Watch Aaron in the film Holy Wars

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Christian Right and the Pledge of Allegiance-Is There a Contradiction?

This is a revision of an earlier post I've written.

Imagine a grade school student from China who goes to a public school and is asked to swear an oath to the Chinese state every day along with the rest of his or her class at school. Imagine that the young boy or girl refuses to participate due to the fact that he or she is a Christian and does not want to declare allegiance to anyone or anything other than Jesus Christ. I wonder how the average American Christian raised in a conservative evangelical church would view this scenario? I imagine that millions of Christians in America would not only admire the grade school student, but would probably use him or her as an example in Sunday School on how to take a stand as a Christian against a godless secular culture.

Now let's imagine another scenario. Imagine a young boy or girl in America attending one of the thousands of Christian schools throughout the nation. Imagine that a young boy or girl decides one day to politely decline in saying the pledge of allegiance along with his or her classmates. I wonder how the average American evangelical Christian would view this scenario? Given the political firestorm over taking "under God" out of the pledge, I imagine that the reaction of the same millions of Christians who thought the Chinese boy or girl was a hero would be decisively different than over the Christian child refusing to participate in the American pledge of allegiance. I further imagine that many would even question if the student was a Christian at all. After all, so the thinking goes, America is a Christian nation.

Does anyone else see a problem with this? To many American Christians, a child who pledges allegiance to China is considered idolatrous, but a child who pledges allegiance to America is considered a patriot. Speaking as an American evangelical myself, I have to ask what does this say about how we as American Christians view ourselves? For many Christians, the idea that America is not a Christian nation is tantamount to blasphemy. I find it odd that the same people who would applaud a Chinese or a Russian for refusing to swear an oath to a secular state see no problem with wrapping an American flag around a cross in the front yards of their churches.

For the record, I'm not saying necessarily that it's a damnable sin to say the Pledge of Allegiance, although I do think the issue should be looked at more carefully. Although it's true that the Bible says, "Give custom to whom custom is due," it's also true that the New Testament repeatedly prohibits taking oaths. Given what the New Testament actually says about taking oaths, (namely, that a Christian isn't supposed to be making them) isn't it a bit odd that one of the key issues of the Christian right involves keeping the words "under God" in an oath to a nation/state?

Why does this contradiction exist? I think it's because the average American Christian from a conservative evangelical background associates patriotism with following Jesus. To confirm this truth, we need look no further than "Christian" talk radio. I actually heard a "Christian" talk show host one time tell a U.S. Marine "Remember, when you serve in the U.S. Military, you're serving Jesus." As odd at this statement might sound, turning Jesus into an officer of the U.S. Marines, for many of my friends and colleagues, the statement "soldiers in Iraq are doing the will of God" seems to flow off their lips without a second thought.

Should a Christian associate America's cause with God's cause? I don't think so. The truth is that America is a mixture of good and bad, just like many other nations. We can't claim a special relationship with God more than any other nation can. Although our pilgrim forefathers believed they were making a covenant with God when they entered this land, we have no reason to believe that God entered a covenant with them. Biblically speaking, any alliance between the Kingdom of God, which always looks like Jesus taking on the form of a suffering servant, with a version of the Kingdom of this world, (however new and improved the version of the worldly kingdom is) is an unholy alliance-and for good reason. Ask a typical native American Christian whether he or she believes that God gave the continental U.S. to white Europeans for the purpose of advancing the cause of freedom and liberty and you might get a totally different answer than you would hear from one of Ohio's Patriot Pastors.

As a missionary who has traveled the world many times over, I've met many Christians from other countries who have asked me why so many American Christians associate patriotism with Christianity. Not being one who likes to mix words, I tell them the truth. Americans read the Bible with cultural blinders on.....just like everyone else.

As for those who would venerate a Chinese student for refusing to pledge an oath to China but marginalize a Christian kid for refusing to pledge an oath to America, I'm not sure if they'll like what I have to say, but for a Bible believing Christian, the response to this anomaly should be obvious. Our first and foremost loyalty should be to Jesus Christ. Although we need to honor and serve our country as good citizens, to equate love for Jesus with love for country is nothing short of idolatry.

5 comments:

Pete said...

