Pledging Allegiance: A Critical Examination

Pledging allegiance to the flag is common practice in America. It is so common that many Christian find the idea that we should not pledge allegiance to the flag odd. Now, I first want to say that even though I think pledging allegiance to the flag is wrong as a Christian, I do also believe there are good Christians who disagree with me. To clarify I don’t believe that a Christian must have everything down perfect to be a good Christian and the more something is instilled in us by our society the harder it is for the Lord to remove. I think allegiance to ones country is among on the most ingrained social norms, thus one of the hardest to remove.

First, I want to show that I am not the only Christian who has concern here:

“Today many use their nation as an object of worship, espousing the gospel of nationalism…Failing to find the true God, millions declare their allegiance lesser gods and causes” (1)

“Early Christians were willing to be martyred rather than express allegiance to the Roman Empire, but here I was expressing allegiance to the American empire. This didn’t seem right. I stopped and haven’t said the Pledge since. I love America, but I cannot serve two masters. My allegiance must be pledged to Christ alone” (2)

The first quote is from Billy Graham. I am not sure if he is strictly against saying the pledge, but certain his quote shows a concern. The second quote is from Greg Boyd, who is certainly against saying the pledge. But just because a couple of people agree with me does not mean we are correct. I think the best way to understand Boyd is this way: allegiance has preeminent pull in which allegiance to a country contradicts having an allegiance to the kingdom of heaven. I think he is right, but there are some objections to consider.

Lydia McGrew defends saying the pledge of the allegiance in her blog,

“There is a misunderstanding here of the entire nature of loyalty, which is related to a misunderstanding of love and allegiance. Corey, for example, seems to think that a Christian must not pledge allegiance to anybody but Jesus. Really? I hope Mr. Corey doesn’t apply this principle to a marriage vow. If so, he will have to remain celibate lifelong. In marriage we pledge allegiance to someone other than Jesus–to our spouse. But that doesn’t mean that a wife is bound to obey her husband if he tells her to do something wrong. If a husband tells his wife to help him hide the evidence of a murder, for example, she should not obey. In fact, her truest loyalty to her husband would in that case lie in disobeying the immoral order.” (3)

Her argument can be spelled out as follows:

(A) Assume saying the pledge allegiance is wrong for Christians                                                     (B) Christians pledge allegiance to other things e.g, a spouse                                                           (C) Pledging allegiance to a spouse isn’t wrong                                                                           Therefore,                                                                                                                                                             (D) Pledging allegiance to something other than God, isn’t immoral.
Therefore,                                                                                                                                                             (E) Pledging allegiance to the flag may be permissible.

I think there are grounds on which (B), (C) could be challenged. One could argue that one does not pledge allegiance to their spouse, but rather engages in a commitment to strengthen each other. If that is correct, then (C) loses ground plausibly. But both of those are criticisms are dubious over all. Or unlikely to persuade someone. But I find the analogy between a man/woman to a person/country disanalogous for a couple of reasons.

The first problem is that a man and woman marrying each other is instituted by the Lord while allegiance to ones country seems to go against biblical teaching. Christian were known for their resiliences towards world government in the 1st century.  In response, one could argue that the government at that time was primarily evil and other government is primarily good. I find the notion that our government is primarily good very dubious though. In fact, it seems that though our country is better than many it still has too many faults. The second problem is along the same line as the first. If it may be permissible to pledge allegiance to a spouse it is because they are dedicated to becoming like Christ. No country is dedicated to becoming like Christ, thus no country may have our allegiance.

The next natural step is to argue that there are other things that cannot be like Christ which may have our allegiance such as a sports team. I find this notion to be rather silly. The seriousness in which we are asked to pledge allegiance to our flag, God, or spouse certainly shouldn’t be the same as supporting a team.

Lastly, I want to break down plausible definitions of the phrase “allegiance to the flag”:  (1) allegiance to the flag: person supports what the flag stands for at any time t               (2) allegiance to the flag: person supports what the flag originally stood                           (3) allegiance to the flag: person supports what the flag ideally stands for
(4) allegiance to the flag: person supports what the flag currently stand for (as long as it is moral)

I believe each of these definitions have a problem. (1) is clearly problematic while (4) is plausibly ok.  The issue with one is that we could become like Nazi Germany at some point and allegiance to such a country should be seen as problematic by anyone. Definition (2) I think is problematic due to our history with slavery and originally our country only really stood for white men. Definition (3) is problematic because there is no reason to assume our country will ever even come close to the ideal nation under God before judgment. I think people would be incline to support (4). All I can say in response to this is that God asked to love each other by serving one another and not wanting power over each other. And if you are to enter politics you are going to be aiming for power over. Thus, it is unlikely that good men/women are in political world. Lastly, I think pledging allegiance to something is intuitively something more than supporting something as long as it is good or supporting something contingently. Here is believe is where people who disagree will simply disagree and we won’t make much progress. So let us, both you and me, ask the Lord to show us our hearts to reveal if we could be wrong. And hopefully we can both be open to corrections.

 

(1) Graham, Billy. “Can Anyone Tell Me Where to Find God?” How To Be Born Again. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1997. 29-30. Print.

(2) Boyd, Greg. “Should Christians Recite the Pledge of Allegiance?” Http://reknew.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2017.

(3) McGrew, Lydia. “What’s Wrong with the World.” http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net. N.p., 26 May 2014. Web. 24 Feb. 2017.

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