The Pledge of Allegiance, authored in 1892 by minister Francis Bellamy, was originally intended to be one which could be said by children about their national flag. It read, “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” In 1923, it was changed to add, “the Flag of the United States of America” instead of “my Flag.” It wasn’t until 1954 that “under God” was added after “one nation.”
The final change to the Pledge came over 150 years after our nation’s founding, where there was no mention of religion in the original founding document (it’s in an amendment, the first, which says, among other things, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”). And the country was created over 150 years before it was first settled by many who were fleeing places with state-sponsored religion or religion expression.
Yet, all that history and planning seems lost today. While having a nation of believers is a great aspirational goal for Christians, it is not only not what our founders intended but is expressly prohibited by them. And that’s okay. But what we see today is an aberration of their intentions and their expressions. We are inundated with images of “Christians” essentially substituting the cross for the flag. Christianity often simply serves as a plank in very carefully crafted campaign propaganda by candidates who don’t believe a word of it. The quieter Christians, who don’t buy a word of it, have become okay with that in order to further agendas or to protect power, influence, and financial interests. Worse, the God that some are so vehemently (and at times violently) “defending” doesn’t seem at all like the God depicted in the Bible. The Jesus we know from the greatest commandment is impossible to recognize in what we often see. Who or what are these people worshipping? It doesn’t look like my God. It doesn’t sound like my Jesus. It causes one to question their own beliefs or, at a minimum, keep their mouth shut about them. Christian Nationalism is neither of the things that its name implies.
As we celebrate Independence Day, it’s nice to be reminded what we, as a nation, were seeking independence from. It’s also a good time to be reminded what we believe as a nation and as believers. We find a good lesson in our reading today -- Acts 17:16-34. Paul is speaking to the people of Athens who are worshipping many gods, even unknown ones. And he talks about God and his relationship with the nations of the earth.
There are some things we need to get straight. God doesn’t need our protection or defense. He doesn’t need nor want us to force people to worship him. Putting God in a box of our own making in order to further our individual agendas (especially when they’re counter to what God commands) is not a good thing. These ideas are not buried in scripture. It doesn’t take a degree in divinity to figure them out. They are made abundantly clear repeatedly – Old Testament and New. Any translation.
We’re commanded to love God with all our hearts, mind, and souls, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. If something falls outside of both commands, then it’s not something we should be doing. Sure, there is more to it than that, but if it doesn’t pass that test, there is no need to go further.
I pray that we remain confident in our beliefs both as a nation and as Christians and that our Christianity informs our decisions and actions as citizens and not the other way around. We can do great things as a group of Christians, and we can do great things as a nation. But forcing our religious beliefs on others though our government isn’t a great thing.
· Acts 17:16-34