God and Country
The Relationship Between Patriotism and Faith
by Eric Elkin
The placement of the American flag in a church sanctuary is a touchy subject. When I was a child, it was a point of contention in my home church. Some members of the congregation wanted the flag to be prominently displayed next to the pulpit. Pastor Keltto objected and stood firm. The flag could be in the sanctuary, but not in the altar area.
Patriotism was a sensitive topic in a 1970's blue-collar community in Northeast Ohio. Our congregation included war protestors and those who maintained an “America, love it or leave it,” attitude. Pastor Keltto was not a pastor who loved conflict. So, when he made a stand regarding the flag, it carried weight. Even with those who disagreed with him.
In my first congregation, I found an old picture of an Armistice Day worship service in 1918. The congregation’s altar area was overflowing with American flags. Hundreds of flags, large and small, were draped over the altar and the pulpit. It was a shocking image.
The Pennsylvania congregation was still worshipping in German at that time. All German-speaking Americans were suspect during both WW I and WW II. The flags were not an object of worship, but a proclamation of loyalty to the world inside and outside that sanctuary.
A recent video of the president hugging the flag made me uncomfortable. I thought a flag was a banner to be saluted, not a blanket to be played with like a child. The momentary image revealed a growing emphasis on patriotism in our nation. How do we reconcile a love of country with our love of God? And, what do we say when the two conflict?
Patriotism and faith is a complicated relationship. While good government is a gift from God, it is not a gift to be worshipped. Lines need to be drawn between the two while maintaining a sense of harmony.
Our government gives each one of us a voice. A voice the nation depends upon to live into the ideals of its founding. In the church, the same is true of preaching.
Pastors need to remember they are the only person in the sanctuary with a voice. We do not stand on a soapbox, but in a pulpit (real or imaginary). Soapboxes are for opinions; pulpits for proclaiming the Word of God. Not every view is holy, but the Word of God is also not void of teeth.
Ezekiel’s call reminds people of faith God calls leaders to preach about politics, this has been true since the very beginning of the Bible. The danger is when personal political views attempt to mask themselves as the Word of God; a point also made in Ezekiel. To me, a voice of faith void of grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love is a transgression, regardless of your political view.
Click to read Ezekiel 2: 1-5
- How do you view the relationship between politics and preaching?
- How does your faith inform your political views?
- What separates an opinion from the Word of God?
- Whose voice do you hear clearest in the public forum?