The Christian Right and the Pledge of Allegiance-Is There a Contradiction?
This is a revision of an earlier post I’ve written.
Imagine a grade school student from China who goes to a public school and is asked to swear an oath to the Chinese state every day along with the rest of his or her class at school. Imagine that the young boy or girl refuses to participate due to the fact that he or she is a Christian and does not want to declare allegiance to anyone or anything other than Jesus Christ. I wonder how the average American Christian raised in a conservative evangelical church would view this scenario? I imagine that millions of Christians in America would not only admire the grade school student, but would probably use him or her as an example in Sunday School on how to take a stand as a Christian against a godless secular culture.
Now let’s imagine another scenario. Imagine a young boy or girl in America attending one of the thousands of Christian schools throughout the nation. Imagine that a young boy or girl decides one day to politely decline in saying the pledge of allegiance along with his or her classmates. I wonder how the average American evangelical Christian would view this scenario? Given the political firestorm over taking “under God” out of the pledge, I imagine that the reaction of the same millions of Christians who thought the Chinese boy or girl was a hero would be decisively different than over the Christian child refusing to participate in the American pledge of allegiance. I further imagine that many would even question if the student was a Christian at all. After all, so the thinking goes, America is a Christian nation.
Does anyone else see a problem with this? To many American Christians, a child who pledges allegiance to China is considered idolatrous, but a child who pledges allegiance to America is considered a patriot. Speaking as an American evangelical myself, I have to ask what does this say about how we as American Christians view ourselves? For many Christians, the idea that America is not a Christian nation is tantamount to blasphemy. I find it odd that the same people who would applaud a Chinese or a Russian for refusing to swear an oath to a secular state see no problem with wrapping an American flag around a cross in the front yards of their churches.
For the record, I’m not saying necessarily that it’s a damnable sin to say the Pledge of Allegiance, although I do think the issue should be looked at more carefully. Although it’s true that the Bible says, “Give custom to whom custom is due,” it’s also true that the New Testament repeatedly prohibits taking oaths. Given what the New Testament actually says about taking oaths, (namely, that a Christian isn’t supposed to be making them) isn’t it a bit odd that one of the key issues of the Christian right involves keeping the words “under God” in an oath to a nation/state?
Why does this contradiction exist? I think it’s because the average American Christian from a conservative evangelical background associates patriotism with following Jesus. To confirm this truth, we need look no further than “Christian” talk radio. I actually heard a “Christian” talk show host one time tell a U.S. Marine “Remember, when you serve in the U.S. Military, you’re serving Jesus.” As odd at this statement might sound, turning Jesus into an officer of the U.S. Marines, for many of my friends and colleagues, the statement “soldiers in Iraq are doing the will of God” seems to flow off their lips without a second thought.
Should a Christian associate America’s cause with God’s cause? I don’t think so. The truth is that America is a mixture of good and bad, just like many other nations. We can’t claim a special relationship with God more than any other nation can. Although our pilgrim forefathers believed they were making a covenant with God when they entered this land, we have no reason to believe that God entered a covenant with them. Biblically speaking, any alliance between the Kingdom of God, which always looks like Jesus taking on the form of a suffering servant, with a version of the Kingdom of this world, (however new and improved the version of the worldly kingdom is) is an unholy alliance-and for good reason. Ask a typical native American Christian whether he or she believes that God gave the continental U.S. to white Europeans for the purpose of advancing the cause of freedom and liberty and you might get a totally different answer than you would hear from one of Ohio’s Patriot Pastors.
As a missionary who has traveled the world many times over, I’ve met many Christians from other countries who have asked me why so many American Christians associate patriotism with Christianity. Not being one who likes to mix words, I tell them the truth. Americans read the Bible with cultural blinders on…..just like everyone else.
As for those who would venerate a Chinese student for refusing to pledge an oath to China but marginalize a Christian kid for refusing to pledge an oath to America, I’m not sure if they’ll like what I have to say, but for a Bible believing Christian, the response to this anomaly should be obvious. Our first and foremost loyalty should be to Jesus Christ. Although we need to honor and serve our country as good citizens, to equate love for Jesus with love for country is nothing short of idolatry.