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Flags in Church

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Pack mentioned that his church as a youth had policy that no flags are to be in the sanctuary, it is an ongoing debate for many congregations -- the statement below is from my Church the ELCA. I personally feel that a national flag does not belong in a Christian sanctuary, the church ultimate and only allegiance is to God.


Though in good Norwegian Lutheran passive aggressiveness I don't make a big deal about the flags in my congregation worship space because there are members that would get too upset if they were removed.



Are flags appropriate in church?


One of the most frequently asked questions directed to the worship staff of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and its predecessor church bodies has been whether it is appropriate for congregations to place flags in the worship space. The recurring issue is not flags themselves, but the national flag of the United States of America. Flags are not a required element in a Christian worship space.


This question touches many important issues. The American flag is a powerful symbol of this nation. It carries enormous emotional meaning, especially for veterans and for families that have sacrificed loved ones in wars and armed conflicts under that symbol. It can also carry great political significance for those who see it as a symbol of what they consider amiss with our nation. Anyone who doubts the power of the flag as a symbol might consider the public scandal caused in Chicago when a student artist at the internationally known Art Institute of Chicago chose to display the American flag on the floor of an art gallery. Public demonstrations followed the opening of the exhibit. The use and display of the flag remains a sensitive issue.


Some Christian churches are identified with nations or states (the Church of England is Anglican; the Church of Norway, Lutheran; the Church of Sweden, Lutheran; and so forth.). Sometimes these churches display flags as a part of their national identification. In the United States, of course, we have no state church. Yet here, too, many Christian congregations have traditionally included an American flag among the items used to furnish their worship space or displayed elsewhere in their building. In many congregations, it has been customary for the American flag to stand to one side of the altar and the so-called Christian flag to stand on the other. Perhaps when the Lutheran church was primarily an immigrant church, the need to display a clear loyalty to the new nation and not to the mother country was very importantespecially when worship was in the mother tongue.


When considering what should appear in our worship space, Christians will always want to ask what symbols we can use to help us focus on what is central in our faith: Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen Lord. Of course, the cross or crucifix has become the preeminent symbol of Christ across many cultures and nations. There are other symbols that focus the community on Christ: the altar where the Holy Communion is celebrated; the baptismal font where Holy Baptism is celebrated; the pulpit or ambo where the Word is proclaimed in reading and preaching. Christian art that represents Christ and the teachings of the testaments in sculpture, stained glass, painting, and other artistic media are also powerful visible symbols. All of these are appropriate to the worship space because they help both individuals and the assembly focus on Christ. The focus of everything that appears in the worship space, not just flags, ought to be considered. Anything that does not direct us to Christ can easily become a distraction from Christ.


The flag of the United States is a national symbol, not a religious one. It is as at home in a ball park as in church. Christians balance their national loyalties with their loyalty to Jesus Christ and Christs church. The Christian church includes many individual nations and states. It calls Christians to transcend national divisions, and thus to observe their baptismal unity. As Saint Paul says: "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:27-28). The worship space of the congregation is not the best place to display national flags, for such display honors neither the integrity of the flag nor the sovereignty of the Lordship of Christ. In reality, national interests and the commitment of the Christian to Christ can come into conflict.


A responsible alternative to putting the flag in the worship space would be to display it prominently place in other suitable places. Placing flags in the fellowship or community hall, the gymnasium, or other large meeting room used by civic groups such as scouting organizations or for civic functions such as voting, allows the flag to carry out its symbolic function for the nation without competing with the central symbols of the Christian faith. Congregations that have war memorial chapels, plaques, or books of remembrance and the like and which desire to display the American flag might want to consider placing the flag near those places in their building rather than in the worship space.


The so-called Christian flag seems originally to have been an emblem associated with the international Sunday school movement. It is not identified with any particular church body, is superfluous in a space where the cross or crucifix is the central symbol of the faith.


Whenever the American flag is displayed publicly, it is very important to follow with great care the rules of protocol that have been established by civic agencies governing that display. It is possible to give great-unintended offense if these rules are not followed. A local veterans group or military post usually can supply these rules on request. These protocols apply wherever the flag is displayed, indoors or outdoors. Proper placement, lighting, care, all need to be considered carefully


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We have sorta had some debate regarding the placement of the American flag in our sanctuary.


The American flag and Christian flag are both on display in our sanctuary. For a period of time, they were both in a corner in the front of the sanctuary. Then someone moved them to a more predominant place but placed the American flag on the right and Christian flag on the left (facing the sanctuary as the vantage point). I asked our senior pastor about this and he claimed this was a decision by the session. I explained when the American flag is displayed with another flag it is to take the place of prominence and should be moved. He told me this was a very sensitive issue & asked that I not move it. The next time I was in the sanctuary (a couple days later) I noticed the flag had been moved. Another Scouter and close friend in our congregation told me he moved it! That was about two months ago & no one has moved it back yet!

