How Worship of the American Flag Changed Everything

This fourth of July will be significant for me in several ways. It was this week seven years ago that my personal journey of discovery into a flag-less Kingdom of Christ collided with the religious powers of Christendom. What unfolded was the result of a patriotic service that would not soon be forgotten.

I grew up a Southern Baptist and served in three churches as student pastor in Texas. In the last few years leading up to my departure from vocational ministry in the Baptist church, I had been slowly embracing Anabaptism—a vision of a non-violent, love-doesn’t-stop-at-the border sort of Jesus.

In fact, I had just spent weeks teaching over the Sermon on the Mount to our youth, college students, and adult companions in our ministry. And then came the annual fourth of July service.

While I was a bit more willing to prophetically clear the temple in those days, I had decided it was wise to begin my vacation the day before this event so as not to disrupt or be a distraction by my refusal to participate in the celebration of America and the worship of the flag, something I couldn’t do in good conscience. I was for sure it was for the best.

Little did I know that there were others whom I had been teaching that would go to the service but choose not to participate in what they felt was idolatry. I didn’t learn of it until the following Sunday when I was asked by an elderly deacon in the foyer, “What’s this we hear about you teaching our youth not to say the pledge.” I was dumbfounded.

Apparently when the flag was marched down the middle of the isle, several students and adults didn’t turn to pledge. They didn’t sing the patriotic songs, nor did they pray the nationalistic prayers.

And it seems that others noticed a small prayer group outside the church building that were praying against the event.

What followed over the next couple of months was a series of meetings with parents, deacons, and the pastor. I could no longer keep my personal views to myself. It was out in the open. And they had questions.

What had I been teaching that their students would want to put aside their former pursuits to go into missions, love all people regardless of nationality, and not waste their life on worldly gain?

They were discovering a radical discipleship. And I was becoming an Anabaptist and just didn’t know it.

The truth is that these students and adults were drawing conclusions based on a simple reading of the Gospels. And we had all come to realize that this was unacceptable for this Baptist church in rural America.

Saying no to flag worship dethrones the American Jesus and it exposes our cultural Christianity.

There would be no discussion. No debate.

We asked, “What if Jesus had physically walked in the building while you were doing those things?” One prominent member said, “Well, we of course would have stopped what we were doing and worshipped him.” Say what?

And the one retort I’ll never forget, “David, where in love your enemies does it say not to kill them.” I couldn’t believe it.

Parents were angry and confused. Church leaders had run out of patience trying to understand my perspective. For whatever reason, they wouldn’t or couldn’t hear it, or even tolerate it.

I was apparently such a threat that I had to sign a document saying I would never set foot on church grounds again. I was so deeply hurt by this that I wept at my desk in front of the deacon who had been sent to me.

When I resigned in September 2006, I announced that I was leaving to pastor a church. That was my true intent. But I was unaware of the time of wilderness, recovery, and reconstruction that awaited us.

I worked odd jobs and taught in a Christian school the last five years. And looking back it’s become clear that the last seven years has been a time of spiritual formation. I’m thankful for it. I see the Lord at work.

God’s love has used it to prepare me for what is ahead.

Had it not been for the worship of the flag that day, I might not have recognized how radical Christ’s call is to those who choose to follow him, and how counter-culture the Gospel-for-all-nations is to those who have made their home in the world.

I would not be the same person that I am today without this experience seven years ago. It has forever shaped my character and my path.

And that’s how worship of the American flag changed everything.

Viva La Revolution!

D.D. Flowers, 2013.

NOTE: On Jan 1, 2014 I began pastoring a small Anabaptist congregation in Southwest Virginia.

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About David D. Flowers

David received a B.A. in Religion from East Texas Baptist University and a M.T.S. in Biblical Studies from Houston Graduate School of Theology. David was in student ministry for 7 years, taught Biblical Studies & Latin at The Woodlands Christian Academy for 5 years, and now pastors an Anabaptist congregation in Virginia. View all posts by David D. Flowers

48 responses to “How Worship of the American Flag Changed Everything

  • Jeremy Myers

    Sounds like it has been quite a journey. So do you think it is always idolatrous to say the pledge and sing patriotic songs? Or just in church? I think the church today has bigger idols than flag worshipping.

