Thursday, July 7, 2011

Pledging Allegiance

The Pledge of Allegiance was adopted by Congress as the national pledge in 1942, with the current version, including "under God", being accepted in 1954. Is it shocking that our nation held together without a national pledge for 166 years? Of course not. So why is it deemed so valuable and necessary today?

You may not know that the Pledge was written by a Baptist minister. You may be further surprised to learn that the composer, Francis Bellamy, was also a Christian socialist. He was an employee of The Youth's Companion, the magazine that published the original Pledge in 1892. This magazine provided schools with American flags in exchange for the use of their students as magazine salesmen. Clearly, Bellamy had a vested interest in publishing his Pledge.

Bellamy called the Pledge an "inoculation" to protect us from the "virus" of radicalism (Beato, G., "Face the Flag", Reason, Dec. 16, 2010). He later wrote, "A democracy like ours cannot afford to throw itself open to the world where every man is a lawmaker, every dull-witted or fanatical immigrant admitted to our citizenship is a bane to the commonwealth; where all classes of society merge insensibly into one another."

In 1919, the state of Washington passed a law requiring schools to make the Pledge recitation mandatory. This sentence espousing "liberty...for all" was now something that a portion of Americans were required by law to recite aloud. In 1935, hundreds of children, mostly of Jehovah's Witnesses, chose to be expelled from school rather than bow down to this law. The Supreme Court ruled against them in 1940, before Congress had even adopted the Pledge, saying that national unity was more important than individual liberty. Some Jehovah's Witnesses were beaten and physically maimed for their stance against the Pledge, sometimes right in front of police. The Supreme Court reversed their decision in 1943. Apparently they decided the U.S. shouldn't look quite so much like Germany.

Whether or not this historical view alters your opinion on the importance of our national pledge or whether citizens should be expected to recite it, we as the church should examine whether we should pledge allegiance to anything or anyone aside from God. The children of the Jehovah's Witnesses in 1935 remind me of Shadrach, Meschach and Abed-Nego when they refused to "pledge allegiance" to Nebuchadnezzar by bowing to his image in Daniel 3. It is clear from this Bible story that God's people are not to give themselves to another person or nation. We are to submit to the governments established by God, but we are not to "bow down" by declaring that we belong, for we have been purchased by the blood of Christ.

By pledging our allegiance to a flag and a republic, we give ourselves over to a nation, to a people, especially to those who govern. We declare that we approve of whatever those who govern decide. We say that we support involuntary military service should the need arise, that forcing our youth to resist evil people through violence is admissible because they've sworn an oath. We say that we will tolerate any sort of privacy invasion that is necessary if the State has deemed it so, even if it means our elderly and children are sexually violated in the middle of every one of our airports. We have sworn allegiance; therefore, we stand behind all that America, or rather her government, does.

But what did our Lord teach? "Do not swear at all" (Matthew 5:34). God does not even permit His children to swear by heaven (v. 34), so why would He permit the blind nationalism we indulge in when we recite a pledge to the U.S.A.? Surely, my brothers, this is not right.

"But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one" (v. 37). The apostle James echoed this teaching with emphasis: "But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No,' lest you fall into judgment" (James 5:12). Clearly the words we say have meaning, and we will be held to them.

By swearing an oath of allegiance to a nation or any person, we ensnare ourselves into supporting, if not performing, evil acts that we otherwise would find repugnant. This puts our hearts and our conduct in conflict, because when we do this, we can no longer say with Peter, "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). For, sadly, we have pledged our allegiance to the nation. This is the devil's trick, and, according to James, we bring God's judgment upon ourselves when we fall for it. It is quite possible that Francis Bellamy invited judgment on our nation by luring the people into taking an oath to the U.S.

God's Word instructs us to be subject to the governing authorities that He has appointed (Romans 13:1). Never once does our Lord tell us to support or be a part of what the governing authorities do, whether good or bad. The church must unify with itself, not to the State. There are enough evil men in our government and evil deeds done by our government that the church must remain separate, giving neither support nor approval. God's kingdom is greater than any other, and we are its citizens first and foremost. We must render to Caesar what is Caesar's (obedience when it does not conflict with Christ's law) and to God what is God's (utmost obedience, worship, and allegiance).


