04/26/2013 03:55 pm ET Updated Jun 26, 2013

Flags in Our Churches: A Conversation

I had a brief conversation after service with someone who noticed that we do not have the American flag in the sanctuary during our worship services. He wanted to know why and wondered aloud if I had a problem with the flag. I guess he wanted to make sure that I was not some "black radical," go all Henry McNeal Turner, and start calling the flag a dirty and contemptible rage. I assured him that I do not have a problem with the flag but do not think that flags should hold a spot in our sanctuaries.

Then, the kicker. He said to me, "It's because of that flag that you have the freedom to worship they way you do in this country."

Well, since this conversation happened after service and I was preparing for an orientation class for some of our new members, I wanted just to leave it at that, but he repeated his assertion again and this time I did engage.

I again reaffirmed for him that I did not have anything against the flag but do have a problem with it being in worship. First, I said, your position that the reason why I can worship the way I do is "because of the flag" is fallacious because I would like to think that I would still worship the God I serve even if it was illegal. A government or state institution does not dictate my worship or belief and it not supported or affirmed by my allegiance to any state symbol, i.e., the flag. Surely, the only reason why you worship the way you do is not because the state allows you to -- but because of your personal beliefs in Jesus -- or I would like to think so.

Second, the flag is a symbol of the state and we must remember, for Christians, our allegiance is to Jesus and not any state or government institution. In short, having a flag in your sanctuary is symbolically blasphemous. Now, I know this is hard for you and many folks to grasp this because the state and God is so intertwine that it is hard to determine which is which. For you, the flag makes sense in sanctuaries because by showing allegiance to this "great" country, we in turn celebrate God. God and country go hand and hand and whatever the state does, God approves. However, when we look at our own faith history, the state executed the man we affirm as "Lord" because that man would show only allegiance to God.

I have argued that Jesus' execution was not something as special as we make it out to be, simply because when the state "lifted him up" there were at least two more executions going on at the same time. Moreover, despite our resurrection theologies, if we believe that those who executed Jesus had in mind that he was to "rise on the third day and redeem humankind back unto God," we are sadly mistaken. They did what others in their shoes do when they have a problem--they get rid of the problem and hopes that it scares others.

After I shared this with him, he paused for a moment, actually agreed with some of my positions, and openly confessed that he never "thought of it that way before." I thanked him for the conversation and by talking this out, it helped me formulate my own thoughts about this as well and now I am more resolute than ever that flags do not belong in our churches.

Now, about that picture of Jesus you have in your stain glass window...