    • David D. Flowers

      Hey Jeremy, I don’t think location matters. The issue isn’t about being in a church building. It’s about being the church. I would agree the church has other idols. I wasn’t trying to say flag worship is the biggest. :-)

    • Andrew Patrick

      The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that you cannot compel someone to say the Pledge of Allegiance … because that pledge is actually an oath, and you cannot compel someone to take an oath.

      Twice in the New Testament we are specifically instructed (by James and Jesus) not to take oaths. So that would be one reason not to take a pledge of allegiance.

      But when you do take an oath, you are pledging loyalty, and what you pledging your loyalty to? Are you pledging loyalty to a king or country that is following God or doing what they want in spite of him? If you already know that the country is against God, why would you pledge your allegiance?

      A man cannot have two masters. He will either love one and hate the other, or hate the first and love the second. A man cannot have two separate pledges of allegiance.

      So, you would be faced with a choice:

      1) I pledge allegiance, to the flag (of the United States of America)
      2) I pledge allegiance to the Lamb

      We are told that when Jesus returns he will crush the nations of this world (they will not welcome him) and establish his own Kingdom. America is only one of those kingdoms, so to day is a good day to decide where we will place our allegiance. You cannot truthfully pledge allegiance to both.

  • Sue Ried

    Good article, my views have been changing so much in the last few years too about immigration reform, prison reform and God in America, etc. thank you!

  • Blake

    The evangelical church I’m attending keeps asking me to teach a class. I’m not sure how to feel about this since I haven’t acquired a taste for hemlock yet (Socrates reference). ;)

  • Reina Carrasco

    As I reflect back over the years, it’s interesting to think about how we were taught to say the pledge and repeated those words everyday without ever giving a thought to what it really meant to us personally, much less what it meant spiritually. Now thinking about it I must really ask myself if that’s something I want to continue. It scares me a little to see the degree of nationalism that seems to be overtaking the country. In fact, I don’t think I can even muse about these thoughts out loud in fear that I may incur someones wrath — Love it or Leave it! seems to be a motto I hear more and more (especially in Texas). To Andrew’s point, as I have begun to realize that the country, as it changes to more open/liberal views, is no longer reflecting the spiritual values that I hold dear and I wonder if it’s something I want to pledge allegiance to…no I don’t think I do. Don’t get me wrong, I am very thankful to live in a free society and I do enjoy the opportunities that it affords. But as I learn more about Jesus and his Kingdom, the more I realize this country is not my kingdom. I will continue to pray for it and ask for the Lord’s covering but I must really consider…who do I pledge allegiance to? Thank you David for your boldness because it is through your posts (and others who participate) that my mind has become more open as my views begin to change as well. The journey continues…

  • Josey

    I have a few questions for you in light of the statements made in this article, mainly just to further illuminate your perspective on what a righteous and Biblically-sound relationship between Christian and country should look like. Specifically, is it right to love your country? Where is the line (in your opinion) between affection for and natural bias toward the familiar, loyalty, and duty, versus a religion of “flag-worship” that competes with a Christian’s allegiance to God?

    • David D. Flowers

      Hey Josey,
      I’ve always said that I don’t see why “love of country” is necessary, especially for the follower of Christ. We have been called to love our neighbor and enemy regardless of where we or they live. Devotion to a particular country does nothing good for us that Christ doesn’t do with the Gospel. Instead, an unhealthy affection for one’s own country becomes destructive and antithetical to the good news of Christ because it builds walls of allegiance that Christ destroyed on the cross.

      Thanks for reading!

