The country’s flag in the worship center?

by Swan on June 5, 2005

Something happened at our congregational meeting today that kind of disturbed me.
Someone was making a motion to put a US flag in the front of the worship center. Many people seemed to agree with this suggestion.
Fortunately, our senior pastor had a good reply of why the flag had been removed from the worship center in the 1990s, and someone made a motion to defer the decision.

We do have the US flag in the center and then flags of all the countries that our local church sends missionaries to in the lobby which I think makes a great statement of God and us loving the world. There’s also a flag pole outside that displays the US flag all the time.

But I think it would go too far and send a wrong message if there was a US flag in the main worship center. I love the country in which I live and I’ll consider becoming a citizen as soon as I become eligible, but I don’t think a country’s flag should be displayed in front of a worship center or in the sanctuary of a church. We are worshipping God alone, and if there ever is a question of whose directions we follow it should be a hundred percent clear where our loyalty is.

Do you have your country’s flag in the worship center of your local church? Where? What are your thoughts about this?

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

1

Richard 06.06.05 at 12:09 am

I don’t like national flags inside churches, especially when they become the centre of attention. It strikes me as ironic that you are more likely to see a prominently displayed national flag in a US church, where there is no official established church, than you are in a British church. In British Methodism, you are very unlikely to see the Union Flag on display, except perhaps on a Scout or Brigade parade.

2

Ali 06.06.05 at 12:51 am

My church meets in a school, which happens to have about thirty national flags hanging from the ceiling, plus a US flag on its own in a corner. I am also planning to get citizenship when I am eligible, but the reaction of Americans to their flag is strange to me, such a strong attachment. I wouldn’t be happy with a flag at the center of the worship area either. American does not imply Christian and vice versa. It just doesn’t feel right to highlight one country above others.

3

Karen 06.06.05 at 4:01 am

I have been in churches with flags in the sactuary, usually the US flag on one side and the Christian flag on the other. It did seem rather odd, we are here worshiping God and talking about the body of Christ which has no politcal boundries yet have the symbol of American patriotism here in front of us.

4

Joel 06.06.05 at 7:27 am

We have both the Christian flag and the American flag in the sanctuary, although they are not “front-and-center.” At least in the United Methodist Churches in the southern and border states of the U.S., I would guess that 90% or more of the churches display the American flag in the sanctuary.

Personally, I don’t think national flags in church sanctuaries make a lot of sense. However, I have learned to pick and choose battles and the flag tradition has existed for so long that making that fight would waste valuable time and energy. Instead, I spend a lot of time trying to break down cultural barriers, promoting world-wide communion, and opposing “civil religion.”

I hate to say it, but if I were to remove one of the flags, I think people would notice the absence of the American flag before they would the Christian flag.

5

Richard 06.06.05 at 7:48 am

What’s the Christian flag, Joel?

6

Joel 06.06.05 at 8:24 am

I doubt that it is used much outside the U.S.A. because I think it is mainly there to offset and justify the display of the American flag. The Christian flag is mostly white with a blue square in the upper left corner that contains a red cross. Get it? Red, white and blue, just like the American flag. The United Methodist Church also has a flag with the cross and flame symbol, but it is rarely displayed in sanctuaries — mostly just at Annual or General Conference. Conferences often display the individual state flag, as well. I really think Christ would just shake his head at all this.

7

Wood 06.06.05 at 2:04 pm

There’s also a gay Christian flag that replaces the white with rainbow colours. I like that one. But no, the Christian flags are as far as I know, wholly unique to the US.

I think that the thing with flags is very much a cultural difference. You have to remember that for much of the seventies and eighties, sporting a Union Flag was not really something you did in polite society, for a whole welter of reasons, not least its appropriation by the far right (and by the far right, I mean actual neo-fascists, not the American variety) and the dismantling of Britain’s empire, which the flag represents, it being a flag of conquest in a way that the Stars and Stripes or any of the revolutionary tricolores of Europe could never be. Also, it’s a different beast, inasmuch as the two kingdoms, one principality and one province that make up the UK, all have their own flags as well, and people would often rather sport those than the Union Flag (particularly in Wales and Scotland). You could draw a comparison with that Southern flag that used to be on top of the Dukes’ of Hazzard car, but actually, it’s not really that similar at all.

Although since the whole Cool Britannia thing of the mid-late nineties, it’s socially acceptable to wear the Union Flag on T-shirts and stuff (see Billie Piper’s rather fetching outfit on Doctor Who a couple weeks back), or on a car window sticker, or on the top of your Mini :), it’s still not seen as “good taste” - it’s either trashy or it’s ironic.

The respect given to the American Stars and Stripes by Americans (duh) is alien to us; the way that many American Christians feel the need to have a Christian flag as well just looks utterly bizarre, actually. I suppose that what it boils down to is how much you feel like your flag symbolises your country. Brits don’t understand, because they don’t see how the two should connect so intimately. Americans, meanwhile, have in my experience tended not to understand British takes on patriotism, because we take our flag so lightly.

