There’s us. And there’s them.
At a young age I stopped saluting the flag and saying the pledge. It wasn’t out of disrespect for America or a lack of gratitude for the countless sacrifices that provided our freedoms and opportunities. It was because I didn’t want to pledge my allegiance to a country.
In my primitively-developed mind, I knew enough from attending church that I should devote myself to God, God’s kindom, and God’s work – first and foremost. I could have other interests and pursuits, but my allegiance? That was reserved for God.
Moreover, I had reservations about what I knew of our American history. From teachers and history books I learned that we were “the good guys” who “won” our battles for truth and justice, the wars for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But there had to be other versions of the story.
When I was growing up, the K-12 years were largely about indoctrination and depositing knowledge, not about encouraging independent thought. But something in me was unsettled.
I couldn’t have put words to it at the time, but I felt discomfort and dis-ease every time we were asked to place our hand over our heart and pledge our allegiance to the flag.
As I’ve grown, I realize the issue isn’t the flag, it’s nationalism. Nationalism pits us against them. Nationalism says “we’re better than you,” “we deserve more than you,” “we’re worth more than you.”
We puff ourselves up with how awesome, educated, talented, wealthy, advanced, or progressive we are compared to others. It’s one more label to attach to our identity, and one more box to put someone else in. And it’s a particularly dangerous one—because it can carry us into bar fights, hillside battles, and nuclear wars.
As soon as we draw a line between us and them, we license ourselves to defend against, seek to control, and attack the other (up to and including the use of deadly force).
I’m not saying you shouldn’t say the pledge of allegiance, that’s up to you. And nationalism isn’t the only “ism” or ideology that’s guilty of creating an us and them. If our devotion to something is leading us to “other” someone, we’ve got a problem.
There are no easy solutions, but we’ve got to do better than this. We have to dig to the root of what’s causing the us-them division and do something about it.
God isn’t putting us into categories like this—declaring some as better, more deserving, or more worthy than others. In fact, we’ve been repeatedly encouraged to consider others above ourselves.
Is Christianity compatible with nationalism, then?