And sometimes we learn that what we thought was the Spirit was our own intuition. But sometimes, God speaks very clearly… and when he does, we should listen!

      • Conrad

        part of it is I think interpreting our own stuff as God, but I think a lot of it is God creating tension between 2 points seemingly contradictory points of a paradox (deeper truth) of God. As in through your experience you have insight to one part of it, but someone else has a different part, so instead of looking at as “you have the wrong part” “no YOU have the wrong part” we seek after God for the depth of the matter.

        more thoughts on the actual article later at some point.

        • http://mystic444.wordpress.com mystic444

          “Yeah, what he said!” Very good points, Conrad. I was thinking along those same lines. We perhaps sometimes forget that when God’s Life and Spirit ‘lead’ us, God has an ultimate goal in mind for the particular path we’re on. We reach a ‘rest stop’ along the way and wrongly imagine we’ve reached the final destination! The Life of God, which is both within and without us, brings people, events, and reading material into our outer lives, which challenge our inner thoughts. As His Spirit prods (leads) us to think about these things, we reach certain conclusions. Those conclusions may be true, half-true, or false. If they are half-true or false, the Spirit of God will continue to lead us until we arrive at the full truth of the matter. We need to get over the idea that because God’s leading has brought us to certain conclusions, those conclusions must be true. We may just be at a ‘rest stop’ on the journey to the truth. Someone else’s ‘rest stop’ may be entirely different from mine, which may lead to conflict. God is genuinely leading us both, but our own thoughts have brought about different conclusions. God leads us to think, but doesn’t do the thinking for us. :shock:

          My wife attended a Bill Gothard crusade back in the early 1970s (actually, I think it was when we were engaged, not married), which I myself did not attend. She brought back one of his lapel buttons for me, though, which had these letters on it: PBPGINFWMY. Those letter stood for: Please Be Patient, God Is Not Finished With Me Yet. Thank God that’s true! :grin:

    • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

      Hey, late to the party b/c I’ve been moving, but. . .

      Just because people who profess faith come to different conclusions on this, does not by any means require that “God’s Spirit leads” them to those conclusions. Most of our theories, IMHO, are our own and ought not be blamed on the H.S. ;{)

  • Brad Dodson

    I enjoy seeing the growth of a person through an actual statement from their prior belief. Thanks for sharing; I wish more people were comfortable being transparent with their beliefs, as I feel that it would help them with the formation of their personal belief system, expelling the cultural/political confusion that so many carry. In other words, once you expose yourself, then you find your vulnerabilities, or confront your willingness to stand firm for a logic/belief that you did not form as an individual.

    I believe that the linking of Christianity with American politics is damaging to Christianity. It often presents an extremely legalistic form of the Christian faith. In fact, it often borders on matching, if not exceeding, the same extremist response as the terrorists masking themselves in a false form of Islam. Does this mean that Christians are blowing up World Trade Centers? No, but it does implicate many Christians of having a “justified” (falsely) hatred towards Muslims – a hatred that many of these Christians use to force a libelous form of Christianity on our government. In fact, many of them would see my comments here as evidence that I don’t “get it” and I don’t “understand” the price we have to pay for our freedom, and that I have no concept of the fact that our government was founded on God, therefore I am a confused Christian. (Of course, what our founding fathers believed, many of us know, was nothing close to an approximation of the conservative Christian views of today).

    I applaud you for sharing your open belief that church and state are strengthened when they are not held together, bound into a singular entity. I agree, and, I believe that Christianity, in its purest sense, is strengthened by remaining unaltered, and unattached to worldly governmental systems/beliefs.

  • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

    Hey Kurt,

    You have come a long way, my friend!

    I chose to stop saying the Pledge during my 6th grade year. I knew my parents didn’t say it, but they never really talked about it nor forced their opinions on us; they merely stood in respectful silence when others said it. My own choice was as I observed the nation’s behavior in Vietnam and felt that I could not pledge allegiance to a nation that was that misguided, particularly as, when I got older, that allegiance might call me to participate in what I could already see was a grave injustice.

    Of course my own thinking has evolved and deepened, to the point that today I consider the patriotism displayed in most American churches to be rank idolatry.

    I have never pressured my kids on the pledge either, but I was gratified when my daughter, somewhere around 5th or 6th grade, came home one day and informed me that she thought the pledge “sounded an awful lot like a prayer.” She felt that saying a prayer like that to somebody other than God wasn’t a very good idea…and I encouraged her that she was on the right track.

    And just as an aside, your writing is much more carefully reasoned today than it was then, I notice!


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