I Pledge Allegiance..

The U.S. is getting ready for a national general election. We’ll be voting for officials, from local commissioners all the way to the office of President. There are campaign ads and political conventions– banners, slogans, hats, t-shirts, and lots of American Flags. And, while many of the normal rallies and “whistle-stop” campaigns have been cancelled due to Covid-19, the conventions have been marked by people reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to our Flag and all it stands for.

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“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.”

Much has been made recently about just two words of this pledge–“under God”– which were added more than 65 years ago. Interestingly, between 1892 and 1942, there were at least two versions of the pledge being used. One version stated: “I pledge allegiance to my flag, and the republic for which it stands. I pledge my head and my heart to God and my country. One country, one language and one flag.” Another version (which was altered and officially recognized by Congress in 1942), originally read: “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pledge_of_Allegiance.

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There are Americans who are using the Pledge of Allegiance, the U.S. Flag, even the words, “under God,” to cause division, chaos, and ill-will to flourish in the weeks leading up to the election. Some are trying to redefine what it means to be an American; what the Flag stands for. People on “both sides” are trying to rewrite our history–denying that it contains both good and bad; triumph and tragedy, promises kept and promises broken.

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As an American, I seek to live and act in such a way as to honor this nation and those who live here. Part of pledging allegiance to the flag (for me at least) is a promise to uphold those principles upon which this nation was founded: the conviction that all people are created equal (not just here, but around the world); that they are endowed by God with the right to live, to think and act according to the free will God gave them, and to pursue those dreams and activities that will bring hope, goodness, prosperity, and general “happiness” to themselves and to others. That does not mean that all people will use their free will wisely, or that they will all achieve equal outcomes and equal success regardless of their skills, resources, or efforts, however. Governments are instituted to protect the opportunities and rights of all, not to ensure that everyone gets the same life, the same will, and the same definition of “happiness.”

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I also pledge to defend and protect and preserve this land–figuratively and literally. It is my duty to care for the trees and rivers, lakes and meadows, wildlife and even the air. It is my duty to encourage my neighbors, to vote on local ordinances, and cast my ballot for local, state, and federal offices. It is also my duty to speak out, to write, to act in the cause of justice. Finally, it is my duty to obey the laws that govern this country–not because I voted for them, or because they are convenient, or because I see an immediate benefit from them, but because they are justly enacted laws. If I don’t like a law, I pledge to see if it can be amended or repealed. I may use civil means to protest injustice– sit-ins, peaceful marches, legal suits, petitions, etc.. But my allegiance to this nation and its people means that I pledge not to put others in danger, or to deprive them of their lives or livelihoods in my pursuit of change. I will, however, defend myself and others from anyone who would try to take away these sacred rights.

I love my country. I love the world God created and the unique and diverse people He designed to fill it. But ultimately, my highest allegiance is not to America. It isn’t to my neighbors, or my family, or to the planet. My heart, mind, soul, and spirit belong to God. My allegiance to Him comes before any other. If my nation turns away from God; if it denounces all that is sacred, and demands that I do the same, I can no longer pledge my allegiance to its flag. If I am asked to destroy innocent lives, or deny God’s existence, or forced to speak lies in the name of patriotism, I must follow my first allegiance.

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In times like these, it can be very easy to get “wrapped up” in the Flag, and the patriotic speeches, and the political rhetoric. Candidates paint themselves in the best colors, and attempt to make their opponents look evil, uncaring, and incompetent. But I have not pledged my allegiance to any candidate. I will choose to vote for the individuals I believe are best suited to bring about changes or preserve policies that honor both God and our founding principles. And I will pray for all elected leaders, whether I voted for them or not. But my hope, and trust, and allegiance, is to God above all, And all else, even the United States of America, is “Under God.”

In God We Trust

It appears on our money in the United States.  It is our official national motto, “In God We Trust.”  See article here  But is it true?

In recent years, many people and groups have tried to challenge this simple four-word phrase.   Some claim that it violates the “separation of church and state”.  However, the phrase is not specific to any one religion– most of the major world religions (and most of those practiced in America) agree that there is (at least) one God, who can and should be trusted.

