Sunday, February 12, 2012

Old Glory and the Old Rugged Cross Don't Mix

I followed a link from Dave Black to a (sort of) review by Roger Olson (even though Olson is an uber-Arminian), Stanley Hauerwas, America and war (and a question about flags in churches) . Roger Olson is reading Stanley Hauerwas’ new book, War and the American Difference (which is already in my Kindle wish list). As he is reading through, he has pondered the question of American flags in churches. This is an especially interesting topic for me. Of all of the various trappings of American style Christendom nothing bothers me more that the ubiquitous American flag that sits astride the platform (which I also dislike). Here is what Olson wrote:
It seems to me that it would be a very good test of idolatry (or lack of it) to remove the flag and see what happens. It seems to me that anyone who gets angry and insists the sanctuary must include the flag might be flirting with idolatry. Not necessarily conscious, willful idolatry, like bowing down to an idol or something, but idolatry in the sense of elevating a human symbol to absolute status alongside the symbols of the cross and the bread and wine and the Bible (as a symbol of God’s Word).
I think is a great test. It won't happen in most church gatherings of course. It would be unthinkable. Any change to the traditions and patterns that people expect to find on Sunday mornings is met with emotions ranging from confusion to outrage and especially any suggestion that American nationalism is not only inappropriate in the church, it is actually harmful and damaging to our witness. I like what Dave Black said about Olson's theory...

Again, it's easy to see this as radical and spectacular, but it's only because we live in a church subculture that has lost touch with the Scriptures. Christianity that "flies the flag" is the Christianity I grew up with. Christianity in which King Jesus alone is worshipped as Lord is the Christianity I am falling in love with.
So many Christians in America have grown up in the "Christianity" that Dr. Black is describing, a "Christianity" that is inextricably linked with American nationalism. I think the premise of Hauerwas' book is fascinating, that war is the glue that holds America together and that is true in the church as well (honoring veterans in church, "God bless our troops", waving the flag and singing patriotic songs, etc.). American Christians have got to wake up. Many of us are on the same journey that Dr. Black has been on, replacing the Christianity of America with the Christianity of the King. I pray more of us join that journey, for the sake of the mission of the church.

If your gathering of the church this morning has an American flag on the platform, ask the same question Roger Olson did. What if someone got up, very calmly came up and removed the flag and sat back down. What would people do? Would anyone be offended. Would you? If you would be, ask yourself why.


Eric said...


When I was a salaried pastor, I counted the number of American flags around our building. We had five or six. I contemplated taking the one off the platform for a while but figured it would be career suicide. It would have been war. Not long after that, I began to realize that I shouldn't be working in that capacity at all so the American flag thing took a back seat. I still wonder if I would have been fired over the flag issue if I had removed it. I'll never know.

Arthur Sido said...

Eric, I am embarrassed to say that when I was a "bi-vocational" pastor I never thought of that flag as a problem. If I had and I had removed it though, I think it would have caused a stink.

Aussie John said...


I'm pleased to say that symbols of national allegiance are not very common in this country. I have seen only one in the last sixty, or so years.

Debbie said...

Actually, the flag is no longer in the sanctuary. :)

Arthur Sido said...

Debbie, that makes me happier than I can express!