This is a review of the history, context, and content of the Pledge of Allegiance viewed through the lens of a Biblical Christian worldview. It also offers an opinion on the controversy related to Christian allegiance to God vs. America.
The American Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, and it was first recited in the same year by 12 million schoolchildren, on October 12th, to recognize the 400-year anniversary of the voyage of Christopher Columbus. It read:
“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic, for which it stands,—one nation, indivisible—with liberty and justice for all.”
This original version was changed in the 1920’s in order to be specific to the United States flag, due to its use for reciting by immigrants seeking US citizenship :
“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands,—one nation, indivisible—with liberty and justice for all.”
During World War II, there was a public outcry because school children were pledging allegiance in a stance similar to the “Nazi salute”. Roosevelt, president in 1942, declared the pledge should be “rendered by standing with the right hand over the heart”.
In 1943 the Supreme Court ruled that no student can be forced to participate in the pledge.
Finally, in 1954, Eisenhower pressed Congress to add the words “under God” to the pledge. In Eisenhower’s words, “it would reaffirm the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future, and strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource in peace and war.” The final version then became:
“I pledge 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.”
Since that time, there have been challenges to the words “under God” based on potential violation of the 1stAmendment. However, to date, these cases have been either not taken up by the Supreme Court, or rejected.
It is always helpful to break things down and, by viewing each component, one can put a phrase back together without gaslighting the subject. This controversy seems to be occurring with hot-button terms like Christian Nationalism or Theocracy by the secular, as well as Christians who resist a pledge to America because it might impinge on our allegiance toward God. With that in mind, below is a breakdown of the words:
I pledge allegiance – allegiance in this context is defined by Webster as, ‘loyalty by a citizen to a government”. Of course, there are many in this country who are not comfortable with expressing loyalty to our government. This sad reality is true at all extremes (conservative and liberal) based on understandable distrust in our leaders. However, even in mainstream America, a Pew Research study showed 65% of Americans believed that political candidates run for office to serve their own personal interests rather than that of the country.
To the flag of the United States of America – Our flag, as is true with most countries, represents leaders who make, adjudicate, and enforce a moral code through laws. Clearly, the distrust Americans have in the media and our elected leaders is evidenced by our disrespect for the flag. However, for those patriotic to this country, the flag has a broader meaning. It also represents pride in our accomplishments as a collective group of individuals (separate from a failing government) and the commitment and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform.
And to the republic for which it stands – A republic is defined simply as ‘the government’. So again, the flag is a symbol, and the republic is the actual entity that sets the laws and is called to protect the populace under its jurisdiction. Sadly, there are many who believe the “republic” is failing on both counts. Moral laws are being ignored and our military is being undermined by reduced readiness and a lack of patriotism.
One nation… indivisible – Our strength as a nation comes from our unity in the face of economic, political, and military encroachment. Sadly, today, we are not “one nation” and are more tribal than indivisible. Many in power in our country have lost the will to fight for this nation. A large contingent of us are disconnected, lazy, and angry. A perfect recipe for rapid deterioration. History from other cultures, such as the Greeks and the Romans, suggests it is only a matter of time before China successfully overtakes us on multiple fronts.
Under God – As God is the Creator of all things, we and the rest of the world are under God. However, the insertion of these two words by Eisenhower was intended to represent much more than that. Eisenhower was suggesting that our spirituality was our strongest “resource in peace and war”. That is no longer the case in secular America and the consequences are being felt exponentially.
In addition, “under God” is not only a recognition of the importance of God’s sovereignty. The Pledge of Allegiance also calls Americans to set a priority placing allegiance toward our country subordinate to God. This point is significant when evaluating Christian patriotism priorities when called to vocalize the Pledge of Allegiance in public while still asserting God’s supremacy over all.
With liberty and justice for all – Webster defines liberty as “the quality or state of being free” and defines justice as “the quality of being just, impartial, or fair”. This phrase is the culmination of the desire of the original author, as well as it should be for everyone who states it, with their right hand over their heart. However, few believe the America we live in today represents either freedom or justice. The majority of us navigate through the day avoiding what we see as the state of our country, hoping someone else will fix things to our liking. At the same time, the extreme outliers on both sides continue yelling at us all, while the media and politicians play to their base. Calling for liberty and justice by vocalizing the pledge is not an acceptance that we are where we need to be. It is an acknowledgment of where we desire to be.
Christian Resistance to Honoring the Pledge of Allegiance
It is certainly true that we are not citizens of this earth, but of Heaven. We should not, under any circumstances, place national allegiance above our love and commitment to our sovereign God. However, I would argue that one can have unquestioned allegiance to God as supreme over all and still show a degree of patriotism displayed through a secondary, subordinated pledge toward America, “under God”. God does recognize and bless/curse groups of people such as the Jews vs. the Amalekites for example. There is nothing wrong with America recognizing ourselves as Americans… “under God”.
Sadly, we are a nation in decline, due to many factors, not the least of which may be the Lord closing out His timetable for the old earth in preparation for the new. In any event, a little bit of overt patriotism that might reflect a shared commitment, in opposition to our increasing divisiveness, would, in my view, be a good thing.
As a Christian, at a football game, to sit in the stands while others are standing during the pledge of allegiance is not a good testimony. Not participating appears more like an act of rebellion (Colin Kaepernick) rather than an expression of love for the Lord.
When I salute the flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, I am not saluting the government. I am saluting those who truly sacrificed for our freedom. I am saluting those who go above the call of duty to protect us (police, first responders, the military). I am saluting those Americans who still largely hold to traditional values of Christian morality, freedom, and unity.
There is no question that Christian Nationalism, taken too far, is a form of idolatry. However, one can also say that in many areas of life. For example, the application of the phrase “I am at church whenever the doors are open” can be an indication of both pride and idolatry toward church attendance. In today’s culture, I would submit that we have crossed the center point on the pendulum of idolatry vs. patriotism. A little more patriotism and a little more church attendance are good things for the average American, given how far we have moved away from the extremes that would be recognized as idolatry toward either construct.
To be patriotic, to express Christian Nationalism through allegiance to this nation, is not to condone past or present administrations or policies. Patriotism can be seen as an attempt to promote a Biblical Christian worldview within a select group of people (like the Israelites from the Old Testament), in this case, called Americans.
Respectfully, I believe that the more this country loses its grip on the Christian ideal (however muddy and sin-filled our nation has become) the closer we are to a fallen nation. This, in turn, allows Satan to raise up increasingly totalitarian rulers from countries like China and Russia. They and Satan want nothing better than Americans losing all sense of patriotism and nationalism, especially as it becomes an increasing cancer undermining our military readiness.
Paul Johnson forwarded an old YouTube video to me of Red Skelton in 1969 doing a brief monologue on the importance of the Pledge of Allegiance. Comparing the patriotism of this comedian from 50 years ago makes a great counterpoint to the majority of Americans today.
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