When I was a child and into my high school years, I was made to say the “Pledge of Allegiance.” This nationalistic pledge is still said in some schools today despite the fact that it is quite dangerous for anyone to say for a variety of reasons, which I will highlight below. For Christians, it also stands in direct opposition to the teachings of Christ, which should make it a nonstarter for those who claim to follow Jesus. This latter point is ironic given the absurd insistence by some Christians who spuriously claim that America is a “Christian Nation.”
The first pledge of allegiance was recited on the 400th anniversary of the murderous maniac Christopher Columbus’ arrival (First pledge) in the so-called New World, which of course was already inhabited by millions of differing peoples. Alterations of the pledge have happened over the years since 1892, with the last one being to add the words “under God” to it in 1954 because of fears surrounding the spread of communism during the Cold War. As often happens in America, the lines between church and state are blurry.
The ledge now reads: “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Why is this pledge dangerous? To start, it demands a blind loyalty to the “flag” of the United States and the “nation” it represents. Tacitly, that means that the U.S. government, its military, its governmental agents and diplomats, and the nation’s agenda are above reproach. We as citizens must recognize this, implies the pledge, and stand in lock-step with whatever the national leadership happens to be “leading” us into at that time. Another reason that it is so dangerous is that it’s a bold-faced lie when it comes to justice.
America’s history is replete with the sins of our fathers. The very roots of the nation, back to it’s earliest founding, are of course deeply penetrating tap roots of white supremacy and the love of money. The chattel enslavement of Africans, the blood lust that lead to the genocide of indigenous peoples and their rich cultural heritages, and the notion of Manifest Destiny, all highlight these satanic twin roots. AS a historical sampling of events since the pledge’s inception in 1892 shows, the U.S. has annexed Hawai’i after helping Sanford P. Dole overthrow the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, went to war with Spain and then the Philippines in wars of imperial expansion, while annexing Puerto Rico and Guam in the process. Weapons of mass destruction were dropped on Japan in World War II, the second of which had no tactical purpose, but was merely a weapons test on civilians. Proxy wars in Korea and Vietnam followed with horrifying effects on the people of those nations and in neighboring Laos and Cambodia. Covert operations overthrew democratically elected governments in places where American companies did a lot of business, or where they wanted to engage in oil extraction, such as Guatemala and Iran. Other covert and not so covert ops played both sides against the middle as the U.S. supported the Saddam Hussein and the Taliban at various times, only to label them as enemies later when it suited some economic or strategic purpose made up by the politicians and the generals. And so it goes as the global “war on terror” marches on in various theaters as we have entered the second decade of the new millennium. (See chapters five and six of Go Golden for a fuller treatment of the U.S.’ military interventions and racist roots)
It should be readily apparent to anyone who has read the Gospels and the authentic letters of Paul that the things outlined in the above paragraph are completely at odds with the life and ministry of Jesus, and the subsequent teachings of the church’s earliest adherents. Because of this obvious incongruence, those professing to be Christians are being forced into a choice, allegiance to Jesus or allegiance to a nation-state. Allegiance to Jesus looks like loving God with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves, loving our enemies and blessing those who persecute us, feeding the hungry, visiting the prisoner, relieving the debts of others, refusing to retaliate or to instigate physical violence against another person, open table fellowship with people from every strata of society, advocating for an equitable society, or what Biblical scholars John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg call “distributive justice.” (See The First Paul) Allegiance to America and its flag is allegiance to warfare, economic injustice, imperialism, capitalism, entitlement, selfishness, and avarice as history has shown.
Justice is the concern for the second danger regarding “the pledge.” There has never been “justice for all” in America. Where is the justice for Native Americans, whose lives and lands have constantly been taken by white supremacists in search of wealth and land? Consider the authoritarian response of the principalities and powers in recent years to the native groups protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline (No DAPL) where Native Americans were beaten, tear gassed, and had fire hoses turned on them, ON THEIR LAND, for having the temerity to protest an ecological disaster waiting to happen that contributes to climate change while providing no benefit to the first nation peoples whose lands it crosses. In contrast, what has been the response by authorities to masses of heavily armed white men showing up and taking over government buildings to protest stay at home orders? They didn’t get maced, beaten, hosed, or have the National Guard show up. I don’t remember the current president ever saying that there were any good people protesting the pipeline, but he did say that Nazis were fine people before later walking it back. The principalities and powers have also enacted legislation to make it illegal to protest pipelines in some states. (Pipeline protest ; DAPL protests) Meanwhile climate change goes on nearly unabated, and thousands of gallons of polluting oil have spilled from pipelines. I see no justice here.
Where is the justice for black Americans? (Dear white people… ) Their enslavement didn’t end with the Emancipation Proclamation. It has continued in the guise of the convict leasing system, and the advent of for-profit prisons which has led to a school-to-prison pipeline. (School to prison) Blacks are over represented in prisons and the foster care system. They also have less wealth and are disadvantaged in acquiring it to improve their economic situations due to systemic oppression. So insidious is the the notion of white supremacy in America, that there are now well known black political pundits such as Candace Owens, who are paid to spout ahistorical nonsense (Candace Owens: Southern Stategy lie )in favor of the white status quo couched in a language that I’d describe as a hybrid of Algeresque bootstrap pulling and perseverance crossed with New Age Pollyannaism. She has a lot of followers, who like flat-earthers and holocaust deniers, simply deny the Himalayan sized mountains of evidence that refutes the absurd things they get paid to say. Her work perpetuates the injustice against black Americans and props up white supremacy and privilege.
Can Christians in good faith take an oath that is an outright lie? Should we take an oath that perpetuates warfare and economic injustice against the least of these, the poor and marginalized in the world? (Economic sanctions ) The answer should of course be a resounding no. This “No!” brings us to Memorial Day in America, one of our most nationalistic holidays, which calls us to mourn the war dead who died fighting America’s wars. Such needless death and maiming, destruction of property, ecosystems, history and culture, should cause us to pause and say never again. Those wars could only take place because far too many Christians have sanctioned them, including myself when I was first a U.S. Marine and later as the spouse of an Army chaplain, instead of pledging allegiance to The Prince of Peace, grabbing our crosses, and following him as blessed peacemakers. They only continue because we have bought into American exceptionalism, entitlement, and white supremacy instead of a wholehearted buy in to the Kingdom of God. Because they continue, and after they stop forever, we should mourn the countless casualties of U.S. bombs, bullets, and occupations, be they combatant casualties or so-called “collateral damage” every bit as much as we mourn the tragic losses of American lives. We should stop engaging in nationalistic nonsense and be peacemakers and engage in loving our neighbors as ourselves.
So Christians in America, what’s it gonna be, America or Jesus?
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