      • Josey

        I understand what you’re saying, but my own thoughts align more so with C.S. Lewis’ assertion on patriotism that “those who do not love the fellow-villagers or fellow-townsmen whom they HAVE seen are not likely to have got very far towards loving “man” whom they have not . . . If people will spend neither sweat nor blood for ‘their country’ they must be made to feel that they are spending them for justice, or civilisation, or humanity. This is a step down, not up.” He likens this sentiment to a home owner’s contention that he blackened the eye of a burglar purely on moral grounds–disregarding the fact that it was his own home being robbed. Even Jesus had a certain special affection for Jerusalem.

  • Chris Gorton

    David, I empathize with you more than I can express. Here is what I am wrestling with: How do we avoid the twin extremes of not preaching just to the choir, or of casting our pearls before swine?

    When we start proclaiming truth we inevitably start attracting those who agree with us. (That is what attracted me to you!) Do you have any ideas how we can reach out to the blinded brethren we left behind – or kicked us out, as is often the case. Do we just shake the dust off our shoes? This is my temptation, but I am not sure it is time yet.

    I’m not sure there are any definitive answers, but I would like to hear your thoughts.

    • David D. Flowers

      That’s a great question, Chris. I can’t answer this for everyone, but for us it means first identifying with a group (tradition) of folks that have settled some essential aspects of the Gospel. As a pastor, it would be impossible to do the work of ministry with disagreement on an issue like this, since it goes way beyond pledging to a distorted view of the Gospel.

      You make a good point. How can we reach those who we’ve left behind? I do know that I’m still concerned about it, and want to be creative in reaching out to those who aren’t convinced. Ultimately, I think the beauty of a flag-less Kingdom is attractive. But first… some folks need to be convinced that their country isn’t what they thought it was, or ever was in the first place.

  • Sean Durity

    I thoroughly enjoyed our annual God and country worship service yesterday. For me, it struck the right balance. We said the pledge of allegiance. We proclaimed Jesus as the only way of salvation. Our pastor preached on how pride is the downfall of America. We celebrated those who have fought and served for our freedom through military service, and we prayed for peace. America, though deeply flawed, is still used by a great God to impact the world for His good. We are richly blessed and greatly responsible.

    To me your approach is a false dichotomy. We can be proud Americans who call fellow Americans to our truest ideals. Most of these are compatible with Christianity (and come from deeply thoughtful Christian founders). And, yet, when there are conflicts between allegiance to God or country, we choose God’s path. We have to be in the world and not of it. Paul prayed for the peace of Rome and embraced his citizenship when it furthered the gospel.

    I am sorry for the broken relationships that resulted from this incident. And I applaud your willingness to stand for what you think is God’s highest calling. I just can’t see it your way on this issue. I do think your comment about aligning with a faith community that has already settled this issue as you see it is very wise.

    • David D. Flowers

      Hey Sean, I know you and I have discussed this on many levels before. I’m always glad you feel free to disagree in a respectful manner. I really mean that, bro.

      Yeah, as you know, for me there is no balancing something that is contradictory to the way of cruciformed living through the Gospel of peace. I’m only able to say that Christ and his Kingdom is worthy of my total allegiance.

  • Sean Durity

    I wonder if this helps illuminate the issue a bit. When children become Christians, they certainly must obey God’s authority. However, they must also obey their parents, as authorities under God. This is not a “two masters” scenario. Parents are God’s rightful authority over them. Yet, if there is a serious conflict, they should follow God’s plan.

    Aren’t governments still God’s rightful authority over their citizens? We should recognize and obey their authority, until it conflicts with God’s. Then, regrettably, we must stand against them.

    • David D. Flowers

      Right. Our disagreement is where the line is drawn in the sand. Yours is much further down the road than my own interpretation of Jesus’ life and example. I’ve heard the reasoning you use. Evangelicals in Germany were using it when Hitler was busy preaching God and country. I suspect that the “conflict” never really comes for all those that reason this way. Obeying the authorities and pledging/worshipping the Beast are miles apart.