I actually worry a little less about those who are challenging the phrase than about those who simply ignore it or give it lip service.  And I pray that I don’t fall into the latter group, but in certain moments, I can’t honestly say that I am trusting fully in God.  Instead, I tend to trust in various “God-like” things:

  • I trust my own intuition or my own reason
  • I trust “experts”
  • I trust “the science”
  • I trust “the numbers”
  • I trust in the money that bears the motto
  • I trust in my own strengths and abilities
  • I trust in my husband
  • I trust my church
  • I trust my family
  • I trust what I read on Wikipedia or what I look up on Google
  • I trust what my friends send me on Facebook or Twitter
  • I trust what “they” say on TV
  • I trust what I read on a cereal box or food label
  • I trust headlines
  • I trust photos and videos I see on the news
  • I trust what I hear on the radio
  • I trust celebrity endorsements
  • I trust public opinion
  • I trust my feelings…

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Of course, some of the things listed above are obviously suspect; others seem reliable and true.  It’s hard to argue against some of the things on the list– it’s hard to doubt what I see, what can be measured, or what has proved true in the past.  And yet, I have been hurt and betrayed by many of these things– my feelings are unreliable; my friends or family give me advice with good intentions, but bad results; images and even eyewitness accounts don’t always tell the whole story, and, increasingly, honesty and integrity are being crushed out by compromise and expediency.  “If it bleeds, it leads…”  “The truth is evolving..”  “We all have our own ‘truth’..”

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God’s truths are eternal and righteous; that doesn’t make them easy or comfortable.  Sometimes it seems as though God takes a stand on both sides of an important issue– or that He takes no side at all– leaving us confused and wanting quick and well-defined answers.  I have friends who agonize about being on the “wrong side of history” with many current issues.  Let’s face it– no one wants to be on the “wrong side” of anything. We draw lines and pick sides– both sides can’t be “right”, can they?  So how can we know if we’re trusting God if God is silent or ambiguous?

In the end, there are a few guidelines that have helped me be more confident and have acted as anchors for my faith:

  • Reading the Bible:  not a verse here, or a chapter there to support a particular action or position–consistent reading THROUGH the Bible– from beginning to end, or at least through an entire book at a time.
  • Asking tough questions:  I would love to assume that I already know the answers or have the “right” opinions, but if I can’t handle being challenged; if I never have any questions or can’t ask the ones I keep pushing down, that should be a sign.  Sometimes the more questions I ask, the more I have!  But, as uncomfortable as it is in the beginning,  it is better to ask, and chase after an uncomfortable answer than to ignore the question or pretend to have all the answers.
  • LISTENING— really listening, whether to friends who seem to know all the answers (see above) ,  or those with really good questions.  It also means listening to those with whom I am tempted to disagree, and to those with whom I passionately disagree.  Listening is not the same as accepting or agreeing, but it is important for at least two reasons:
    • Every person is made in the image of God– how I treat them is a reflection of my love for God.  I will fall short; I will still hurt people’s feelings, whether or not that is my intention, but if I’m doing it through pride, hatred, or disdain, I am dishonoring God.
    • Second, I cannot say I understand a person if I’m cutting them off, talking over them, and finishing their sentences for them.  Often, while we may disagree on semantics or details, it turns out we agree on more than we assume we know about “the other side.”
  • Praying for wisdom and discernment.  It sounds odd to those who trust in their own understanding, but God WILL open your eyes, ears, and mind to truth, even if it’s being twisted, covered up, hidden, or falsified.  God promises, again and again, to give wisdom freely to those who ask.  He doesn’t want us to be confused and frustrated– but He does want us to seek out His truth instead of wallowing in the bog of “little white lies” and obfuscation around us.
  • Waiting and listening for the Holy Spirit to prompt my conscience.  This is much like asking for wisdom, but more subtle, and in some ways more dramatic.  The Holy Spirit is our guide and counselor (think Jiminy Cricket, but much more spiritual and always right).  Even if I’m not aware enough to know what to ask or what to question, the Holy Spirit will often prompt me.  Have you ever been reading along, or listening to someone’s story, and suddenly you just get the sense that something is “wrong”– you’re not getting the whole truth; or there is a detail that stands out and doesn’t make sense, and it keeps niggling at your conscience?  Yeah– that.  Pay attention to that– even amidst the graphic images and angry voices surrounding you.
  • Keeping track of God’s faithfulness– I don’t maintain this blog because I “wish” that God was faithful, or because someone managed to convince me that this is what I “should” believe.  God has proven faithful through all my questions.  I know I can trust Him because I have trusted Him through good times and difficult times; times when it didn’t make sense, when it wasn’t popular, and when circumstances pointed in other directions.  I have seen God’s hand at work in history and prophecy and personal testimony in ways that defy expectation and explanation.

