Burn My Flag…Burn My Bible, Too
I was a patriot long before I was a believer. I love this great nation. Though I am not much of a traveler, years of persistent warfare have afforded me a first-hand view of many garden spots around the globe and I can say without hesitation, America is the greatest country in the world.
I love Waffle House and College Football. I love country music, the blues, and Motown. I love capitalism and George Jones. I love rugged American individualism, the American Dream, and the notion that if I work hard, anything is possible. I’ve fought for this nation, for my brother to the left and right really, but for this nation.
I cherish the idea of America and ironically, I fought for your right to desecrate that very idea. I want you to be able to burn a flag if you feel led. Burn two if you wish. Would you like to talk about it?
Two years ago, an enraged mob of men killed a young Afghani woman outside a shrine in Kabul. They dragged 27-year-old Farkhunda Malikzada, an aspiring Islamic student, into the street, beat her, stoned her, ran her over with a car, and then set her on fire. Her crime: she was accused of burning a Quran, a charge later proven to be false.
Muslims consider the physical Quran, the actual book, as holy and its desecration, punishable by death. As Islam incessantly fuses government and religion into a singular entity, justice comes swift. During the attack on Farkhunda, dozens of police officers stood hapless nearby, complicit. The Pakistani courts hand out death sentences for blasphemy. Saudi Arabia routinely lashes even women for insulting the prophet.
To most in the west, these things seems heinous, unconscionable. We look at the assault upon the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris where Islamic gunmen murdered 12 for the offense of profaning the image of Muhammed—let that sink in, they killed because of a cartoon—and we wonder how men could behave in such a manner. How could men call this justice?
This fury at the desecration of symbols originates from the fragile psyche of those seeking to zealously defend a religious/political foundation that has already crumbled. Is the system so frail that someone drawing a cartoon could do actual damage?
Unfortunately, we see a nascent but burgeoning collusion in America, the sacral blending of church and state. The strident resistance to flag burning and the repeated attempts to declare it illegal perfectly symbolizes this affront.
Let me give you a hint…it ain’t the liberal left seeking to amend the Constitution to prohibit flag desecration.
Christ was the first and only religious proponent of the separation of Church and state. All three synoptic Gospels record his response when queried by the Pharisees and Herodians as to whether or not they should pay taxes. “Render to Caeser the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:17, Matthew 22:21, Luke 20:25)
Of course pay your taxes. Obey the laws. Be a good citizen. Submit to the authorities unless they command you to do things forbidden by God. (Acts 5:29) Otherwise, render to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar.
The problem becomes when we look to Caesar for the things of God.
The Church existed independent of the state until the 4th century when it was declared the official religion of the Roman Empire. This fusing of church and state generated centuries of corruption and darkness in the Church until the Reformation just over a thousand years later.
Yet, our temptation today is to do exactly that, to co-opt patriotic fervor into religious expression, to fuse the cross and the flag into mutually supporting symbols. It’s idolatry, plain and simple—a bastardization of both the Church and the state. The ultimate expression is nationalistic arrogance, this misguided belief that somehow God favors our nation above others.
For me, I’ll not worship at the church of ‘Merica.
I’ll not look to Caesar for the things of God. I’ll not recite the Pledge of Allegiance in a worship service. I’ll not sing My Country ‘Tis of Thee right after Amazing Grace. I’ll not look to the state, to politicians, to the system for salvation.
No, I’ll look to the Lord Jesus alone and render to Caesar the things of Caesar and to God the things of God.
Why do we never see Christians rioting in the street following the desecration of Christ?—which happens all the time. It is because Jesus is the Son of God, the Firstborn over all creation, the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Image of the Invisible God and so much more. Man could no more desecrate the glory of God than he could change the nature of his own DNA.
Similarly, does anyone believe that the burning of an American flag dampens the idea of America? If anything, the opposite is true. The defense of the right to protest in such a manner distinguishes this nation from so many others. The demand that we tolerate the unpopular and offensive expression of ideas fuels the engine of democracy.
As we approach Memorial Day, let us not dishonor what so many brave men and women fought so valiantly for. Let us honor their sacrifice for our nation, but let us keep perspective between our religion and our patriotism and never confuse the two.
By all means, burn the flag if you feel led. Exercise that right. I’ll gladly defend it again. Burn my Bible too, if you like. (Not really because it cost me $40, but you get the point) Understand that your desecration of either does no damage to the reality of America or even more important, the reality of the risen Savior. In fact, your desecration testifies to ideas that no man may corrupt.
I love this country…but America will one day be a footnote in the salvation history of man. Christ will one day return in power and He will create a new heavens and a new Earth…not a new America. Until then, my prayer is that America would be on God’s side, never that God would be on America’s.
Author - Founder
Soldier, Pastor, Author – Bradford stays busy, with his wife Ami, raising their 9 children, serving the nation, pastoring, preaching, and writing books (#3 is due out October ’17).
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