Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
That was the tweet I sent out into the twitterverse, not thinking too much about what I had done. I have, for a long time, felt the dissonance between the American Flag and the Cross of Christ hanging as if equals in places of worship. I have written about it at length and preached about it on a number of occasions. That I feel so strongly is a result of the Gospel’s insistence that Christians’ truest citizenship can be found in heaven and that our truest freedom comes from Jesus and not from a nation.
But, writing one sentence about the subject for Twitter doesn’t amount to much.
Or, at least, I didn’t think it did…
As of the moment of writing this, the tweet has been seen over 550,000 times and over 70,000 people have interacted with it.
In a matter of two days, my one sentence about the flag in church has become more “popular” than anything I have ever done.
And, the responses have been fairly predictable.
On one side people have been deeply offended by the thought of the flag being removed from a sanctuary. They have implored me to realize that the flag symbolizes sacrifice, the nation it represents was founded on religious freedom, and that to take it away is unpatriotic (if not treasonous).
On the other side, Christians have expressed their concern with the proximity of the flag to the worship of God. They have remarked that we cannot serve two masters (America and God), that God doesn’t belong to a particular nation-state, and a great number of Christians from other parts of the globe have remarked that they’ve never seen their own nation’s flag in church (demonstrating how this is a uniquely American phenomenon).
I’ve received more private messages than I can count both thanking me for the tweet and damning me for it. I’ve been labeled a prophet and a traitor. I’ve searched through so many of the responses that it started to feel like “doom-scrolling” where it left me feeling hollow.
Today is the 4th of July – a day for Americans to celebrate the nation’s independence. And yet, for Christians (who happen to be American) it’s important to remember that our independence came long before George Washington and the Continental Congress and the Declaration of Independence.
Our truest freedom comes from and through Jesus.
Can we still fly American Flags on our homes? Sure – though we should remember and recognize that there is a slippery slope between patriotism and nationalism that often leads to xenophobia and violence.
Can we support our military? Of course – though we cannot forget or ignore how America is an imperial power that often uses violence indiscriminately and disproportionately throughout the world.
Can we celebrate and enjoy fireworks today? Definitely – though we cannot let them blind us to the injustices that our taking place within, and right on, our nation’s borders.
Which leads me back to the American Flag in church…
America is not synonymous with the Kingdom of God and when we put the American Flag in the sanctuary we equate the two together. Our obsession with patriotism, such that we fly a nation’s flag in places of worship, is a sign of what Jesus calls idolatry.
The 4th of July is not independence day for Christians. It certainly marks the beginning of a new kind of freedom for a nationstate and a particular people in a particular way – but our realest independence came through the cross and the empty tomb 2,000 years ago.
The 4th of July, therefore, doesn’t really belong to Christians. We can participate and enjoy the day as much as anyone else, but we do so knowing that our hopes and dreams have been formed by the Lord, not by a document declaring our freedom from monarchy.
The 4th of July is not our independence day. In fact, if it is anything it is our dependence day. It is our dependence day because it shows how much faith and hope we put in things made by human hands which come and go like the wind. We depend on the Lord to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
Americans might bleed red, white, and blue, but Jesus bled for us so that we wouldn’t have to.
We can absolutely enjoy the 4th of July and rejoice in our celebrations, but if what we do today is more compelling and life-giving than the Word of God revealed in Jesus Christ then we have a problem.
Jesus Christ is, and forever will be, the end of all sacrifices.
Jesus Christ is the One in whom we live and move and have our being so much so that we can rejoice in the presence of others without hatred, fear, or bitterness.
Jesus Christ is the incarnate Lord whose resurrection from the dead has set us free from the truest tyrannies of all – sin and death.