      • Sean Durity

        Well, with the IRS, NSA, and other recent developments – maybe we are closer to the Beast… Yet, I remain optimistic that America can return to God. And, yes, we will be judged for our choices between allegiances. I am thankful for evangelicals, like Bonhoeffer, who offered us an example of standing for right against the Nazis. And it is an interesting argument if his alleged assassination involvement was the appropriate response.

  • Dan Roberts

    First, thank you for standing up for the principles you hold dear and, in doing so, challenging the rest of us through the explanation of why you did what you did. Like Sean D, I have difficulty coming to terms with my duty as a citizen of a country that has given me so many opportunities in life and yet live up to my pledge of allegiance to Christ.

    Secondly, the overarching challenge that you bring to us/me is your personal example of what happens when one stands on principle: we find out who really believes… and in what they believe. Another example: Edward Snowdon, the NSA whistleblower, has shown proof that the U.S. doesn’t live up to its own principles and promises to its citizens (and the rest of the world). What is the result? The government (and many citizens) call him a traitor and espionage agent and try everything to stop him and punish him. In a similar way, I found that when one points out the hypocracy in the church, much the same can happen.

    I am an example of that. When confronting members of my former church in a business meeting where I pointed out they were going against their own “rules and regulations,” I was demonized to the point that former friends would not talk with me. Interestingly, those who supported my point of view (agreed with me) were silent in the meeting and, only afterward, told me of their support through phone calls and emals. Their response was basically, “I agree with you but I just couldn’t say anything at the meeting.” Sad, huh?

    I am thankful that there are young men of faith and hope that take stands such as yours. I pray for you and your future ministry, knowing that God will stand with you and support you as you follow His Spirit. May that Spirit be in your heart and in your words as you continue on what I call “The Pilgrim’s Path.” Lead on, brother, lead on!

  • Jan Eisele

    While I do not worship my country or it’s flag…I have to admit I think I understand your stand on this issue. It is something I am working through…after reading Bonhoeffer’s book The Cost of Discipleship. QUESTION..why do feel Bonhoeffer made the wrong choice in the end.

    • David D. Flowers

      Hey Jan, glad to hear how you’re working through this stuff. That’s awesome! As for Bonhoeffer, here is what I said in my article on his life and legacy in way of critique:

      “Bonhoeffer believed that the “will of God” is the launching pad into a world of ethical decisions. I agree that the will of God is not always concrete or a rule to be applied legalistically. However, it should be a serious concern for all disciples to recognize that Christ is the full expression of God’s will for human beings. Christ has expressed the will of God in his own life and teachings—even in the face of his mortal enemies. Therefore, God’s will always looks like Jesus dying for those that crucified him.”

  • mikedskinner

    Hi David. Great post, as always. I’ve been reading your blog for a while but just now read your bio and saw that you teach at TWCA. I teach at a Christian high school in Sugar Land (as well as pastor a church in Sugar Land). Curious – do your beliefs get you into trouble at all over at TWCA? I’ve had a few run ins in the Christian school environment with folks who don’t appreciate anything anti-nationalism or anti-war (and I couldn’t even imagine mentioning open theism or having a blog that mentions it!). Blessings on you and your ministry.

    • David D. Flowers

      Hey Mike, surprisingly enough I never had an issue arise. If ever there were questions about what I taught, I just reminded them that we have different faith traditions at the school and that I teach different views. That helps. And it’s the truth. I’m not returning next year. I’ll be pastoring a church soon.

      Thanks for being a faithful reader.

  • Juan Love

    Thank you for this insightful post, David.

    And, by the way, let me encourage you by telling you that you are far better off having been fired from such a church.

    Keep standing for the truth.
    -Juan (http://thepeacecore.blogspot.com/)

  • Alan Streett

    Read chapter 13 of “Heaven on Earth: Experiencing the Kingdom of God in the Here and Now” for the theological basis for not having a national flag in the church and for the church refusing to support a nation when it goes to war. Very challenging!

  • Barry

    I have never in my allegiance to the US felt that I crossed the line of allegiance in betrayal to Jesus. In very focused awareness, I have a very real and practical view of the earthly realm and things therein, vs. the realm of the spirit, where Christ reigns supreme, with His supremacy overflowing in authority over the earthly realm – and over the US. The difference between the two is easy for me to discern.

