Commentary: Flag display affirms God’s blessings|
A UMNS Commentary
By the Rev. Richard Stewart*
June 1, 2007
Is it appropriate to display the United States flag in United Methodist churches during worship services?
As a life-long United Methodist, and as a former active-duty chaplain in the U.S. Army, I have no question as to its appropriateness. And, as a U.S. citizen, I find it hard to imagine why some people would not want to display the flag at their place of worship. In fact, I would be very concerned if the flag was banned from those times in which we come together corporately to worship God.
The Rev. Richard Stewart
Since my childhood, throughout my years of wearing the military uniform of our country and in the years since, the U.S. flag has stood as the symbol of all that is good about this nation. I, along with countless others - both citizens and non-citizens - wore the uniform and served under the flag of this country, ready to give our lives for all it symbolizes. For those soldiers who fought our battles long ago and continue to fight them at this very moment, for those who died and continue to die in behalf of our nation, placing the flag in our sanctuaries demonstrates that the God who was with soldiers in those scary places is certainly with them now.
Such a display in no way expresses the notion that God is with us to the exclusion of our brothers and sisters from other lands and other beliefs. I believe that God is with those against whom we fight, and that they, too, are God's children, regardless of their faith or even when they are of no faith at all. Such is an understanding that I learned by growing up in the United States - the country that the flag serves and inspires. We need look no further than the Marshall Plan after World War II to see the generosity of those who serve under that flag, and who serve in the defense of that flag.
“We do not display the flag to attempt to manipulate God. Rather, by displaying it during United Methodist worship services, we bring the totality of our existence to God - spiritual, emotional and secular.”
The flag rallies the hopes of Americans, whether at sporting events, parades or military funerals. Title 4, Section 7(k) of the U.S. Code specifies how the flag is to be displayed, even in churches. While others may express contempt and see that specification as the state intruding upon the church, my joy is that the code does not deny the display of the flag in churches. Such restriction and denial might be possible, if those in power were so inclined. Instead, the code prescribes what we as United Methodists are well adept at doing: performing properly and with good manners, including displaying the flag.
It is not my impression that displaying the U.S. flag during worship means that United Methodists are asking God to favor its citizens over others of God's people. I see the display as a response to God's blessing upon this land - not as a ploy to curry God's favor, nor to dissuade God from blessing his other children in other nations.
We do not display the flag to attempt to manipulate God. Rather, by displaying it during United Methodist worship services, we bring the totality of our existence to God - spiritual, emotional and secular. Because God is God, and because God is good, I believe with all my heart that God accepts and acts upon what we have long declared and implored: "God Bless America."
*Stewart is a retired United Methodist pastor and a former staff member of the section of chaplains and related ministries of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry. He is a clinical pastoral education supervisor and former president of the Association of Professional Chaplains.
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