  1. By your definition of pledging allegiance as a wholesale acceptance of the actions of the recipient of the pledge, if I pledge allegiance to my car I should ignore if the AC breaks or if the headlights burn out. If the car ceases to run I should sit patiently in the driver's seat.
    We can pledge allegiance to the United States with the knowledge that the country is shaped by its people and can be repaired should problems arise.
    I have been taught that the verses you reference regarding swearing have more to do with performing a sort of pagan knee-jerk reaction to a situation where you pull God out like a party trick or a magic spell (similar to knocking on wood ... "I swear to God!" - and suddenly everything is all better).
    There are situations where "pledging allegiance" seems to be a good thing. What about marriage and marriage vows? If God honors our work and faithfulness and we are to work as unto the Lord, then what if you pledge (temporary) allegiance to your employer? Are you not merely indirectly pledging allegiance to God if you are to submit to authority and you simply pledge to do so?
    I understand the importance of words and the silliness of a pledge (to a country, or even more confusingly, a flag) but, as long as it omits things like "forever and ever, Amen" or "as long as you both shall live" and includes something like "under God" (which, in light of this conversation suddenly seems more important than I ever really thought because it places your allegiance to the country under your allegiance to God) then it seems to me it doesn't hold too much weight in the spiritual court of law. I apologize for that long and confusingly stitched together sentence but it is easier to apologize here than rewrite it.

  2. Hey buddy, thanks for the comment! I think this is a very interesting topic for discussion.

    I only learned today how much the Sermon on the Mount has been mangled through the centuries. I haven't done any background research yet, but I heard today that the phrase "without a cause" in Matthew 5:22 (NKJV) and the phrase "except sexual immorality" in verse 32 were added centuries after Jesus gave His sermon. They completely destroy His meaning and warp His doctrine. So I'm not at all surprised that someone would teach you something different than what He intended. It's been happening for a very long time.

    I doubt that James would have said "...above all, my brethren..." (James 5:12) if this teaching were only about pagan habits. No, this is of much greater importance, and I stand by my interpretation, which I share with Leo Tolstoy and no doubt many others.

    Jesus made the importance of marriage very clear in that same sermon. But the Bible never tells us to make a vow to God or to our spouse to remain faithful. It simply tells us to remain faithful and expects us to obey. Let your "Yes" be "Yes."

    I don't recommend pledging allegiance to your employer, even temporarily! It's unnecessary. Business agreements work best when they are flexible and have a simple exit plan.

    Any other rejoinders would simply be a repeat of what I wrote above, but if you have other thoughts or arguments, I'd love to continue the discussion.

  3. How does service in the military fit into all of this? Based on what I've read so far here, I infer that you would say it is wrong for a Christian to be a part of the military. Am I misreading you, or is that your POV?

  4. Hi! I'd better be really careful, here... ;)

    I've actually thought the military was pretty cool my whole life. I even came close to becoming an Air Force officer at one point. At least I think I was close...

    But lately I've been really examining Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount to turn the other cheek and to not resist an evil person. If we really take Him seriously, well, I don't see how we can take up arms against any person for any reason. I know that seems extreme in our society, but it did in the First Century too, when Jesus said it. We can try to bend Christ's words however we want, and people do it all the time, but His doctrine is clear if we really take it to heart.

    That's probably not what you want to hear, and I hope we can still be friends! ;)

  5. Mrs. B, I just wanted to add the only Bible verse I know of that speaks directly to military service. In Luke 3 John the Baptist is speaking with a variety of people and verse 14 says "Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?” So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.” (some translations say something like 'do not extort money by intimidation' in the beginning of the verse).

    John doesn't specifically say "your job is wrong. Quit." But this was before Christ begain teaching, too, so I don't know. It would be something very difficult to me to deal with if I were in the position to consider how the duties of my job affected my goal in becoming more like Christ.
    Miss you!!

  6. Ha ha, yes we can still be friends :) And Tara, I miss you too!

    Not at all trying to be argumentative, but I do have some questions.
    1) Does the government have the same responsibilities as the individual?
    2) If yes, what purpose does the government serve?
    3) If no, then how do they differ?

    I would assert that the government is held to a very different standard than that to which individuals are held. The Bible clearly states that God establishes governments and that He uses them to address evil in the world {see Romans 13:4 and also 1 Peter 2:13-14, for example}. That is not to say that governments never cause evil themselves, because there are certainly corrupt governments and ours if far from perfect. However, there are numerous passages throughout Scripture that support this purpose of government and instruct submission to government {and I’ve seen you struggle with this elsewhere on your blog already}.

    If the government does have different responsibilities than individuals, and government is to act as a minister of God to punish wrongdoing and prevent evil from occurring, than who is to carry out the government’s actions? Based on your last paragraph, Christians should have no part in government affairs. Should then only non-Christians carry out the responsibilities of the government? If governmental authority is truly from God and God has given governments the task of carrying out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer, then it cannot be wrong for a Christian to act as an agent for the government {provided the government is acting as outlined in Scripture}. And beyond that, how can Christians say that certain work must be done yet also say that they cannot be the ones to do it? It's sort of like a Jewish congregation saying, "We can't use electricity on the Sabbath" but then having the non-Jewish custodian turn on the lights and set up the sound system for the service {that happened at a synagogue my dad went to growing up}.

