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Anti-anti-patriotism and the Pledge of Allegiance

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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.

Comments (22)

Well, I was getting nervous while reading Mr. Corey's post. I hopped over to it without reading your comments and thought you were going to post an agreement.
I have often contemplated whether or not it was biblically consistent to "Pledge Allegiance to the Flag," but I had concluded that like anything, we are to obey the authorities as long as, and until, they require Christians to act contrary to our faith and principles. Civil disobedience is a necessary and honorable option in defense of Scriptural non-negotiables as long as we resolve to suffer the consequences. And when we do oppose unjust laws, we are indeed being the most patriotic and and therefore true "to the Republic for which it stands."

Good post.

Glad you found out I wasn't endorsing it! :-) It's not as though I go around ardently saying the Pledge of Allegiance every day, but there is no good argument for _not_ saying it, and certainly no Christian argument for not doing so.

The Pledge makes me extremely uncomfortable due its links to compulsory National Socialist-style compulsory education. That they created the Pledge with malice aforethought, so to speak, as part of their plan to undermine true, historical, liberal education; which plan today seems to function almost perfectly as intended.

To a lesser extent, it's a bit idolatrous in its treatment of the flag itself, which I can't grant is just supposed to be emblematic of the nation as a whole.

I certainly have no problem pledging my allegiance to a nation under God, which is to say the men and women around me who with fear and trembling seek to do His work.

While the pledge was indeed intended from the beginning to be recited in public schools, it does not look as though Bellamy ever indicated that it was intended to promote compulsory public education. On the contrary, the idea seems to have been that, since there already were a lot of children attending these schools, promoting a pledge of allegiance in the schools would be a way of promoting patriotism efficiently. In fact, I find it a little implausible that having a pledge of allegiance to the flag in schools would be particularly likely to promote public schooling as opposed to private tutoring or what-not, nor do I have any reason to believe that compulsory public schooling was made more widespread by the fact that children recited the pledge of allegiance in the schools.


which I can't grant is just supposed to be emblematic of the nation as a whole.

Well, I can, quite easily. There seems to me to be an odd kind of ahistoricism in these concerns about idolatry. Has no one any recollection of how flags and standards have functioned for hundreds of years in Western civilization? The standard-bearer on the field of battle would die to defend the flag of his king, country, or other feudal lord. Sometimes his hand had to be cut off in order to get the flag away from him even after he had been unhorsed. The flag that flew over a castle indicated who was in charge in that castle. The reason Francis Scott Key was so interested in whether the star-spangled banner yet waved over Fort McHenry was that, by immemorial custom, the flag would come down if the fort were taken by the enemy. Flags have always been important and powerful symbols of a country or other entity (a "house"), and this extends well backward into the history of Christian Europe. It isn't some sort of modern, idolatrous, secular invention.

The Texan in me always took issue with the "indivisible" part. Our founding presumes divisibility.

Jesus warned us that it simply is not possible to divide our loyalties. When using the example of money, Jesus taught that it is impossible to “serve two masters because you will love one and hate the other”.

Corey gets the whole thing exactly backwards: by including the words "under God", the Christian preserves in his pledge the right hierarchy of values. I pledge my allegiance to the country precisely to the extent that is compatible with love of God, for my love of God comes first, the country comes _under_ that.

Corey apparently thinks that we cannot serve God and serve anything else. But the second Great Commandment disproves this: after we love God with our WHOLE heart, then we love our neighbor as ourselves. How can we love our neighbor when we have given our whole heart to God? Only one way: because loving our neighbor is "under God" - we love our neighbor insofar as that love is part of loving God. God loves our neighbor, so part of loving God as a friend ("I call you friend, for that is what you are) is loving His friends too. So we love others precisely on account of loving God.

And this spills over into loving all those communities we belong to also: the Church, the country, the family, etc. These too are loving our neighbor because God wants us to - they are a form of giving our love to God first and foremost, as long as we love them "under God," as long as we love them for God's sake and not for their own sake. Each, in their own way, deserve our allegiance as part of what God wants us to love *for His sake.* They are not the final, ultimate love, they are not the final, ultimate criteria of loyalty - God is that.

I see your point Tony, but the Two Great Commandments are inseparably connected.
We should love our neighbors (universally) because they are deliberately created by God, in God's likeness.
How can we not love the 'likeness' of God?

Apart from the point alluded to by Lydia McGrew about the strains put upon patriotism and scarcely recognizing her country ...in these dark days,
the main problem with patriotism of this kind is that the Christian's evangelistic allegiance should be to all nations.

