If there is one thing we liberal-leaning Christians do worse than evangelism, it’s patriotism. Most of us left-ish Christians think it is our job, in the tradition of the prophets, Jesus, and martyrs of every age, to speak truth to power and make the revolutionary call for the mighty to be thrown down, the powerful to be toppled, and the lowly to be lifted up. To this end, we revel in identifying the multiple specks in the eyes of George W. Bush, the Republicans, and their Conservative Christians allies. We despise them and their symbols, making mockeries of their campaign logos and disavowing everything they embrace.
One problem, however. They embrace the flag. It is on the lapel of every Republican lawmaker. It is in the churches, homes, and on the cars of Conservative Christians. The flag stands for everything American, and the Conservatives claim to have a firm grip on it.
Of course, the flag is for all Americans, but the Conservatives have co-opted the flag (not unlike the way they have co-opted the Bible) and they have largely succeeded in turning it into a partisan emblem. But they have done this with our help. Our liberal ability to be suspicious and critical of the government has led many of us to suffer from an inability to profess proper patriotism. We throw out the baby with the bathwater, confusing what is patriotic with what is partisan. The flag is NOT an emblem of war-wanting, empire-seeking, tax-cutting, rich-loving, first-amendment-reducing, gas-guzzling, Texas-swagger, power-hungry Republicans. Shame on them for stealing the flag, and shame on us for letting them.
The flag represents our country, its Constitution, its people. This flag flies over Americans of all types – rich and poor, black and brown and white, male and female, non-Christian and Christian, law-abiding and criminal, legal citizen and illegal immigrant, and so many more. This flag points to the freedoms and priveledges emblazoned in the oldest written national constitution in the world – a document that restrains the reach government so that people might live and work and speak and gather and worship and innovate and seek opportunity free from government meddling (try doing that in most other countries). Wrapped up in this flag is a story of freedom unfolding, a story that continues today.
That is why I am proud to be an American. I fly the flag on most national holidays (see section six of the flag code – though I don’t consider Christmas and Easter to be times for flag-waving – see post on God & Country and a follow-up) and I vote in nearly every election. As a Lutheran, I recognize the God-blessed vocation of government to restrain evil and provide order to society, and I am thankful for those who serve in goverment.
On this Memorial Day weekend I am thankful for those men and women who serve in the armed forces, and especially for those who gave their lives serving. They put their life on the line for the sake of the flag and all it represents, and for that reason I fly the flag in their honor and memory.