I Pledge Allegiance

Romans 13:1-10 NRSV

On the day after our country’s 239th birthday, and in light of the recent events that have gripped our nation, I want to add my voice to the voices of preachers across our land who are faithfully proclaiming, even in the face of persecution, that the United States of America is in deep spiritual trouble.

As the prophets warned Israel, we have turned our hearts away from God to follow our own selfish desires. We have replaced the law of God created for God’s divine purposes and for our eternal good with the law of human beings created for our own wicked purposes and temporary pleasures.

Some argue that the law of God is out of date and out of touch with reality. They say it was written for another time, another place, another people.

Others argue that the law of God is too complicated, open to too many interpretations, to be the law of any land.

And others have the gall to pick and choose, to change and to twist the law of God to support their self-centered, self-seeking perversions.

And preachers are just as guilty.

Ashamed of the gospel, we have separated our faith from our politics. Afraid of offending someone, we have been reluctant to call evil “evil” and sin “a sin.” We have been far too complacent, way too silent, all in the name of the false god of tolerance.

And using the excuse of Separation of Church and State, we have spoken far too little from our pulpits about the need for our nation to be governed, not by the will of the people, not by the law of the Supreme Court, but by the law of the Supreme Being.

So, on this Independence Day weekend, I want to join my voice with preachers all over this great land and proclaim that it is high time faithful Christians wake up and rise up to stand up for the law of God.

When I was growing up, I was taught that it was not only my civic duty, but it was my Christian duty to pledge my allegiance to the flag of United States of America. Since then, I have learned that some Christians do not believe in saying the Pledge of Allegiance. Some believe saying the Pledge is disobedience to Christ who said we should not “swear by an oath.” Others believe that we should pledge our allegiance to God and only to God. And some argue that the words “under God” should be removed from the Pledge for reasons of religious liberty.

But in light of current events, I believe it may be time for us to recommit ourselves to this pledge, especially saying it with the words, “under God.” Here’s why…

I

In America, I, as an individual, have certain inalienable rights. As an individual citizen of this country, I have freedom. And with that freedom, comes great responsibility. Each one of us has a voice, has a vote, and has the responsibility to make this country the very best that it can be.

Pledge allegiance

The prophets of the Old Testament and the disciples of the New Testament who were imprisoned by the Roman government for disobeying human laws teach us that our allegiance is not blind. Our allegiance does not mean blindly accepting our faults, never questioning our past, and never second-guessing how current policies will affect our future. Allegiance means faithfully doing our part to “mend thine every flaw.”

It means being loyal, law-abiding citizens committed to our civic duty of voting in elections. However, it also means voicing opposition to laws that need to be changed and to elected officials who need be corrected. Civil allegiance sometimes means civil disobedience.

Like a faithful marriage, pledging allegiance means being loyal to our country in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, never giving up, never becoming complacent, never running away. It means perpetually praying for it, continually correcting it, forever fighting for it.

To the flag of the United States of America

Yes, we pledge our allegiance to the flag. As a child, I remember questioning this, uttering to myself: “It’s just a flag. It’s merely a piece of cloth with a design that someone has sewn together and run up a pole.” But, of course, I soon learned that the flag is much more than that.

And to the Republic for which it stands

The flag is not a mere sign for our country. It is the profound symbol of our country. Signs are limited as signs only give information. Signs do not have the power to stand for something. Only symbols can do that. Whereas signs invoke intellectual responses from the brain, symbols elicit visceral emotions from the heart and gut. For the Christian, the Stars and Stripes is to our country what the cross is to our faith. This is the reason that the Confederate Battle Flag is so controversial. The flag is not a mere historical marker, label, design or brand but a powerful symbol that stands for something. Flags have the power to move us, stir us, and guide us.

One nation

Although heritage and culture are important aspects of life in different parts of our country, they are never more important than the unity of our country. Jesus spoke truth when he said that “a house divided against its self cannot stand.”