Aaron,
Consider where the Bible is talking about pledges and oaths and consider the meaning. If you want to get rid of all oaths, kiss the Christian pledge of Allegiance goodbye as well as your marriage vows. I proudly pledge myself to "the republic for which it stands", because the original idea of our country was to make people as free as God created them to be. Certainly God is far ahead of my country and I hold no parallels between Christianity and patriotism, but you cannot seriously consider pledging one's self to a country where everyone is supposed to have an equal opportunity and freedom to choose their beliefs the same thing as pledging one's self to a country which seeks to make everyone conform to its desires and treats its own people with very little regard for them as an individual.
That being said, either child should have the right to not say the pledge if they don't believe in it, the difference is that the American child has the right to.
Pete

toby said...

nice comment pete.

is the pledge of allegiance really an oath? what about the promise that you make to tell the truth in a court of law?

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Pete,

The difference between pledging loyalty to your wife and pledging allegiance to the state is there is scriptural precedent for the first and none for the second. I'm not saying it's a damnable sin. I'm just saying we need to think about it.

Secondly, you can not possibly be equating the pledge of allegiance to the American flag with the Christian pledge of allegiance? Not that I'm a fan of the Christian pledge either, except that I fully believe in pledging my allegiance to Jesus Christ as Lord, whatever form that takes.

As far as putting your hand on a Bible and swearing an oath in court, let's look at what Jesus said,

"But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footsstool, nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, becauee you cannot make one hair white or black."

If Jesus said, "Do not swear at all" and He did't approve of swearing by heaven or earth or Jerusalem, what makes you think He would approve of putting your hand on a Bible and answering "yes" to the question "Do you solemnly swear?"

Pete said...

Aaron,
I most certainly do compare the Christian Pledge to the Pledge of Allegiance. Frankly, I'm a little confused that you would support the pledge to the Christian flag, the very symbol that solidifies the idea that God is looking to set up an earthly kingdom in many peoples' minds. What do we need a flag for? Seriously, we are that which He has conquered for His own. Should I be carrying a flag? Oh well, off of that bunny trail and back on the soap box.
In order to understand what Jesus was talking about, one must first understand that in Jesus's day an oath was not binding unless it contained a reference to God, so men had come up with oaths that were convincing but not binding so they could escape responsibility and effectively lie.
If Jesus was so strictly against all oaths, it strikes me as odd that He would have answered to the Sanhedrin under oath in Matthew or that Paul would go under oath many times in his books.
Also, if you bring up the Biblical precedent for an oath for marriage than you must also bring up the oaths of law from the same Old Testament which would serve as precedent for swearing to tell the truth in court.
Finally, I will say that you are certainly right about us needing to think about the things that we pledge ourselves to. I would note, however, that I have thought very thoroughly about my choice to support the Pledge of Allegiance as have many other people in this country. I consider it to be much like voting- If you aren't going to think about what you are doing than please don't get involved, but if you are educated and have given proper weight to it, than by all means join in.
It's late and I'm cranky that the roads are too nasty for me to drive home tonight.
Pete

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Pete,

You've made some good points here regarding the context of oaths that Jesus talked about.

I never said I supported the pledge to the Christian flag. The point of my rebuttal is there's a difference between pledging allegiance to Jesus Christ and pledging allegiance to the State. Just want to clear that up.

Secondly, I'm not so sure that Jesus did put Himself under oath in the way that you're talking about. Jesus was pretty ambivalent in His answers to the Sanhedrin, especially when they tried to put Him under an oath.

Thirdly, the examples of Paul had to do with establishing his apostolic authority and were necessary in that context..."As God is my witness...." I'm not even sure I would classify that as an oath.

Fourthly, even if that were the case, there's a difference between saying "Yes, I'm telling the truth" and pledging allegiance to the State. If you are going to accept the idea of pledging allegiance to the State, I think you should at least be aware that there's no Scriptural precedent for pledging allegiance to the State, at least not in the New Testament.

Perhaps this is a grey area. The key word for me is "allegiance". I think we lose sight of the radical nature of the New Testament when we fail to realize one of the very core principles of the New Testament is a rejection of nationalism. The reason why the Apostles were persecuted was because they said "Jesus is King" not Caesar (and the Roman Empire).

My question is: If I feel my State is in the wrong in a particular area and I go against what the State tells me is in my best interests, have I violated my "pledge of allegiance" if I refuse to bow to the State in a particular area I feel is in error?

Lastly, sorry about the roads. That would make me cranky too.