8

DH 06.06.05 at 3:52 pm

I have no problem with flags as long as they are not front and center. A thing happened at my church last month. My pastor had a 15 foot cross displayed about 6 feet directly in front of the pulpit. He said the cross should be the main focus of the worship service. The message should be heard through the cross. I thought this was incredible. So I would say as long as the focus is first on the cross and on Jesus then the body of Christ (church) then our family, then to me it doesn’t really matter what we place in high regard after that. What do you all think? What is so wrong with having a high regard for country as long as Jesus is place first above all else? What is wrong with wanting all people around the world to have the freedom that we have in the UK and US? I see nothing wrong with promoting this.

9

John 06.06.05 at 4:45 pm

The national flags are a distraction. Being so close to the altar, once could mistake an air of unmerited holiness to them. It’s time to remove them.

10

DH 06.06.05 at 5:46 pm

I don’t get that from the flag. How can they be a distraction if a chruch is truly putting Christ and all rest in higher regard? I know some don’t but that is not the point with my questions. Some churchs put the flags to the corners of the auditorium or on a flag pole away from the entrance. What is wrong with that if the church truly honestly puts Christ and all the rest that I mentioned in higher regard? If a church does put Christ and all the rest I mentioned in higher regard then it wouldn’t be a distraction whether or not there are flags flying because people would see what is clearly evident. Hence my questions and retoricle answers.

11

Joel 06.06.05 at 7:54 pm

If a sanctuary displays both the American flag and the Christian flag, then the Christian flag should be taller. But American flag protocol provides that no flag may fly above the U.S. flag, except at the United Nations I believe.

12

DH 06.06.05 at 9:28 pm

“If a church does put Christ and all the rest I mentioned in higher regard then it wouldn’t be a distraction whether or not there are flags flying because people would see what is clearly evident.”

13

Richard 06.06.05 at 11:19 pm

One of my most uncomfortable experiences in the States was on the Sunday closest to July 4th, in which the National Anthem was sung and the flag saluted. It just didn’t seem right in church and really made me squirm. No doubt it seems the most natural thing in the world to those very fine Methodist people at the church I was visiting, but I didn’t like it at all.

On a related subject, I’ve linked elsewhere to another bloggers posts about the business of the desecration of the Koran. In one of her posts on the subject she writes “Object worship is forbidden in Christianity”, one of the few statements I’m able to agree with. But I find myself wondering how the devotion to the flag, the careful rituals about how it should be treated and the various protocols for how it should be handled differs from “object worship”. I mean this in a genuine spirit of trying to understand an aspect of US culture that completely mystifies me. The Flag is treated as an object of veneration, or at least that’s how it appears to these British eyes. Am I missing something? (Apart, obviously, from a US upbringing! :))

14

Swan 06.07.05 at 2:12 am

Richard, it completely mystifies me as well, and I’ve been living among these people for almost 13 years. I’ve noticed, though, that most people assume that other countries have these careful rituals as well. When I tell people that we don’t learn a flag folding procedure and there isn’t even one anywhere on the government’s website, they don’t believe me that it doesn’t exist (or if it exists, it is so unimportant that a citizen usually wouldn’t know about it).

15

Swan 06.07.05 at 2:18 am

DH: “If a church does put Christ and all the rest I mentioned in higher regard then it wouldn’t be a distraction whether or not there are flags flying because people would see what is clearly evident.”

If a church does put Christ in higher regard, why would you put something in the worship center that may be interpreted the wrong way and weaken or contradict the rest of the evidence?

16

irene 06.07.05 at 10:15 am

I never knew there was a “Christian flag”! Most churches in Malaysia do not display the Malaysian flag… if they do, it’s by the side of the sanctuary together with flags from all the various states (12 of them) — usually because the flags are used during intercession for the country, I think.

17

DH 06.07.05 at 7:07 pm

Just because something is venerated doesn’t mean it is necessarily worshipped. It isn’t worship but holding it in high regard. For us in the US love of country is important but it is understood (and not mentioned because it is) that other things are more important (hence my previous two posts). For example: I venerate my family but I place Christ above my family. That is the same way the flag is treeated in relation to my previous two posts.

Swan: I feel that it is a problem with people who do misinterpret the flag than it is the flag itself. I still feel that if Christ is clearly evident then people won’t misinterpret and if they do it probably is the person who misinterprets the purpose of the flag than the church that places the flag.

18

DH 06.07.05 at 7:30 pm

Oh Swan, as a clarification I do think it is important that the church explain and teach how to appropriately view the flag (or country) in relation to Christ and all of the other aspects that are even more important than the flag (or country). I feel love of country is important and my previous posts explain the balance I feel we should have in relation to all aspects of our lives. To me there seems to be a hiarchy. If any one is overstated or understated then the problematic of being unbalanced will be the end result.

19

Richard 06.07.05 at 10:09 pm

I can see the distinction between veneration and worship, though it is a fine line between the two. I’m glad of the reminder — I needed it. But it is a distinction that protestants are not always prepared to make. For example, Roman Catholics are sometimes still accused of idolatry because they venerate objects and images. What makes the distinction?