    I find myself in the rare occasion that I say the pledge of allegiance as I utter the words having a vary acute awareness of my duty and allegiance to Jesus and that allegiance to Him reigning supreme over my allegiance to the ideals of the US.

    The allegiance I commit to my country is for certain ideals that have historically been associated with it as a writer above stated about the practical force of good for mankind, and as a joining together with my fellow countrymen – or neighbors – in the advancement of these ideals;
    these ideas being quite aligned with and even founded upon Biblical principal; very earthly in application, but also where the world of the spirit interacts with the earthly realm under the authority of Jesus.

    My doubts have crept in over the recent years not because I feel I have violated my allegiance to Christ, but over the betrayal I feel has been dealt to us citizens by the US government. A writer above mentioned a couple of items such as the IRS and NSA scandal, and there are so many more. I have been wondering what I am pledging to. Incidentally, I never wonder about my allegiance to Christ. He is the steady rock.

    In this vein is the practical discernment between the earthly “allegiance” found in the pledge and the allegiance spiritual toward Jesus Christ. The earthly realm is so corruptible, and we see it playing out before our eyes. Our allegiance to Christ will never be betrayed by Him. He is absolutely incorruptible. We may loose hope in our country, as the ideals it may have once had seem to be perishing. But Jesus proves and will always prove that He is worthy of our real allegiance.

    I appreciate your stand on this issue David. I’m glad of your stand with your previous church, and I tell you, you did the right thing. I’m sensitive about your journey as you have told about having to step aside for standing on principal. You left a flock you loved and had shepherded. They weren’t nice. It is crushing, and it sends one into a wilderness. I relate, as I have gone through the same. It is refreshing to look back and still be able to say, You knew where you were as you were going in; you knew where you were when you were there; and you knew where you had been once you had moved on; and after all is said and done, you can still say, “I did the right thing.”

    Blessings, Barry

  • Danny

    In Australia we are nowhere near as patriotic as America. I know that patriotism is high in the USA, and even more so in the south, but still, reading about the flag-marching ceremony you described taking place in church left me dumbfounded. That people can be so blind to and defensive of such overt idolatry is incredible. I thank the Lord that he has opened your eyes, and pray that he strengthens your resolve as you continue to preach truth to cultural ‘Christian’ America.

  • Anthony F. Buzzard

    Praise God for your stand for Jesus and his teachings. Has it occurred to you that there may be other important areas of teaching which the Church has received from tradition and not the Bible. What if Jesus dropped in on you as you recite the Nicene Creed and reminded you of his very Jewish, unitarian creed which he said was the most important of all issues? (Mk 12:29)? Did Jesus really believe in a Triune GOD? I was trained too in an Anabaptist college, and they were not afraid to ask the radical questions.
    The issue of violence is very important as you have shown, but defining God and Jesus is also fundamental.

    • Andrew Patrick

      Yes, Anthony, I agree, defining God and Jesus is very fundamental… but since you have brought up the topic, it bears notice that the Unitarian creed is also completely absent from scripture.

      For the sake of clarity, the Unitarian creed is not “there is One God” but rather “Jesus is not the One God” (I have tested this from practical experience.) That Unitarian creed has more in common with the Greek philosophy of Plato than the Jewish faith which allowed (recognized) that God did walk the earth among his creation (as we read of with Adam, Abraham, Jacob, etc).

      The Greek concept of God was a “perfect” God that was far away, got everything he wanted, and above all, did not suffer (which was perceived as a weakness.) The Jewish concept of God was real, and dynamic, a God that wrestled with Jacob in the flesh, that was betrayed by his own people, a God that did endure suffering and disappointment…. not an invisible untouchable Platonic ideal.

      When the LORD of Hosts speaks in the Old Testament, if you read far enough you will notice when he says things like this:

      Zec 2:11 KJV
      (11) And many nations shall be joined to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people: and I will dwell in the midst of thee, and thou shalt know that the LORD of hosts hath sent me unto thee.

