Please Remove National Flags From Your Christian Worship Spaces: A Flag Advocacy
Notice I didn’t say “American flags”. However, my primary concern here is with the prevalence of American flags in American Christian places of worship. I recently visited a large Baptist church that not only had the American flag hanging from a pole on the platform (this is what Baptists generally call the chancel area); there was also a large American flag hanging from the ceiling above the pulpit and communion table.
I have accompanied several churches in the process of considering whether to remove the national flag from its shrine or place of worship. Some did and some didn’t. Often there is a gradual process of moving the platform to a corner of the sanctuary (but still “in front”) and then eventually out of the worship space and into the “fellowship hall” or vestibule . Other churches, of course, adamantly resist such a move.
The American flag is an important symbol for me and for many faithful Americans. I always get choked up when I hear the US national anthem and see the “stars and stripes” waving in the wind – at a sporting event or an Independence Day celebration or whatever. My wife and I have always flown our American flag on holidays. I consider myself very patriotic.
However, what many Christians who insist on having the American flag in their places of worship fail to realize is that it is unpatriotic. Unlessof course they intention to say it is symbolizes their highest loyalty, even above Jesus Christ. Of course I’m afraid is indeed the case on some churches although they would probably deny it. To the extent that they deny it, they contradict themselves by having the flag in the worship space.
A good friend of mine who is a former Marine and expert on American flag etiquette recently informed me that the American flag should never be flown “in submission.” I engaged him in a conversation about it and learned that according to American flag etiquette (yes, there are people who specialize in that), it’s okay to fly the American flag upside-down (as a signal of distress), at half-mast (mourning) and alongside other national flags in some spaces such as the United Nations headquarters in New York. But he is never ok 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 college level courses in Christian worship for many years, having the American flag in any place of worship is wrong because it is “flown in submission” – to God.
A very interesting puzzle to consider.
The point is that the space of worship, the sanctuary (whatever it is called), is dedicated to the sole worship of God above all else. The people gathered ostensibly worship God alone and express their supreme loyalty to God, Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God. Having the national flag in the same space violates flag etiquette because it causes it to fly “in submission”. It should only fly where nothing else is placed above it in terms of importance.
Now, I’m personally not as much a believer in “flag etiquette” as my friend (although I certainly try to always treat him with respect). What intrigues me, however, is what this principle means for those who insist on keeping the American flag in the worship space. According to this principle, whether good or bad, they lower the flag itself…unlessof course they really do means placing him on the same level or above God, Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God.
This should be of great help to all pastors and congregation leaders and members who wish to remove the American flag from their places of worship. Often when this possibility is brought up, the loudest and most outspoken opponents claim to be devoted to the flag but, of course, under God. Inform them that the presence of the American flag is never meant to be flown in submission, “under” anything else. It is a violation of flag etiquette to have it in the sanctuary dedicated primarily, if not solely, to the worship of God alone. If they continue to insist on his presence in the Sanctuary, that’s a pretty strong hint of their true ultimate loyalty and what they truly revere.