Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pledge of Allegiance

Douglas Wilson,

Just click the title

The Creed and the Pledge
Topic: Politics

Many thanks for the good discussion on the previous post. Obviously more is needed. In fact, when I consider the shape we're in, more is desperately needed.

I say the Apostles' Creed far more often than I say the Pledge. And when I say the Pledge of Allegiance, as noted already, it is not without qualification or reserve. It is not right for any creature to give unqualified loyalty to any fallen creature. At the same time, it is necessary -- because of my own fallenness -- to give that allegiance. To sort this out, we need to get back to basics on the matter of government.

The ultimate lord over all things in heaven and on earth is the Lord Jesus Christ. The God of this world is not the devil, not since the cross, and the God of this world is the Lord Jesus. So all authority is His, and all subordinate forms of authority have to be calibrated to His. Ideally, they will be calibrated both by those who wield the authority and by those who submit to it. But frequently, the calculations for that calibration have to be made by the one under authority alone because the one in authority has idolatrous pretensions for himself.

Because of this, the foundational form of government among men is self-government. Unless men are converted, and become as little children, and find the fruit of the Spirit flourishing within them -- and remember that fruit includes self-control or self-government -- every other form of human government will be dislocated and out of joint. Apart from self-government, every form of human governance will necessarily be some form of slavery. But if Christ sets men free from their sins, then other forms of liberty will follow.

The three larger forms of human government that God has established, all of them dependent on Spirit-given self-government, are these: Church, Family, and Nation. The Church is the ministry of grace. The family is the ministry of health, education and welfare. The nation is the ministry of justice.

Now the question before the house is this -- is it possible for a faithful Christian, self-governed in his personal life, to render allegiance to these lesser governments under Christ, especially when these governments are in gross sin, without sinning himself? And the answer is yes, of course.

We are covenantally bound to one another in all our relations because life is covenantal. Church membership is covenantal, marriage is covenantal, and citizenship is covenantal. Now because of sin, no covenant bond in this life is absolute. When I take any vows in this life, which I must always take in some form or other, every faithful Christian attaches a rider to that vow. If we ever took absolute vows to another sinner, we are violating the word of God where He tells us not to be unequally yoked. So every vow is qualified -- I pledge my fealty to the degree that this allegiance does not compromise my prior and higher allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ.

When my kids were little, and first learning to talk, I remember carrying them around in my arms and asking them two basic catechism questions. The first was, "Who's the boss?" Their answer would be to point to me. Then the second question went something like this, "Who's the real boss?" And they would point heavenward. The message I wanted them to internalize is that Dad was as much under authority as they were. And judging from the debates we get into as Christians, I think we need to do a lot more of this kind of sorting out.

So is there anything wrong in principle with an oath of loyalty to one or all of the three entities that God has established? Certainly not. We even get our word sacrament from the enlistment oath that ancient soldiers had to take. This is simply part of human life. There is nothing new about any of this. Now obviously, the content of the oath matters to us, as it mattered to the early Christians. They would not burn incense to the genius of the emperor and the spirit of Rome, because such an action was self-consciously religious worship. And when the Pledge becomes that, then Christians will have to stop saying it.

In the meantime, they should take care with two words -- indivisible should not be taken to mean "ontologically incapable of division." If it is simply the hyperbole of a charitable wish, then fine. It is like saying "may the king live forever" when everybody assembled there can see how bad the king's cough is. Still, even though "may the king live forever" can be justfied (Dan. 6:21), I still much prefer a more sober and reasonable wish -- "long live the king," which is actually a possibility in the real world. The other word is God -- the phrase under God was added in the Eisenhower years, and the whole thing hinges upon which God is meant. Just substitute the word Christ, and you will be good.

What about the problem of Mr. Bellamy, the radical who composed the Pledge after the War Between the States in order to shape the schoolchildren into docile worker bees for the new society? The origins of the Pledge are certainly corrupt, but so are the origins of Yuletide, Easter, and tomorrow, which is Thor's Day. The question for us is what it means here and now.

And last, what about the frequency with which people want everybody to say the Pledge of Allegiance? I don't have a problem with frequent recitation necessarily, especially with young schoolchildren who are being liturgically shaped by it. The problem here is not the repetition. The problem is what we don't repeat in addition to the Pledge. The problem is not the expressed loyalty to the republic, the problem is that we have no layered structure of loyalties in what we have them recite. Because we don't have them repeat something like the Apostles Creed, along with a clear statement of which is senior, we are training the kids to answer the question "who's the boss?" with "the state," and then we provide no follow up question -- "who's the real boss?" It is idolatry by omission.

Take another example. If I were running a Christian school with three flagpoles outside, one for the American flag, one for the state flag, and one for the Christian flag, I would have a real problem with having the flag that represents Christendom flapping right alongside Delaware's, and the American flag above them both. Better to have no Christian flag at all than to have Christ bowing symbolically to His servants. We really need to think through all this. We live in a time when flag burning is protected speech. So why not move in the opposite direction? Why would it not be protected speech to have the American flag defer symbolically before Christendom?

But even with such problems of patriotism in our midst (and they are very real, let me assure you), let me offer one thought experiment. When our accelerating idolatries in the civil realm finally catch up with us, and the time comes for Christians to take a stand that might actually result in actual civic confrontation and conflict that would involve making real sacrifices (in the uproar that followed canceled presidential elections, say), who do you think will be manning the ranks of the real resistance? Folks who used to say the Pledge routinely or those who would not?

No comments:

Wodehousian Fun