Sunday, July 04, 2010

Churches and Flags

Thought I'd share this timely piece with you for the Fourth from Fr. Lane Denson III in Tennessee, about the proper Biblical relationship between the church and the state. As my own rector reminded us this morning here in Idaho, the liberty of our politics and Founding Fathers is a great one, and the liberty of Christ is a great one, but don't ever confuse or combine the two.
Any flag is a symbol, and symbols communicate.

When a flag flies at full staff the announcement is peace, victory, rule or whatever adjective you might speak in the situation at that time.

When a flag flies upside down, the message is distress.

When a flag flies at half mast, the message is sorrow or death

When a flag is placed on the right hand side of a seat of responsibility, as at the President's desk in the oval office, the message is allegiance.

When a flag is torn, stepped on or burned, the message is
rejection or rebellion, as at the Boston Tea Party.

Both Hebrew and Christian scriptures record two problems as always having plagued the People of God. (1) Syncretism, becoming conformed to the cultural ways instead of bringing the culture into the ways of God. (2) Nationalism, allowing the rule of God to be replaced by the rule of the State or King.

The first Commandment says no other God, and that includes kings, states, and constitutions. The prophetic movement came to the fore in earnest when David decided he was above the law of God. Nathan spoke with clarity. Henry II tried to make Thomas à Becket bow to the will of the throne, and blood was shed in Canterbury Cathedral. And on, and on, over and over, the conflict between Church and State.

In the early 1900s a subtle thing occurred in this country. The Stars and Stripes were placed on the right hand side of the altar in the churches. The message, perhaps unintended, was that the Church owes allegiance to the State. To place the Nation's flag in such a position is like placing the Church's flag to the right of the President's desk in the Oval Office. Such a message proclaimed in the church is contrary to the covenants. It is also an act of idolatry.

Yet, flags do have a place in the Church -- the Alms Bason. On National Days, such as the 4th of July, to place a properly folded National Flag in the Alms Bason is to offer to God what we have done as his stewards of the land and society of a country. The People of God are inhabitants of every nation on this earth, but we owe primary obedience to none of them.

Let us consider well what our flags communicate. Maybe the time has come to remove all National Flags from the Nave. Let them be placed in the Alms Bason on National Days.

At Winston Churchill's funeral, the casket was placed before the High Altar with five pillows on the altar step. Each pillow bore a symbol of his life in the service of God. One pillow bore the Union Jack.

What better example might we have?

1 comment:

Evan Martin said...

Churches in the Anglican tradition have always been overtly allied to their respective nations, that was part of the reason for the English reformation. As a member of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, I feel that it is proper to keep the national flag near the alter. It serves as a reminder of why we are able to meet there and worship without fear of persecution.