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I guess I can claim some responsibility for this thread. ;) I confess that at the time I wasn't fully aware of the reasons for exclusion, only that my father and most other veterans didn't like it much. But these same people had, just a few months earlier, booted out our old minister because he embraced the Civil Rights movement. The new guy would definitely prove to be 'interesting', what with the flag thing and his claim to be able to see actual demons (for a while I worried that I might have been one of them, LOL).


But maybe someone in this forum would be like to explain a few things today to my neighbor three houses down, a fundamentalist preacher (Pentecostal, I think, maybe Assemblies of God - I can't really comprehend all the flavors)...who has a single flag pole in his front yard and flies the Confederate flag on the pole ABOVE the American flag. To me, THAT is a more powerful message than a church not allowing it into their building.

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I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church in Oklahoma, the buckle of the Bible Belt and heart of middle America. To the best of my knowledge, we always had a US flag and the Christian flag in the sanctuary. I never gave it any thought. I don't darken the church door as frequently as I used to, but I don't believe my current Baptist church has flags in the sanctuary.


Speaking of symbols. We Baptists always took issue with the Catholics use of the Crucifix. We had the Cross. The difference. One has a dying Christ on it and the other was empty due to a risen Savior. Another difference pointed out to me by a Catholic friend was that Catholic churchs have Crosses on their steeples and Baptist churches do not. It usually holds true, check it out. I have no idea why.

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When I joined the Lutheran Church, I read that no flags where allowed in the Sanctuary, note it did not say Church. There is one in the sanctuary at the church, I asked the pastor about it, he just smiled.

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Latin Cross vs. Crucifix, it has to do with emphasis as I understand it. The Latin Cross is empty signifying the risen Christ and the Crucifix with Christ hanging on the cross the suffering sacrificial Christ dying for our sins.


In an aside one of my favorite stories:


Little Jimmys parents had heard that local Catholic parochial school is real strong in the basic and Jimmy wasnt doing so well in the school he was attending. So even though they werent religious at all they decided to send him to St. Francis.


A few months latter they went to the parent-teacher conference to get his report card. The teacher said he was working hard and doing great. His grades were super instead of Cs and Ds, he was now getting As and Bs.


They brought Jimmy to the Ice Cream Parlor for a reward. His Dad said Were so proud of you for bringing your grades up. Especially your Math grade, you were getting Ds in your old school now youre getting an A.


Dad, theyre real serious about math at that school. Didnt see what happened to the guy who didnt do well in math? They nailed him to a plus sign and hung up reminders in every room.


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I don't know about all Christian faiths, but in the Catholic Church it seems it is a diociese by diociese decision.


My Grandfather's church used to have the U.S. flag on one side (to the right of the audience / left of the pulpit) and the Papal flag opposide on the far corners of the front of the sanctuary. It had been that way since I was in diapers. He had been a member their since I was in diapers. They got a new Monsenior a few years back and Grandpa shows up for mass and the flags were still in the sanctuary, but at the back near the entry vestible, both of them!


Grandfather spoke to the priest at the end of mass (as a WWII vet & Purple Heart awardee, not to mention former Marine Raider - Paps wasn't all too happy about the change). Priest told my Grandfather that the new leadership didn't want to over "emphasize" the flags in the sanctuary, so the decision was to keep them, but place them at the rear of the church! As Grandad put it to me, "The only reason I didn't kick that moron's a** right there was the fact that he was an ordained man."


In their attempt to appease both sides of the issue (those that wanted the flags in the church and those that thought it best without) - they succeeded in offending both parties as those that wanted flags gone were upset that they were still there and those that wanted them in the church were furious that they would display the U.S. flag (and for that matter the Papal flag) in a manner showing such disrespect.


Grandad wrote to the Bishop, the Cardinal, and even the Vatican (yup - Paps wrote the Pope). The reply at all levels was "This is a parrish by parrish issue and we allow the senior parrish priest to dictate flag protocol in their sanctuary on a per parrish basis."


The outcome was that my Grandfather quit going to that church and now goes out of his way to attend mass at another parrish that still displays the flags at the front of the church. Sad it came to that, but it was his decision to make. Funny thing is, his old church moved the flags back up front after that priest moved on because they had lost too many members to the neighboring parrish over the ordeal.


Just goes to show - you CAN influence the church, you just have to hit 'em in the right place.... the collection plate :)

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We have both the US and Christian flags in the chapel of our Baptist church. They are on the floor, at the foot of the stairs to the stage. The US flag is on the audience's left, and the Christian flag on the right. We have been asked to carry the flags and lead the choir in, with Onward Christian Soldiers being played. This was at our traditional service early in the morning, which is mostly our more senior members, in coat and tie.


I usually attend the contemporary service at 11:00 am, with the Praise (rock) band, in our Worship Center. We don't have the flags in this building, which may just be due to the layout of the stage and pews (more of an amphitheater design). Dress is very casual for this service.

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