Tuesday, February 28, 2006

God and Country (Again)

The following is Matt's letter on "God and Country". The link in the post below is going dead later today so disregard it.

"God & Country"

This coming Sunday (February 5th) our church will recognize scout Sunday. This is a tradition that we have taken up in the past few years as a way of recognizing the role scouting has played and continues to play in the formation of many of our young people. Among the many virtues scouting promotes is the importance of faith in God. And so it is appropriate that we set aside a Sunday to acknowledge the relationship this family of faith has long had with the various scouting traditions: Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Brownies and others.

I confess this has presented something of a challenge for me. The challenge comes not from what scouts represent, their program, or values. It is quite clear that scouting has had a tremendous and positive impact on the young men and women who participate in it as well as the adults who lead them. No, the challenge comes when our national flag is processed in the context of Sunday worship and the pledge to that flag is recited.

I consider myself a fairly patriotic individual. I value the democratic freedoms on which the United States is founded; particularly the first amendment freedom of expression and the establishment clause that allows us to practice our religious beliefs free of government intrusion or interference. At sporting events I regularly choke up at the singing of the national anthem. I understand the value of the pledge of allegiance as a means of teaching the importance of citizenship.
All that said, Sunday worship is a time that we gather first and foremost as citizens of the Kingdom of God to raise our voices in praise to the one to whom we owe our ultimate allegiance. That Kingdom is one not bounded by national borders, but includes the people of every tribe and nation. What makes me uncomfortable is pledging our allegiance to anything other than God during that time we have set aside specifically to worship God. It may be a poor analogy but I would liken it to making a date with someone, showing up and then talking about someone else. Often when God speaks through the prophets about his relationship with the people it is as a “jealous God”.

As much as I value our flag and the nation that it represents, the primary symbols for Sunday morning are the font -where the waters of baptism remind us of our identity as those who belong to God through Jesus Christ- and the table- where we are invited from east and west, north and south to be fed as one people. I believe this is who we are truly called to be, before nation or party or any other factional identity.

That is the reason why I initially asked that the pledge not said when the scouts processed at church, because I am cautious about confusing or diluting our worship.

As your pastor I am in essence the theologian in residence, and felt I needed to share my thoughts on this with you on why I had suggested that we refrain from saying the pledge on Sunday. I have been asked to reconsider my position in deference to those for whom the procession and pledge are meaningful. In the spirit of practicing what I preached this past Sunday (January 29th) I feel I ought to yield to the love and respect I hold for our scouts, their families and those who value this tradition. Perhaps together we can continue to discern the ways our faith leads us to serve Christ as well as our country.


Alan Bancroft said...

So, I'm coming to this discussion pretty late...probably too late for the actual Scout Sunday, but I'd like to echo the concerns raised in this post. I, too, am a pastor who cringes at the idea of the flag being processed and the pledge of allegiance being recited during worship. One year, the leaders asked all of the scouts in the congregation to stand and join them in reciting the scout pledge. The kid who was leading it forgot the last part, and after fumbling through it, said, "Whatever." I thought that was pretty humorous. You might be able to reach a compromise in the future by having the scout ceremony before you actually begin worship. Just a thought for the conversation.
-Alan Bancroft

Matt Kelley said...

I detest Scout Sunday myself. After much discussion on the issue, we got the scouts to agree to do a pledge to the Christian flag as well. Not ideal, of course, but we avoided an open revolt by the scouts (they can so some damage with those little knives!).

Thomas+ said...

I was a boy scout, an eagle scout. My elder daughter is a girl scout (brownie), and I hope she sticks with it. And I'm grateful to be a citizen of the U.S.

Being raised an Episcopalian, we always had the U.S. flag in the sanctuary. That always bothered me. But, it went back to our old main line belief that we were the national church. So, for me it felt a bit like a historic curiosity.

I have never seen a "scout Sunday." On July 4, we sometimes sing a song about God blessing America, but that's pretty much as far as it has ever gone.

All that said, I find the idea of saying the pledge on Sunday morning to be outside of my understanding of our religion. It seems like the writer of this post did give into the political pressure, which I'm sure was huge in his mainline church. However, I'm a bit sad that the prophetic voice was overridden by political pressure. Not that I wouldn't have done the same thing, so that is in no way a judgment. It just sucks.