The flags we fly

Have you noticed how  Americans love their flags? Yes, we love our Flag, but we also seem to love flying flags of all types to show our allegiance or communicate a message.

Every June, we see Pride flags pop up. Then every fall of every even year— and often long before— yards are littered with signs and flags for all sorts of political statements. We are a country of bumper stickers and t-shirt messages and front lawn messages. We have the Constitutionally protected right to express our opinion, and we love to exercise it with all sorts of symbols and messages.

Of course, sometimes those symbols have clear meanings and sometimes they do not. Sometimes they get taken out of their context, or get assigned new meanings or just end up confusing meaning altogether.

The most recent flag flap has captivated our national discourse because of who was flying it and confusion around just what they meant by it.

An upside down American flag was seen flying at Supreme Court Justice Alito’s home in January 2021. The flag is considered a symbol of political distress and loosely connected to the “stop the steal” movement after the 2020 election.  Without diving  into the “he said, she said,” aspect of this particular story— was it a neighborly spat? Or some impropriety on behalf of a powerful judge? — the story brings forward all the complications and potential miscommunications that come when we decide to fly a flag.

What do you think?  

What flag are you flying?  

How do you respond to the flags others fly?  

I live in the South so there is continuing conversation about the flags we fly and how others feel about the flags we fly.  Maybe we, as Christians, could begin advocating that we simply fly the white flag of surrender— not to the ways of the world, but to the person of Jesus.  

There’s a reason we put image rich symbols on flags and raise them high. They are rallying points to bring people together for a common cause.  Sometimes that cause is just and good. Sometimes it is not. When we put an image on a flag, rally to it, march behind it and affix our identity to it, the image becomes symbolic of an idea and an ideology that takes on a life of its own.  

On June 17, 2015 a young white man entered a church in Charleston, South Carolina and took the lives of nine black men and women. It was an act of deep hate. It was cold-blooded murder— carried out under a particular flag. In the year that followed the Charleston massacre, some organizations, institutions, and state governments— some quietly and some very publicly— removed that particular flag from places of prominence and put it into museums.   

During its annual meeting eight years ago the largest Protestant denomination in the US, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) adopted a resolution surrendering racist ideas that were formative in the denomination’s identity, but which it now repudiates.  The resolution urged “brothers and sisters in Christ to discontinue the display of the Confederate battle flag as a sign of solidarity of the whole body of Christ, including our African American brothers and sisters.”  

Some people continue to argue, and it was argued on the floor of the SBC, that the flag represents states’ rights, “heritage, not hate,” and “southern pride.”  But, as James Merritt, a former President of the SBC, stated at the annual meeting, “This is not a matter of political correctness. It is a matter of spiritual conviction and biblical compassion.”  

Do you, as an American, have the right under the Constitution of the United States to fly whatever image or symbol you choose? Yes.  

A rainbow flag? Yes. 

A Confederate flag? Yes.  

A Don’t Tread on me flag? Yes 

But as Christians, as dual citizens of this nation under heaven and citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, as people who serve here and now as representatives and Ambassadors of another King and another Kingdom, what flag is it appropriate to wave?  

The Christian life is to be lived under the banner of Jesus Christ. We no longer have “rights” in the same way the world thinks about rights. Having been liberated by Christ from the penalty and tyranny of sin, we are now surrendered as slaves to Christ.  

There is humility in surrender.  As a person or a people wave the white flag of surrender they say to the world “I surrender the idea under which I used to march. I surrender the allegiance I had to the idea for which I fought.” The question of the Christian call is, are we willing to do that? 

As Paul declared, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20). The old us, with our old priorities, rights and identities are surrendered when we submit our lives to Christ.

While a flag is only one small piece of the complex issues at stake, the banners we wave and the flags we follow are important testimonies. We cannot hold on to the banner of Christ while also holding on to our own preferences. We cannot claim to be One Body while ignoring the pain of others. 

As Christians, above all else, let’s lift high the banner of Christ. Let’s rally to His cause. Follow His voice. Heed His command. He is our liege. And any and all who surrender themselves to Him are our sisters and brothers.  Scripture says they will come from every nation and tribe under heaven. Which means that ultimately, our fellow citizens are people of every tribe and color and tongue and our flag is one of surrender to Christ, who triumphs over all.  

This post was originally published June 30, 2023 and updated June 1, 2024.