    I believe that the Sermon on the Mount was addressing the lives of individuals rather than the actions of governments, but let’s assume for a moment that both governments and individuals are to act in the same manner. I think it is an incorrect interpretation of Matthew 5:39 to conclude that Jesus is espousing pacifism in all situations. First of all, I’m no Greek scholar, but many commentaries say that the Greek verb for “slap” used in 5:39 means a slap with the back of the hand, which was an insult rather than an act of violence in Jesus’ culture. It seems a large jump to go from “don’t return an insult” to “don’t defend yourself in any circumstance, ever.” Furthermore, by interpreting the entire sermon absolutely literally, you must accept that body parts should actually be removed if they cause sin (5:29) and that it is never appropriate to pray aloud in public or let others know we are fasting (6:6, 18). It makes much more sense to me to interpret these as hyperboles used to demonstrate His point. If those examples were hyperbole, then would it not be reasonable to suggest that His instruction to never resist an evil person could also be hyperbole? Jesus Himself used violence in response to evil when He cleared out the temple courtyard after the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. Right after that, He cursed a fig tree that had produced leaves but no fruit. Both of these actions indicate to me that there is a time and place for evil to be resisted.

  7. Wow, such great points! Thanks for bringing these up, because I'm still trying to figure this all out, myself.

    I have to agree that Jesus' instructions to mutilate ourselves in verses 29 and 30 are probably hyperbole. I still haven't grasped His exact meaning there.

    However, He gives us so many practical teachings on how to love our enemies that it's hard to imagine how we can practice them while punishing evil at the same time. I don't agree that Jesus ever exacted violence on another person. He used a whip to instill fear in the hearts of the money changers, and He overturned their tables, but there is no reason to think He harmed anyone. The tree was a tree, not a person, and He used it to symbolize the curse that was coming down upon Jerusalem at that time.

    I agree that God establishes kingdoms and that rulers are a terror to evil works (Romans 13:3). The "authority" is "God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil" (verse 4). However, there are many examples of God exerting His will through the deeds of evil men. Somehow He is able to remain free of guilt when He does this, but this seems to be how He controls world events and perhaps even the smallest moments.

    For evidence, consider the rescue of the Israelites from Pharaoh, which Paul discussed in Romans 9:14-24. Pharaoh was God's minister, according to the above, yet He disobeyed God's direct command to free His people. Each time Pharaoh was about to obey God, God hardened his heart so that he would disobey! God did not sin by doing this, but Pharaoh did sin so that God could "show His wrath and...make His power known" (verse 22).

    As an even more dramatic example, consider what the Roman government did to Jesus. Surely nothing could be more sinful than putting the Son of God to death on a cross. But we know it was God's will for our redemption to be brought about through Christ's blood. This could not have occurred had "God's ministers" (the Roman authority) feared and obeyed God.

    In response to your numbered questions, I find it helpful to bear in mind that the government is made up of individuals. Every decision the government makes is based on compromise, because there is always a group within the government that disagrees with the decision. So to ask whether the government has the same responsibilities as the individual is to give the government some kind of human quality that it doesn't really have. Government doesn't exist without individuals. Each decision of government is based on the decisions of individual people, whether good or evil.


  8. I believe that God is bringing us to a point in which human government and authority will no longer be necessary. This is clearly suggested by Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the image destroyed by a stone in Daniel 2. This stone, cut out without hands, broke every part of the statue, representing the kingdoms of the earth. Then all the pieces were crushed into chaff, and the stone became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. Daniel tells us this is the kingdom of heaven (verse 44).

    I can give other examples, but the point is that a time is coming when we will no longer need government, police or military. 1 Corinthians 15:24 says, "Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power." Just as God knew Israel needed no king besides Himself, He has planned for even us Gentiles to be able to live in a state of total theocracy in the end. Until that time, He has put His ministers in authority over us, but those ministers are as flawed as we are and often are unspeakably evil.

    Rather than asking whether it's right for a Christian to be part of what the government is doing, we should each ask ourselves how to best put Christ's teachings into practice, just as the soldiers that Tara mentioned did. The Holy Spirit speaks to each of our hearts to help us obey. It is not up to me to judge whether any of my brothers should be in service to the government, because I am not in a place to judge such things. I can, however, do my best to obey Christ and not put myself in a position where my oath of allegiance conflicts with my desire to obey Him. And I can encourage my brothers to do the same.