Please remove national flags from your Christian worship spaces: a plea on behalf of the flag
Notice I didn’t say “American flags”. However, my main concern here is the prevalence of American flags in American Christian worship spaces. 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 choir area); there was also a large American flag hanging from the ceiling above the pulpit and the communion table.
I have accompanied several churches in the process of considering whether to remove the national flag from their sanctuary or space of worship. Some did and some didn’t. Often there is a gradual process of moving from the platform to a corner of the shrine (but still “in front”), then eventually out of the worship space and into the “communion room” or the hall. vestibule. Other churches, of course, categorically resist such a move.
The American flag is an important symbol to me and to many American faithful. I am always suffocated when I hear the American 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 always put out our American flag on statutory holidays. I consider myself very patriotic.
However, what many Christians who insist on having the American flag in their churches’ places of worship fail to realize is that it is unpatriotic. Unless, of course, they intend say it symbolizes their highest loyalty, even above Jesus Christ. Of course I am afraid that is indeed the case on some churches although they would probably deny it. To the extent that they deny it, they are contradicting themselves by having the flag in the worship space.
A good friend of mine who is a former Marine and American Flag etiquette expert recently informed me that the American flag should never be hoisted “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 is okay to fly the American flag at upside down (as a distress signal), at half mast (in mourning) and alongside other national flags in certain spaces such as at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. But he is never okay to have it fly “in submission” to something else, for example lower than another flag in the same space. According to my friend who is also a specialist in Christian worship and who for many years taught higher level courses in Christian worship, having the American flag in any worship space is bad because it is “stolen in submission. “-goodbye.
A very interesting riddle to consider.
The point is that the worship space, the sanctuary (whatever its name), is dedicated to worshiping God above all else. The assembled people 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 the flag’s etiquette because it flies it “in submission”. It should only be flown where nothing else is placed above in terms of importance.
Now, I’m not personally as picky about “flag etiquette” as my friend (although I certainly try to always treat him with respect). What intrigues me, however, is what this principle means to those who absolutely insist on keeping the American flag in the worship space. By this principle, whether right or wrong, they demean the flag itself—unless, of course, they really to do means to place it at the same level or higher than God, Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God.
This should be of great help to all pastors, leaders, and members of congregations who wish to remove the American flag from their places of worship. Often when this possibility is raised, the most vocal and vehement 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 the flag’s 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 shrine, that’s a strong enough clue as to where their true ultimate loyalty lies and what they truly revere.