A little late for Memorial Day, a meditation on what is wrong with this post against the Pledge of Allegiance.
Well, lots of things. But to my mind the biggest problem is that the author, Benjamin Corey, seems to think that pledging patriotic allegiance to your country means promising never to engage in civil disobedience. Since as Christians we have to be prepared to say at some point, "We must obey God rather than men," Corey thinks we can't pledge allegiance to our country and flag.
The most unfortunate converse of this is that Corey apparently thinks Christian Americans can't be ardent patriots, because they might have to be disloyal (he actually uses the term "disloyal") to their country.
This is a seriously misguided idea. It's certainly true that Christians may rightly engage in civil disobedience. Regular readers know of my deep admiration for Pastor Ken Miller, for example, who helped a woman literally escape from the United States and who faces prison for doing so.
But I contend that Pastor Miller could say the pledge of allegiance with full sincerity and that he was in no wise being a disloyal or a bad citizen by helping Lisa Miller and her daughter escape from the country. This despite the fact that he was disobeying the unjust application of a particular law.
There is a misunderstanding here of the entire nature of loyalty, which is related to a misunderstanding of love and allegiance. Corey, for example, seems to think that a Christian must not pledge allegiance to anybody but Jesus. Really? I hope Mr. Corey doesn't apply this principle to a marriage vow. If so, he will have to remain celibate lifelong. In marriage we pledge allegiance to someone other than Jesus--to our spouse. But that doesn't mean that a wife is bound to obey her husband if he tells her to do something wrong. If a husband tells his wife to help him hide the evidence of a murder, for example, she should not obey. In fact, her truest loyalty to her husband would in that case lie in disobeying the immoral order.
Christian tradition has always understood the possibility and even the value of committing ourselves to earthly entities. The Christian knight swore an oath of fealty to his earthly lord and to his king. The husband and wife make vows to one another. The doctor takes (or should take) the Hippocratic oath to uphold the ideals of his profession. None of these is in conflict with one's allegiance to Jesus Christ, because all are understood to fall within a proper hierarchy of commitments. True patriotism, like true love of a spouse and like all true earthly honor, can never be in conflict with one's duty to follow the Lord Jesus Christ.
Patriotism is a complex matter, and I do not mean to simplify it in the least. In fact, I mean to emphasize its complexity when I say that disobedience to unjust laws is fully compatible with patriotism, with deep love and loyalty "to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands."
I am as aware as anyone of the strains put upon the patriotism of conservatives in particular in these dark days. Many a time have I felt and said that I scarcely recognize my country. Much political cynicism is, sadly enough, merely political realism. It is not as though we can trust our government. Nor do we give our love and loyalty to our present rulers as such but rather to the country which they serve.
It is a gravely dangerous idea to teach that disobedience equals disloyalty. Those of us who imagine that disobedience may someday, in some particular, be required of us should never think that in that case general or global disloyalty is permitted or even contemplated. A good, Christian man who, let us say, gets arrested for non-violently blocking an abortion clinic should be the very man whom you would most trust with the real military secrets of the country. He should be the very man whom you would never in a million years expect actually to commit an act of terrorism or to betray America to her enemies. The left may find this an oxymoron. A Christian gentleman should find it obvious.
When, inspired by a series of quotations on Bill Luse's blog, I read Witness for the first time all the way through, I was much struck by the way in which treachery comes upon a man unawares. Each of us is preoccupied with his own affairs, and some of us are preoccupied with our own ideas and theories. When the suggestion comes that, because of those theories, a man should do something genuinely treacherous to his country, the suggestion always comes in plausible guise--at least, a guise that is plausible to that man at that time. No one says to himself, "I am about to be a traitor, but treachery is a good thing." Rather, a man says to himself, "This country is no longer my country, so I am not being a traitor," or "I am moving forward with the right current of history," or even, "No man can serve two masters. By doing this I am showing that my true loyalty is to God."
Of course, most of us ordinary folk are in no position to commit any treachery anyway. At the most we are tempted to commit the tiniest and most trivial of infractions--running a red light or something of that kind. Nonetheless, he who is faithful in the least is faithful also in great matters. Patriotism is a matter of daily, cultivated attitude, and making a point of never saying the Pledge of Allegiance, on religious principle, may be as good a way as any of cultivating the wrong attitude.
I therefore say: Yes, let us be clear-eyed. Let us acknowledge that we are strangers and pilgrims on this earth. And let us love this country, the United States of America, with which God has blessed us.
From the Book of Common Prayer, the collect for Memorial Days:
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, in whose hands are the living and the dead; We give thee thanks for all those thy servants who have laid down their lives in the service of our country. Grant to them thy mercy and the light of thy presence, that the good work which thou hast begun in them may be perfected; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord. Amen.