I suspect a, er, false flag commentator in the last comment but will treat it as serious nonetheless:

The duty to evangelize all nations and the love of all men because they bear the likeness of God is in no way contrary to special allegiances. Scripture itself, including the New Testament, recognizes concentric circles of duties. For example, the Apostle Paul says that a man is worse than an infidel if he does not care financially for his own family (with special reference in that passage to his elderly parents). The early church set up a fund and an assistance list for Christian widows, not for all widows. The love of our own country, like the love of our own family, is a recognition of a special duty related to the "accidents" of time and place. This is why silly notions like Peter Singer's idea that I have as much of a duty to the material wellbeing of someone on the other side of the world as to my immediate neighbor--that explicit denial of the importance of what I am providentially presented with--is largely a non-Christian and even post-Christian idea, though of course some Christians have also been confused by it.

Certain individual Christians are called to leave their own countries and go to others to carry the gospel. That's what we call a vocation, a calling. That does not mean that there are no such things as legitimate patriotic loyalties from the perspective of Christianity as a whole.

I just noticed, too, the interesting use out of context of "no man can serve two masters." Jesus, of course, said that about the service of mammon--money! Jesus _never_ said that, nor did the apostles, about the service of a human being or organization. In fact, Peter and Paul in their epistles enjoin servants to show their Christian faith by the way in which they honestly serve their human masters. It is quite easy to imagine ways in which giving oneself in a commitment to literally serving money could be in conflict with one's service to God!

"I am as aware as anyone of the strains put upon the patriotism of conservatives in particular in these dark days."

Not meaning to sound like the simpleton here but God must hold an extraordinary affection for the United States--despite our many sins--since He, Himself, called the poor and "huddled masses" to this place to gall the "storied pomp" of the entire world, just as Christ continues to use the poor, the lowly and the weak to shame the strong and the wise. That truth was our foundation and our first immigrants were unrepentantly patriotic, though even more reverently faithful. The "dark days" that plague our country today are, clearly, self-inflicted.

I don't understand patriotism as so complicated a thing and I find myself more patriotic today than ever before--as painful and "strained" as it is.

There is a saying I've heard: God takes care of drunks, little children, and the United States of America. Make of it what you will, I see the point of it more and more as time goes on.

One quick comment about the Pledge and public schools: in this secular day and age, as well as this cynical day and age, I find my daughters reciting the Pledge every day -- with the phrase, "under God", almost counter-cultural. Do schools around the nation still do this uniformly? I would think there are plenty of "hip and sophisticated" parents that have objected to the Pledge by now and it has been quietly dropped in many places, although I suppose I could be wrong.

I also love saying it at the local community group meeting and/or various local civic functions I go to -- as Lauran says I find that patriotic feeling (especially at the local level) comes easily to me and I'm quite proud of my country and thank God for the many blessings this country has given me (and therefore that I owe my country!)

Taken by itself, I grant that the treatment of the flag, whether in life or in the pledge, is not idolatrous. But within the context of Bellamy's politics and the stated goals of his party I cannot grant it. They really did intend for public school to be the indoctrination/propaganda arm of the government long-term and that is the source of my discomfort.

DmL, so if we take the by-iteslf-unobjectionable pledge out of the public schools, and put it instead into reverent, Christian places and events, that should solve your difficulty, shouldn't it? The Christian school baseball league isn't saying it to further Bellamy's politics, nor to advance a government / public school control of indoctrination.

Don't get me wrong, anyone can say it any time they like and I won't think any less of them. I personally have grave reservations.

Lydia McGrew wrote :

I suspect a, er, false flag commentator in the last comment but will treat it as serious nonetheless:

What is a "false flag commentator"?

I personally have grave reservations.

DmL, so your worries about the pledge aren't with the fact that it was put forward under a specific political objective, they are with the pledge itself?

A false flag commentator is a commentator pretending to hold one view while actually holding the opposite. My apologies, Mr. Lion, if I misjudged you.

That's what we call a vocation, a calling. That does not mean that there are no such things as legitimate patriotic loyalties from the perspective of Christianity as a whole.

This is the reason that clergy have traditionally worn black--it symbolizes their "death to the world" and so on. This in turn implies that such indifference is the subject of a special calling that demands hatred of all other loyalties and commitments, but it doesn't imply that such loyalties and commitments are per se un-Christian.

As for the pledge itself, if someone finds something in it that he cannot in conscience endorse by recitation, then that's a matter for his conscience only, and he should attend to that himself. Still, there is nothing in an oath of loyalty that necessarily violates our ultimate fealty to Christ the King. What we intend when we make such an oath is nearly as important as the content itself. I just can't see that there's a correct "Christian view" of the Pledge of Allegiance.

A false flag commentator is a commentator pretending to hold one view while actually holding the opposite.

Aka, a Concern troll

No, Tony, I think it's the other way 'round. In and of itself I find it mostly inoffensive.

Sage McLaughlin,
False flag commentator = troll??
I wouldnt want to publically accuse someone of being a troll or disingenuous. :(

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