Wednesday, April 16, 2014
WHY Does This Require Discussion?
Last July 4 Christianity Today published an exchange on U.S. flags in church sanctuaries, with pastor/theologian Douglas Wilson arguing no and Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore saying yes. Moore has since become the new head of his church’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and his argument is compelling.
Wilson says churches have “absolutely no business displaying a national flag in the sanctuary” so as to avoid “unnecessary barriers to the worship of visiting Koreans, Russians, or Portuguese.” He’s also worried that the flag would imply “‘favored nation’ status,” exaggerate “claims of Caesar,” or meld “patriotism and religion.”
In response to Wilson, Moore admits “patriotism is dangerous…but that’s because it’s a strong natural affection that’s rooted in something good and right…akin to what God commands us to do in showing honor to our father and mother.” Moore notes:
When we honor our country, we are recognizing that we are not self-made or self-situated. We are here, placed by God in a particular plot of land because of the sacrifices of forefathers and foremothers we haven’t known. We have a responsibility to our neighbors of all faiths for the generations to come. Patriotism can become idolatrous, sure. So can family affection. But the gospel doesn’t evaporate family love. It just re-narrates it, and situates it in a right context, in which we seek first the kingdom of God. The same is true for the flag. Removing a flag doesn’t remove the tendency to idolatry or triumphalism; it just leaves such things unaddressed and untroubled. If a congregation already has a flag in the sanctuary, the first step might be for the pastor to use it as an object lesson in a right-ordered patriotism.I have been a part of such a debate in a congregation before and the whole thing frankly struck me as absurd. The entire argument is spurious. It is a battle between politic left and right and has almost nothing to do with church or worship. Virtually every argument put forth either pro or con is a red herring.
Will people from other nations be offended at a US flag in a church in the US? If they are its their problem, I have worshipped in churches around the world and was neither offended nor particularly inspired by the presence of the national flag of the nation in question. One has to decide to make such a thing an issue, and if they do it is for some reason other than the worship service before them.
As to the confusion of patriotism and religious devotion - well pretty much anything can serve as a fetish or idol - from worship music to computer solitaire. If people are getting confused about such a thing its not because the flag is there, its because the church is not teaching them the difference.
This is at heart a political argument, not a church one and by participating in it, we are giving it more credence than it deserves.
church flags politics