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.