Monday, April 27, 2009

The cunning use of flags

I'm bugged by flags displayed in church gatherings. It's becoming more and more bothersome to me as time passes. I understand the congregations that display flags of the countries representing nations their missionaries are in, but it's when we fly a flag displaying the congregation's national allegiance that I am concerned about.

Flying a nation's flag over a building, on a ship, or on a vehicle, means this place/conveyance is under the authority of that nation. I suppose there's nothing wrong with individuals being subject to the authorities, but it is when the Church, the bride of Christ, the "new nation," is placed under the authority of an earthly nation that I am cautious of the symbolism.

This past week it became even more apparent when I was visiting a congregation and they brought out the flag of the United States of America and the Christian flag. Why these need to be displayed on the platform from where the message of the gospel is taught is beyond my understanding, but it was the symbolism of where the flags were placed that really sank in my gut. The US flag was positioned behind the speaker's right shoulder (the place of honor, in keeping with the US flag code) and the Christian one was placed behind the left shoulder, which is a place of subservience.

The Church should be not subservient to the US, or any other nation.

Later in the week, as I was pondering flag placement, I drove past the local Roman Catholic parish and noticed the flag placement. At first I thought they must not have got the memo because they had three poles, equal heights, with the US flag first, the Holy See flag second and the California state flag third. I figured it was wrong because the flag code has US first, state second, and other flag third. But then I remembered the Vatican City is a city-state, and therefore gets privilege over the state flag.

But the Holy See is not just a city-state where the pope lives, it is the ultimate authority for Roman Catholics. Now the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church was taking the second place behind our nation. It might not mean much to non-Catholics, and probably misses the symbolism on the rest, but it should be incredibly insulting that the one true Church of Christ (to Catholics) is taking the second place behind our nation.

I think symbolism is important. It is a subconscious even that does inform the way we think. I recall a story I heard on the radio about how languages with male and female nouns cause users of each language to think about these objects differently. For example, German speakers give a bridge (die brucke) feminine traits such as "fragile" and "elegant" where a Spanish speaker (el puente) say the bridge is "strong" and "dangerous."

These very minute difference do change the way we think about things. I believe this has also changed the way Christians feel about their respective countries - remember "For God and country" is British, and "Gott mit uns" is German. We often are told that service to one's country is a "Christian duty"; why so many Christians have killed one another over the years. We don't have a view of one Christian nation that doesn't have borders; one allegiance to the Kingdom of God. We split our allegiance, and are then confused as to our priorities.

This change can be done within the Church. It might seem subservient to not display flags, or to display our first allegiance in the place of honor with the US flag in second place, but it will change the way we think about where our honor is given.

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