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And whether of not it’s printed on my money; whether or not it’s popular or “patriotic” or punishable by law, I will continue to trust in God.  He is trustworthy and true; faithful in mercy and love; sovereign and altogether righteous.  In God I have trusted; In God I trust; and In God I will continue to trust.

Prayer and Politics

At the risk of alienating several family members and friends, I feel I need to make the following statement:  The United States of America is not, has never been, and will never be a “Christian Nation.”  I am not saying this in disparagement of my homeland– I’m not suggesting it is an irreligious nation.  But I think the term “Christian Nation” gets used presumptiously to suggest that America is uniquely righteous, or immune from criticism or judgment.  America is not a theocracy, and it is not a bastion of Christian virtue.  We are a nation “under God”, but not a nation that recognizes God as its supreme ruler.  Our government, while based on principles handed down through centuries of Judeo-Christian practice, is built around documents written by and for the people of this nation, independent of their adherence to that practice or to those doctrines.  1st Amendment and Religion

Our government does not sponsor Christian churches, nor does it require its citizens to belong to a particular religion or religious group in order to enjoy its rights, freedoms, and protections.  We do not have federal laws that punish those who believe other tenets or practice other faiths that do not fall under the Judeo-Christian umbrella.  Our courts may limit the practice of religion (including Christianity) when it conflicts with a “compelling”  governmental interest, such as public safety.  And our citizens who are practicing Christians are not united in how they apply Christianity to politics, and vice-versa.  Our members of Congress are not elected based on their adherence to a religious practice, and our leaders are not required to be clergy (the very thought is pretty laughable to most of us in today’s political climate!).  America is designed to be a nation that practices one of the most basic tenets of the Bible–that humans have the gift of Free Will, and the right to use it.

Having said all that, I also want to be clear that the Judeo-Christian tradition has played and (for now) continues to play an enormous role in our laws, societal construct, and civilization.  I’m not here to ignore that or dismiss it as unimportant.  My goal is to point out that prayer and politics should not be conflated or equated–prayer is not and never has been the equal of political thought or action–prayer is always superior!

As Christians, not only in America, but anywhere in the world, we are called upon to live worthy of Christ and his Gospel.  That doesn’t mean burying our heads in the sand or staying silent in the face of evil and injustice– we should be engaged in our communities, and in our civic responsibilities.  But it also doesn’t mean that we protest, promote, plot, and proceed politically in our own power or wisdom.  We are commanded to pray for those in leadership and authority– those we voted for and those we didn’t!  We are commanded to submit to those same authority figures, to show them honor and respect, even if we are opposed to their policies and seeking to reverse those policies.  We are commanded to live (as much as it depends on us) in peace with our neighbors, to love our enemies, and bless those who curse us.   Our patriotism and our political expression must be in line with, and submit to, our commitment to follow Christ.  To show contempt or hatred for our nation and its leaders is to show contempt for the God who is sovereign over them.  But that same God will not excuse us for turning a blind eye to sin and corruption, or worse yet, covering it up or calling it righteousness.  Our prayers, both personal and political, need to be based in truth and love.

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Even as we live in tumultuous times, we are commanded to pray.  In relation to our nation and our society, I think there are at least four important things to keep in mind:

  • Our real citizenship is in Heaven.  Praying for our nation, its leaders, its laws, etc., is in line with Scripture; worshiping our nation, its leaders, its laws, etc., is idolatry.
  • Our neighbors, our nation, our world– they won’t change because we enact a new law, win an election, change the economy, or wipe out war.  People, nations, and societies will change because they have had an encounter with Jesus Christ, and they have been transformed by his Grace.  Are they seeing HIM in our actions, our Facebook and Twitter feeds, our interactions on the street; are they hearing HIM in our conversations; are they overwhelmed by HIS grace when they meet us?  Pray that God will help us be faithful in the small things.  Our actions speak louder than our words– and that includes the words of our prayers!
  • God’s ways are not our ways–we need to be careful that we are not praying for (and demanding, and offering on our part) a quick compromise, a superficial spirituality, and a cheap grace that substitutes for a deep and lasting revival.  Don’t ask God to “fix” the world and then wonder why he sends the repairman to your door, or recruits you to scrub toilets!
  • We are in a battle, but it is not with people and it is not going to be won by playing politics–we must learn to identify the real enemy, so we can put on the correct armor and reach for the right weapons.  Our shield is not the flag– it is Faith.  Our sword is not a clever argument– it is the simple truth of the Gospel.  Victory has already been declared.  Remember to rejoice when we pray for our nation and our world– the Lamb has Overcome!

Prayer connects us to the power of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, whose banner over us is Love.

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