On Allegiance

By Peter Gay (on Facebook)

Should Christians pledge allegiance to a flag?

Leaving aside the Socialist origin of the American “pledge of allegiance,” and its Nazi-evocative usage in history, I want to address the question on principle.

In reality, the concept is absurd. To promise one’s loyalty to any inanimate object is a ludicrous notion. Can you establish a covenant with a flag? Will this cotton cloth acknowledge your allegiance? And what use might the flag be planning to make of your devotion to it?

If I may grossly paraphrase the Scriptures and draw a line between the comical absurdity and the wicked idolatry of it: you plant a field of cotton and harvest it, and with a third of it you make clothes to cover yourself; and with another third you make blankets to keep you warm; and with the other third you fashion a flag, raise it on a pole, and salute it with your hand over your heart, saying, “O flag, I promise to be faithful to you!”

What evil nonsense. But, many would object, people aren’t honestly pledging their allegiance to the flag itself, despite the fact that those are the precise words they use. They’re pledging allegiance to the republic for which it stands! Well, this is no less problematic. For one thing, this explanation is contradicted by the pledge itself: “I pledge allegiance to the flag… and to the republic.” For another, the republic, if there is such a thing, is no more animate than the flag. And above all, the republic is no more an appropriate object of our allegiance than is the flag.

Allegiance is loyalty, faithfulness, dedication. Allegiance is the disposition at all times to defend the honor of its object against all attacks and insults. Allegiance is the constant commitment to further its object’s good name and cause. All these traits may sound very noble and upright, but when their object is misplaced, they necessarily become a vicious insult to whomever has a proper claim on them.

To pledge allegiance simultaneously to two nations would contradict the fundamental significance of the pledge. That the kingdom of heaven is in every way a holy and higher category than the earthly nations is all the more reason that our allegiance must not be divided between them. No one can serve two masters.

Can we be dual citizens of heaven and earth? Of course, and we are; Paul demonstrated this clearly in action. But our obedience to the civil authorities is never primary; it is always subservient to our obedience to Christ. The fact that the two ever come into conflict, and that in those cases we must obey God rather than men, precludes the possibility of allegiance to this human nation – it proves that our heavenly King has not our primary or higher allegiance, but our true and only allegiance. Indeed, it is when a challenge is made that allegiance is proved. If at that moment one abandons their pledged allegiance to a human institution, then it is exposed as having always been false.

Citizenship and allegiance are not the same thing. Citizens are not by definition loyal. Allegiance is an exclusive term – we either give our allegiance to God, to whom alone it is due, or we make idolaters of ourselves by pledging it to someone or something else. Christians ought to be loyal citizens of heaven, and at most conditionally loyal citizens of an earthly nation, ready whenever necessary to drop that loyalty in obedience to our true King. Such a loose commitment can hardly be satisfactory to the design of the pledge of allegiance.

A predictable objection at this point is that the inclusion of the phrase “under God” is evidence of a lower-level allegiance being pledged, compatible with allegiance to heaven – or, going even further, that this “sanctifies” the pledge, as it were, to be a positively godly statement. But in reality, the only possible effect this clause has is to make the pledge even more blasphemous and idolatrous than before. In a country distinguished for its religious pluralism (or any country full of unbelievers), this vague, common reference to “God” is totally meaningless with respect to the one true God. If it did have any reference to Yahweh, it would be the equivalent of casting pearls before swine and taking His holy name in vain. As it is, it doesn’t have anything to do with Him. It is implicitly deistic. Its focus remains where the rest of the pledge focuses: on the nation. Sure, it’s “under God,” whoever that may be or however you conceive of Him; the “important” thing is the “one nation… indivisible,” blah blah blah. Even the phrase’s location within the pledge suggests that this so-called God is a mere afterthought, not to mention the fact that it didn’t appear at all in the original version.

But, one might further object, a true Christian reciting the pledge would not mean anything deistic or relativistic; the Christian would be speaking of the one true God. Of course, this objection itself is subjective. If the meaning of “under God” can vary based on individuals’ interpretation, then the rest of the pledge is equally unstable in its significance. Furthermore, to join with unbelievers and name an unspecified “God” in such a way is still idolatrous, regardless of what may be in one’s heart. Because God will not share His glory with another, it is out of the question to treat Him like one of the pagan gods around us, dedicating “under God” to Him privately while surrounded by idolaters who use the phrase to name their own false gods.

And who recites this pledge more often than anyone else? School children, of course. These little ones are not only understandably ignorant of the meaning of these words; they are powerless before the authority that instructs them to repeat the pledge each day. Little by little the indoctrination takes hold. It should be obvious to anyone who cares to observe. And indeed, in this country the flag has become an idol. Venerated more than a Romish statue of Mary, it is considered sacred; a thing to die for and all too often, to kill for.

This raises a point I haven’t gone into here: what sort of republic is this, really? Does its flag not represent to millions invasion, bombings, slavery, oppression, torture, genocide, immorality, sensuality, greed, gluttony, and a host of other evils? Should a Christian pledge even some sort of lower-level honor to a country like this? Again, we are citizens, and we will obey for the sake of peace for the Church.

But no praise or glory or allegiance is due to this earthly and worldly kingdom, that God will one day blow away like chaff, much less to that pathetic dyed cloth that hangs from a pole as if to look down upon us.  God looks down from heaven and laughs.

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