The pastor of my local church caused no small stir several years ago when he removed the American flag from its perch just behind the pulpit. Indeed, he removed it from the sanctuary entirely. As you might imagine, this provoked some consternation among at least a few members, who no doubt wondered if this brash new pastor, late of graduate school and ministry in England, might have acquired some suspect loyalties during his years abroad. It was not anti-Americanism or any other lack of patriotism that animated his decision, however. Reared in a small town in the verdant rolling hills of the Bluegrass State, he is as red-blooded an American as you will find, possessed of a deep and abiding love for his country. He will with gratitude and pride salute the flag when given occasion to do so. So why remove it from the sanctuary? Most simply, he wanted to brook no confusion that the church offers its worship only to Christ-and not to America. More deeply, he saw the flag's prominence in the pulpit, even its very presence in the sanctuary, as potentially obscuring the distinction between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. He sought to make sure that there was no confusion over his primary calling and our primary identity. As a minister of Christ's church, he is charged with preaching the Word of God to our congregation, holding our consciences captive to God's revelation as our ultimate authority and to God's name as our ultimate loyalty, no matter our earthly citizenship or nationality. The mere presence of an American flag does not necessarily defy this distinction, of course. But it may confuse or undermine it.
William Inboden is a special advisor in the Office of International Religious Freedom.
Issue: "The Christian Voters Guide" Sept./Oct. 2004 Vol. 13 No. 5 Page number(s): 23-29
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