Letter to a Preacher on the Pledge of Allegiance, War and PatriotismSubmitted by Matthew Miller on Sun, 07/17/2011 - 18:02
Recently, a guest preacher came to my church and preached a sermon entitled "Is Patriotism Appropriate"? I was a very good sermon, on the right track, but not quite a complete Biblical analysis of the subject. So I wrote this letter to him:
I appreciate very much the sermon that you preached at our church last week. Patriotism is very important. The preservation of our freedom is a subject that I am very much involved in. I appreciate that you had the guts to say that America is exceptional. I appreciate that you said that we are a Christian nation. You also correctly pointed out that we should not put our trust in completely in our military, but we must realize that if we do not turn to God for our protection, all of our weapons and armed forces will not save us. Many preachers leave that part out. No speech about American exceptionalism is complete without mentioning that we may lose it and I applaud you for including this in the sermon.
One thing you kept saying over and over was that it is not idolatry to be patriotic. This really stuck in my mind because, a year or two ago, I wrote a piece on a blog about the Pledge of Allegiance being idolatry. I agree with you that being patriotic in general is not idolatry, but it can be if you take too far. There is nothing wrong with singing God Bless America, My Country ‘Tis of Thee, or the Star Spangled Banner. My objection to the Pledge is that pledging one’s allegiance to an inanimate object is a form of idolatry. The definition of allegiance is “devotion or loyalty to that which is entitled to obedience or service and respect”. I will not obey or serve a piece of cloth. It is clearly not just symbolic because the allegiance is “…to the flag…AND to the Republic for which it stands…” The words “under God” were not in the original version, but were added about 50-60 years later. The original Pledge was written by a socialist named Francis Bellamy many generations after the Declaration of Independence when American had already began to forget what made us great. A socialist is basically someone who thinks the government is the answer to all of our problems. (There are other objections I have to Pledge which I will forgo unless you are interested.)
According to flag etiquette, we must fly the American flag above any other flags on the same poll, even the Christian flag. Does this mean that our loyalty to our country is above our loyalty to our church? Or to Christ? Nobody seems to talk about how patriotism can go too far, unless you are talking about some other country.
But I am afraid that the Pledge and flag etiquette are relatively small symptoms compared to the other problems caused by too much patriotism (or distorted patriotism). I know that our leaders need to have the courage to make tough decisions. I know that if we waiver in our fight against terrorism, that will embolden the terrorists. But to make a statement like “we will never cut and run” borders on insanity. Ronald Reagan made a statement like this when he sent Marines into Beirut. But he soon realized that the cost of American lives was not worth it. He was man enough to admit that he made a mistake and pulled the troops out. If the terrorists can trap into fighting a war which is to their advantage, then by not backing out are we really showing a sign of strength or of weakness?
I believe that we have let pride get in our way so that we can’t see how to obey God’s will in matters such as these. Many congressmen have correctly pointed out that Barack Obama’s invasion of Libya is unconstitutional because he did it without the approval of Congress as the Constitution requires. But Obama has said that this kind of talk undermines our efforts and that we should instead present a united front. The same kinds of things were said by Bush when we invaded Iraq. But dissent and criticism are never unpatriotic.
We need to turn to God for the answers to our problems. The answers can be found in the Bible. The early church fathers wrote about “Just War Theory” which is based on Biblical teaching. Out of all the arguments for going to war in a particular case, very seldom do I hear anyone even attempting use the Bible to help us decide when it is right to go to war and what actions are acceptable when fighting a war. (And when they do, it is usually some far-flung, unconstitutional idea that we should be on Israel’s side no matter what. The Bible does not teach this.) But the principles are right there in the Bible if we would only look at them and think for ourselves instead listening to talkshow hosts. Anyone who teaches and obeys these principles is doing the most patriotic thing of all.
I think Christians also need to start looking at the facts of what has gone on in these wars. How many innocent people have we killed? How much killing is justified? (The Bible says “an eye for eye, a tooth for tooth, and life for life”, but we have killed many times more innocent people than the terrorists.) Many soldiers come home from the war ashamed of some of the things that they did. But what are they to say when everyone expects you to be “patriotic”? These soldiers need someone to talk to who won’t just dismiss their feelings of guilt, not having experienced the events themselves, but will instead acknowledge that wrongs can be done by our side and that Jesus heals and forgives. You can applaud soldiers for their bravery and heroism and you can thank them for serving our country. But you don't have to approve of the motives and the means employed by our nation’s leaders. You don't have to dismiss everything we did wrong.
Do you think that I am way off, or do my arguments have at least some merit?