The American Flag in the Church

The American Flag in the Church September 1, 2015

From Roger Olson:

The American flag is an important symbol for me as for many American church goers. I still always get choked up when I hear the American national anthem and see the “stars and stripes” waving in the wind—at a sports event or Independence Day celebration or whatever. My wife and I always put out our American flag on national holidays. I consider myself very patriotic.

However, what many Christians who insist on having the American flag in their churches’ worship spaces don’t realize is—it’s unpatriotic. Unless, of course, theyintend to say it is symbolizes their highest loyalty—even above Jesus Christ. Of course, I fear that is indeed the case on some churches although they would probably deny it. To the extend they deny it, they are contradicting themselves by having the flag in the worship space.

Here’s why….

A good friend of mine who is a former Marine and expert on the etiquette of the U.S. flag recently informed me that the U.S. flag ought never to be flown “in submission.” I engaged him in conversation about this and learned that, according to American flag etiquette (yes, there are people who specialize in that), it is okay to fly the U.S. flag upside down (as a signal of distress), at half mast (mourning) and alongside other national flags in certain spaces such as at the United Nations headquarters in New York. But it is never okay to fly it “in submission” to something else—for example lower than another flag in the same space. According to my friend who is also a scholar of Christian worship and has taught graduate level course in Christian worship for many years, having the U.S. flag in any worship space is wrong because it is “being flown in submission”—to God.

A very interesting conundrum to consider.

The point is that the worship space, the sanctuary (whatever it is called), is dedicated to sole worship of God above all else. The people gathered are ostensibly worshiping God alone and expressing their supreme loyalty to God, Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God. Having the national flag in the same space violates flag etiquette because it is flying it “in submission.” It should only be flown where nothing else is being placed above it in terms of importance.

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