20

DH 06.07.05 at 10:25 pm

You are so right there is a fine line between the two but I guess I don’t put the flag in the church in the same category as Roman Catholic’s venerating of objects. I think we tend to look at the extremes within groups and project that onto the whole. (I’m speaking within those who happen to have the flag in the church) I guess I’m guilty as well with regard to Roman Catholics on this issue with regard to their objects and images. At the same time, we can’t forsake that minorities within Roman Catholic (objects and images) and within Protestant church (those who have flag) go overboard on their veneration to the point of worship but those groups or individuals are still minorities and not the majority within both groups regarding both issues. So I guess it is more the intent and the response from the action that must be addressed than the actual action itself.

21

Richard 06.07.05 at 11:50 pm

I wasn’t thinking of the extremes though, DH. My impression is that the US flag is treated with far greater reverence than, say, the Union Flag is in Britain by ordinary citizens. I’m not convinced that respect for what the flag represents hasn’t tipped over into worship of the flag itself, or at least something very close to it. That, to my mind, makes having the flag present in a Christian church perilous at best

22

DH 06.08.05 at 9:22 pm

What gives you that impression? I would agree if you look at the small number of extremes within those who fly the flag in church. I know you give examples of people giving the pledge of allegiance and all that but in my opinion those are the exception rather than the rule. I really know no church that worships the flag other than ultra extreme rare examples I have heard from “the press” and other sources some from your site. This is the “projection” of the extremes onto the majority within a particular group that I mentioned in my previous post.

23

Jim R 06.09.05 at 5:43 pm

For every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time of war, and a time of peace.

Book of Ecclesiastes

A friendly reminder to us. May I add:

A time to display the national flag and a time to display the faith flag.

24

Robert W. Baudoux, Sr. 07.18.06 at 5:57 pm

Our Church has the United States flag in the Sanctuary, along with the flag of Jesus Christ, which is the red cross representing Christ’s death on Calvary, and as such represents the Christian Church.

Because both flags are displayed at the front of the Sanctuary, on the same level as the seating for the Congregation, the Flag of Jesus Christ is in the location of highest honor, to the Congregation’s right, with the United States flag to the Congregation’s left. We believe it is entirely proper to display the United States flag in our Christian Church because the United States is a Christian Country, and had its origin as a Christian Country.

If the flags were displayed on the dais (raised platform for the Speaker), then the Flag of Jesus Christ would be located on the Speaker’s (Pastor’s) right, with the United States flag to the Speaker’s left. Thus, the level on which the flags are displayed determines the protocol for right or left placement, the “right hand” of course being the biblical, historical place of highest honor. We do not think that relegating the United States flag to the second place of highest honor reflects in any way a lack of repect.

Since the ultimate show of “nationalism” is during a war, and since the United States armed forces historically has marked the graves of its war dead with the Cross of Jesus Christ, we think it entirely both proper and necessary to display the United States flag in our Christian Church along with the Flag of Jesus Christ.

25

Bluemeadow 04.14.07 at 3:45 am

All one has to do consider the appropriateness of national flags in the sanctuary is picture that Nazi Swastika flag in the Lutheran churches in Germany at the time. Hey, that was the national flag of the worshipping community at the time, not matter what it might have stood for otherwise. It helps put things in perspective. And lest anyone yells unfair for talking about nazi’s i’m entitled having come from that land and time………….. . Just saying.

26

dh 04.16.07 at 3:04 pm

I have a few questions: Were these churches in Germany FORCED to have the Nazi flag waved? If not, did ALL of the churches have the Nazi flag waved (was this a mandate by the Lutheran church or did some did and other didn’t)? Also, if the flag was waved and there was a Christian flag at that time, based on my answers to the two questions mentioned previously, did they place the Nazi flag higher than the Christian flag?

One can only truly get a proper perspective on these things when one finds out for sure how these things came about in Germany. It may be that there are underlying things that contradict your analysis “bluemeadow” with regard to “Nazi flags in church”?

27

dh 04.16.07 at 3:06 pm

Noone is mandating churches to have the American flag waved at church only that it should be placed lower to the Christian flag. Also, I would also venture that a majority of churches don’t have American flags waved at their church. Just a few additional thoughts to go along with the previous post earlier.

28

malc 04.16.07 at 6:53 pm

Christian flag…??? We have a flag??

Most of the flags that you find in churches here are regimental flags, but this is the ‘Home of the British Army’ so that’s not really too surprising I suppose.

Personally I’m generally not in favour of flags as they detract from the purpose of the church, with the exception of “foreign” churches. For instance, we have a Church In Scotland church here for any Scotish Regiments (is this the furthest South CiS in teh country???) and they obviously have a St Andrew’s flag.

29

rhw 03.09.10 at 9:19 am

I do not think there is anything in the bible that mandates churches to have flags. I think it is just a way to relive the crusades of an earlier time. And the crusades were anything but.

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