Pledge

During this campaign season we sometimes see candidates standing in front of what seems like a barrage of United States flags. When each candidate speaks, the symbol of the flag looms large. I suppose that’s all well and good, but I wonder if candidates and their public relations handlers have thought about the theology surrounding our flag, and the Pledge of Allegiance associated with our country’s flag.

The Pledge of Allegiance AND theology? Yes, I say. When any statement includes the word “God” it automatically enters the realm of theology. So I thought it would be good to look at our Pledge of Allegiance, and its theological ramifications.

But first, a factoid about our pledge:

  • The pledge was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, Baptist Minister and socialist.
  • It was written for a National School Day presented at the Chicago World’s Fair.
  • The original pledge was short, “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
  • The pledge was never intended to be recited on a regular basis.
  • The words, “under God” were added by Congress in 1954.
  • The pledge used to be recited by children holding their arms in the air, but was changed after the rise of the Nazi salute in the late 1930s.

early-pledge

 

 

 

 

 

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Let’s think about the theology contained within “one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

“One Nation under God”

The statement implies a couple of things with the obvious point being a vertical theology saying that God is up there, and we are down here. Secondly, it says that we as a nation are under God. It suggests that all we do in our republic is under God’s edict as if God predetermined our nation, and that we “under God” act according to God’s will.

God’s will can be found in the statement, “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 7:23)

This phrase, along with variants can be found numerous times in the Bible:

Exodus: “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God”

Ezekiel: “You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”

Jeremiah: “And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.”

Leviticus: I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.”

Deuteronomy: “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession.”

Zachariah: “And they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness.”

2 Corinthians: “‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

Hints of God’s will can be found in the Ten Commandments (Exodus and Deuteronomy) which can be broken into two sections, the first addressing how God wishes to be viewed, and honored, with the other commandments or teachings from God covering how people should treat and respect one another. Jesus clarifies the will of God by teaching that we should love God, or be committed to God with all our heart, mind, and strength, and to be committed to the well being of our neighbor.

God’s will is found in “The Lord’s Prayer.” This non-denominational, non-doctrinal prayer presents God as head of the household asking that the way God runs heaven’s household should become the same on earth with equal distribution of food, and forgiveness as a collaborative effort.

“Indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

The pledge suggests that under God, we as a people are indivisible. If we are under God, we have the same goals: liberty and justice for all.

Liberty is a curious word because most would think “freedom.” Liberty as defined means “the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views.”

Liberty from a theological perspective depends on tradition. In the 20th century, liberation is defined as being released from oppression in whatever form oppression takes (physical, mental, economical, financial, etc).

Freedom, theologically, has more to say about one’s state within the ethical and moral fabric surrounding dogma and the nature of sin. Being released from sin encourages a moral state of freedom allowing a person to become right again with God. Theologically, the freedom to choose encompasses free will, but freedom does not always mean the individual can do as they please.

Liberty or liberation always denotes the act of being set free from that which prevents flourishing, blocking wholeness. The pledge’s use of liberty defines the nation, and the symbol of the flag, as an ethical entity serves, promotes and guards the ongoing process of liberation.

What does the pledge mean when it says, “justice for all”? Justice using theology does not mean retribution, and retribution is not justice. Biblical justice means that all are satisfied with a full sense of restoration. Justice equates equal distribution with no one better more than they deserve where nothing is taken away, but all are fulfilled. Examples of God’s justice:

“Who executes justice for the oppressed; Who gives food to the hungry The LORD sets the prisoners free. The LORD opens the eyes of the blind; The LORD raises up those who are bowed down.” (Psalm 146)

“But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” (Amos 5:24)

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

“Blessed are those who act justly, who always do what is right.” (Psalm 106:3)

“But seek first the kingdom and its justice and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33)

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse… Do not repay evil for evil.” (Romans 12:14)

“One nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all”

Though we may wish to acknowledge that we are a nation under God, the reality is that we are a nation of personal privilege placing higher value upon individual freedom, over and above the needs of others. Using theology as our guide, it would be logical to say that historically the country has demonstrated that we are not one nation under God.

The reason for this commentary is not to discuss whether we should keep or remove “under God” from the pledge of allegiance, but to suggest that if we evoke God, and pay homage to the symbol of our nation as being united by God, we need to stop for a moment to reflect:

God’s will is larger than our will, and God’s needs ask for much more than we are willing to offer, or acknowledge. The road toward a clearer hermeneutic might be to take God more seriously, and ourselves less seriously. If God’s notion of liberty and justice for all is greater than what we can imagine, we need to imagine a different world, and do our utmost to make it so.

Next time you see and hear a candidate spouting words before our flag, think of God’s will, and what their words mean from a theological perspective, and I bet you will be dismayed, and saddened.