Anthems, Pledges, and the Realm of God

Over the years I've been a 49ers fan. They've won a few Super Bowls, but right now they're at the bottom of the pile in the NFL. Since they're not doing well, and the local Detroit Lions need support I've focused my attention on Matt Stafford and company. In recent days the 49ers have been in the news, or more specifically their quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, has been in the news. The question of the day isn't about football and whether Kaepernick will be the starting QB, but his decision to sit during the National Anthem. It's pro-forma to start athletic contests with the National Anthem. Sometimes it's done well, but often it's done poorly. I'm not a real fan of the Star Spangled Banner, in large part because it's not an easy song to sing well. The folks to the north in Canada have a much more singable anthem, but that's a different story.

Whether you agree with Kaepernick's action or not, the conversation it has engendered is at times disturbing. First of all, we all have the right to speak about we believe and value. That's an American value. Kaepernick is expressing his opinion as an African American man about the way people of color are treated in this country. He has both the right and unfortunately the facts behind him. So, he has chosen to protest by sitting during the Anthem. That's his right. So why not let him be? Why not explore the root causes of his complaint?  

In this posting, I want to express my concern  about the way in which the flag, the anthem, and the pledge of allegiance have taken sacred form even in the Christian community.  Many Christians have been outraged by his refusal to stand, seeing it as disrespectful to the nation, the military, etc. So, here's my question: What does this outrage say about where our loyalties truly lie?

I wrote a book called Ultimate Allegiance. It's a study of the Lord's Prayer. In that book I argue that the Lord's Prayer is a pledge of allegiance to the realm of God. Why are Christians so upset by one who refuses to stand for a national anthem? Remember that early Christians were persecuted because they refused to swear allegiance to the emperor by burning incense to honor the emperor. They claimed, rightly, that Jesus alone is Lord.  Some faith communities, the Jehovah's Witnesses being preeminent also refuse to say the pledge or sing the anthem because they view it as sacrilegious. They view it as placing their allegiance with another realm, when they should commit themselves to God's realm.

I have no problem with saying the pledge or singing the anthem, but I try to keep things in perspective. My ultimate allegiance must be given to God and not nation. The flag is not a sacred symbol. It is a national symbol. We can be patriotic, without being nationalistic, but we need to keep things in perspective. To give you a good example, when I drive around town and see American flags flying above Christians flags in front of churches, I wonder where their loyalties lie. I wonder about churches that remove crosses but fly American flags in their sanctuaries. Where do their allegiances lie?  Perhaps we should all follow the example of the Jehovah's Witnesses and sit during pledges and singing of anthems, lest we become captive to America's civil religion that makes the flag a sacred symbol and the Bible a nationalist symbol.

Perhaps we can best reflect on this question by contemplating the meaning of the Lord's Prayer. And yes, I will recommend reading my book Ultimate Allegiance: The Subversive Nature of the Lord's Prayer (Energion, 2010) as part of this recommended meditation on our first order pledge of allegiance. 


John said…
I find most if not all those who object to Kaepernick's protest could care less about the offense to the flag, and in truth object to the objects of his protest. Moreover, they believe that his wealth denies him the right to stand in solidarity and protest with the poor and marginalized. But mostly they seem to be in denial of their own racism and object to having thrown in their faces. If his critics truly embraced the spirit of freedom represented by the flag I think THEY should all take a knee.

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