      … and this….

      Zec 12:10 KJV
      (10) And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.

      So the LORD says that he will dwell in their midst and that they will know that the LORD hath sent … the LORD. The LORD also says that they shall look up him (the LORD) … that they have pierced. And the more scripture you add the more clear it continues to get. You should see what he said about thirty pieces of silver…

      If you are actually serious about defining God and Jesus, would you contact me through the email in my profile? A blog does not provide the proper space or format that this topic is due…

      … how many Alpha and Omega’s are there, anyway?

  • Carlos Xavier

    AD

    … how many Alpha and Omega’s are there, anyway?

    Good question indeed. But how many YHWHs are you proposing anyway? If the Father is YHWH and the Son is YHWH that makes 2 YHWHs. Yet, for us Christians the Father alone is YHWH [Mar 12.29; 1Cor 8.4-6].

    • David D. Flowers

      Hey guys, please try to stay on topic and respond to the content of the original blog post. Thanks!

    • Andrew Patrick

      Carlos, in the 24th Psalm, it describes one one who ascends the hill of the LORD, having clean hands and a pure heart, having received his blessing from the God of his salvation… and then it asks us who this is, and answers our question.

      Psa 24:5-8 KJV
      (5) He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
      (6) This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob. Selah.
      (7) Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.
      (8) Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle.

      But that is a different subject than this blog, and the moderator< and blog author has asked us to stay on topic (is that one David Flowers or two?) …. so if your concern is genuine, then you’re welcome to talk to me by email just the same as Anthony Buzzard. Drop me a line perhaps?

  • Judith

    Two more excellent books if you want more food for thought and prayer:
    “Myth of A Christian Nation”/Boyd and “The End of Religion”/Cavey.

    • David D. Flowers

      Hey Judith, I read Boyd’s book around the time of the experience I described in my post. Excellent book!

      • Steve

        I noticed you’ve read “Mere Discipleship” by Lee Camp. It was a book that challenged my allegiance to worldly governments.

        Have you read “On Civil Government: Its Origin, Mission and Destiny, and the Christian’s Relation to It” by David Lipscomb? It was written in the 1800′s but is just as relevant today.

  • britt

    Great article!!! Thank God I’m not alone..but I feel like they force our kids to in school..I don’t like this

  • Seth Anderson

    Hello David,

    First of all, thank you for the great and thought provoking article. Also please note that what follows are just questions and thoughts that came up while I read and pondered your article. I am in no way attacking you or your position.

    Is there no room in your love of Jesus for love of country? I understand when taking a stand against excess, and do realize that there is far too much of American first, and Christian second in the American church today. After all, does not all authority come from God, be it “secular” or “sacred” authority? I am thankful for my country, and do love it. And looking back, I would have to be honest and say I did actually worship it.

    It is not so much I disagree with what you have said, it just seems a little overboard. It is almost like a rebellion against the position rather than following Jesus. It is kinda like if all of your prayers are screaming against the devil and binding demons, are you really praying to God?

    Again, I am not attacking. Just trying to follow Jesus down the road of life.

    • David D. Flowers

      Hey Seth, I suppose it might seem that way if you’re not entirely convinced that all forms of nationalism, flag worship, and taking oaths are antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus. My sole allegiance to Christ supplies all the love I need for my neighbor and my enemy. It was definitely seen as “overboard” in the first century. The only thing that has changed today is that the Gospel has been stripped of its political subversiveness and made to capitulate to our American way of life.

  • Sarai

    Hi David! My family and I live in Chile, we have two nationalities and I came across this article today, I just wanted to say Thank you, because anything that is put before Jesus in the heart of a believer is an idol and I believe that once your country fails, your job fails, and your circumstances fail… Than you find out who your God really was, great article…thanks

  • David D. Flowers

    Thanks, Sarai. I’m glad you found the article helpful. Blessings to you and your family in Chile.

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