Skip to main content

why flags should not permanently be in the sanctuary

dateline: last night, worship committee, prosper united methodist church.
subject: lent and holy week planning meeting, with a few rabbit chasing exercises

it's my first worship committee here at prosper. the goal was to make plans for holy week and easter. after discussing these and other issues, it came to report sharing time. one of the reports due was on ordering flags. i didn't know what that meant, but hey, i am new here, and happy to learn and hear what's going on. then i learn that we're talking about an american flag in the sanctuary. some of the members looked at me and said, "we just noticed we didn't have an american flag or the church flag in the sanctuary." i held my breath, and almost held my tongue. but no, contrary to what i wanted to do, i spoke.

"i'm not a big fan of having flags in the worship space. oh hey, look at the time-- gotta go! now that i've already said too much i know you'll not want to hear my reasons." someone replied: "no, i'd like to hear." what do i do now? it's too late to retreat! "well," i said, kicking myself under the table, "there's a danger of idolatry with flags in the sanctuary. if you listen to how many people, everyday folk and many of our leaders, speak about this country, it borders on idolatry, with God Bless America and all."

"well, i guess that'll save us $138! good thing we haven't ordered them yet!" then the minutes were emailed to the members, and a line was included about flags and idolatry. i thought i needed a format to respond to anyone who might be hot under the collar, thinking their new pastor hates the good ol' u.s.a. that's what blogs are for, right?

i don't hate this country. i love it. i consisently pray for it, its troops, its leaders, its place in the world, and everything about it, both the good and the bad, in public worship and in my private prayer life. the problem i have with posting the flag in the worship space is that it gives folk the impression, probably subconsciously but it's still there, that God is on america's side. the truth is that God is not on any one country's side-- God is God of all nations, since all people are made in God's image. to assume that God's got our back in everything we do limits God to us. anything that places a limit on God is, by definition, idolatry. this is why i cringe when i hear people talk about america or any other country as "God's country," and why i was disgusted once when i saw a bumper sticker that said, "G.O.P.: God's Own Party." that is idolatry.

so i prefer to have no flags permanently displayed in the worship space. it is fine to display them at civic observances, like scout sunday. but in my role as the congregation's interpreter of the intersection between culture and theology, it is clear to me that there are many more benefits to not displaying the flag in sacred space. this way we can be assured that we pledge our allegiance to the one God, not a particular group of people or ideology.


Anonymous said…
thx for giving words to something i've always believed. i may never need to explain this position, but now i can if the need arises.
miss u each and all! marie

Popular posts from this blog

Reflecting Upon Newtown

Note: I offered these words during the prayer section of worship Sunday, December 16.

Last Friday was a day full of surprising ministry. After I wrote my usual Friday email devotion to the church, I received a call from Byron Proutt, our missions coordinator. He and others had recently partnered with Park Cities Presbyterian on a project, and their missions director called Byron to say another ministry was unable to pick up several boxes of food for their pantry—could we use it? Of course we could! So Pastor Gregg, Mr Johnny, and I rolled out to the warehouse and hauled back 80 boxes of food. Praise God! After we unloaded it Gregg and I went to Kroger to give them a letter of appreciation for making our Thanksgiving baskets for hungry families a priority. After I dropped Gregg off at home, I turned on my radio for the first time that day and heard the reports of the shootings in Newtown, Conn. I could not believe what I heard, especially as a father of young children.

I came back to m…

The Famous Black Cat Band

This week my former high school band director, Mr Reinke, died. Mr Reinke is a legend in my hometown of Bay City. He was the leader of our Black Cat Band for many years. He was a fiery man, a perfectionist with extremely high standards. He was a gifted musician. He and I both played the trombone; one of us sounded like a goose being strangled. The other sounded like... well I can't think of a metaphor to properly describe Mr Reinke's horn. It was amazing. He would pull that thing out occasionally to show us how to properly play a part of a song and the sound was spellbinding. 
Mr Reinke was very innovative in his music selections. He had us playing the most random music, from popular stuff of the day by Michael Jackson to Also Sprach Zarathustra (popularly known as the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey) to Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. This song in particular was a great choice-- it's amazing, complicated; however, this was the late 1980s. The song was originally released…

a response to gideons international

last sunday prosper united methodist church welcomed representatives of the gideons to share about their ministry. how many times have you stayed in a hotel or visited someone in the hospital and found a gideons Bible there? and while no one can argue that reading the Bible is a bad thing, or that distributing Bibles to others in native languages is inherently harmful, i would like to offer some thoughts on the practices of the gideons, as they were described at church.

1. bravo to the gideons for distributing 73 million Bibles last year. however, most of the Bibles they sent were tiny new testaments with psalms. i am a Christian, and i love the words of the new testament. but those words have their foundation in the old testament, and to remove thousands of years of traditions and stories of God's powerful love and acts of salvation diminishes the power of the whole Bible. we must never forget that the old testament (or "first" testament or "hebrew Bible"…