Under God

For me, this is the most important part of the pledge. I could not and would not say the Pledge without it.

Not under God because we are down here and God is up there. Not under God because we want some sort of theocracy like ISIS and other Islamic extremists. And not under God because we believe we were established to be a Christian nation like some Christian extremists.

Rather, as Christians, we pledge our allegiance to country under, after, second to, our allegiance to the law of God.

This is why our allegiance is not blind. As Christians, the Commander-in-Chief is not our chief commander. The Supreme Court is not our supreme being. Our allegiance is first pledged to something that is bigger than our nation, even larger than our world.

It is an allegiance that informs our vote, rallies our civic duties, admonishes our obedience to civil law, and yet, sometimes calls us to civil disobedience. For the Christian, it is the God revealed through the words and works of Jesus who becomes our civil conscience. We believe the law of God revealed through Christ supersedes every human law.

And, no matter what anyone says, this law is simple, and it is quite clear.

Immediately following words from the Apostle Paul regarding good citizenship and obeying the law, we read that every one of God’s laws is summed up in just one law: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said it this way: “On this hang all of the laws of the prophets “…that you love your neighbor as yourself.”

And just in case some are still confused to what “love” is, Paul defines love by saying: “Love does no wrong to a neighbor.”

This is the law of God. This law is not complicated, and this law is not open to interpretation. This law is not outdated or obsolete. And this law is in no way trivial. In fact, Jesus said, “There is no law greater.” It is as if Christ is saying, “If you don’t get anything else from Holy Scripture, you need to get this: ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’” Yet, as evidenced by the amount of hatred, racism and violence that is in our nation today, even in the church, this supreme law is widely ignored, disobeyed or rejected all together.

I believe it is when we first pledge our allegiance to this supreme law, that we have the opportunity to be a great nation. For when we love our neighbors as ourselves, when in everything we do to others as we would have them do to us, it quickly becomes “self-evident that all people are created equal with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Indivisible

When we pledge allegiance to the supreme law of God, when we pledge to love our neighbors as ourselves, we promise to work together under God to build bridges to overcome the gaps and barriers that we have created that divide us: racial, sexual, ethnic, political, economic, educational and religious. We pledge to come together, side by side, hand in hand, for the equality and the inalienable rights of all people.

This does not mean that we are to never disagree with the beliefs or lifestyles of others. We can certainly love our neighbor while disagreeing with our neighbor. It is not hating our neighbor when we disagree with the flag that our neighbor flies; however, when we infringe on their life, their liberty, and their pursuit of happiness by supporting public policies or actions that treat them as second-class citizens, that do harm to our neighbor, it is certainly not loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. As our president said in the eulogy of Rev. Clementa Pinckney: “…justice grows out of recognition of ourselves in each other. [Our] liberty depends on [our neighbors] being free, too.”

With liberty and justice for all.

We pledge to work for freedom and fairness not just for our educated, rich neighbor who can afford the best attorneys, and not just for our advantaged, abled-bodied and able-minded straight, white, Christian, English-speaking neighbors. We pledge ourselves to stand for liberty and justice for all. And according to the Christian faith, all especially includes the minorities, the poor, the disabled, the marginalized and the foreigner.

All even includes people of every nation. That’s why we are planning yet another trip to Nicaragua. For our love, our faith, our mission to stand for liberty and justice has no borders.

For the Christian who pledges their allegiance first to the Christ who loved all and died for all, all truly means all.

This past week, someone raised the following question on facebook, and to avoid being obscene, I am going to paraphrase: “They only represent 2% of the population. Why do they matter?”

This was not just one lone, ugly, hateful voice, but one that was representative of the sentiment many of my facebook friends who call themselves “Christian.”

“They only make up 2% of the population. Why do they matter?”

Like I said, this nation is in deep spiritual trouble.

For the Christian who pledges his or her allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all: Gay lives matter; Black lives matter; because according to everything for which this flag stands under the supreme law of God, all lives will never matter until all means all.

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