I frequently see social media posts where individuals lament groups which seeking to remove the phrase “under God” from the pledge of allegiance. While I do think we got along just fine before the phrase was inserted in 1954 and we could get along just fine if it were removed, I do sympathize with this feeling. After all, we as a group want to be inline with God and God’s ideals, no matter what the group is and how we are connected. I further support the idea that groups as groups should profess allegiance to God as a reminder to the members. I further agree that if we remove God from our lips and that all that is left are symbols of America we have failed. Our symbols of America cannot replace God and must be kept in the proper relation to God. Should we attempt to have American symbols dominate our allegiance to Jesus we as Christians would be lost. So though I am ambivalent to the phrase “under God” being in the pledge I do resonate with the ideals which leads some to fight for the inclusion.
This is why I was so upset at two comments made last week at the Republican National Convention. Tiffany Trump made the comment “God has blessed us with an unstoppable spirit. His Spirit…The American Spirit.” This statement was followed by Vice President Mike Pence’s comment, “Let’s run the race marked out for us. Let’s fix our eyes on Old Glory and all she represents. Let’s fix our eyes on this land of heroes and let their courage inspire. And let’s fix our eyes on the author and perfecter of our faith and our freedom and never forget that where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. That means freedom always wins.”
I do not want to come off as condemning either individual for these comments. Nor will I go so far as to say that such comments mean that we should not vote for the Trump Pence ticket. But I will say these comments should be concerning for Christians. Obviously, Miss Trump’s comments equate the Holy Spirit and the American Spirit and this, from a Christian perspective, is disgusting. If we are concerned about our creeds being stripped of a reference to God then we must be furious about God being equated to some fictional ethos. However, Miss Trump is not running for elected office, does not intend to represent anyone but herself, and seemingly has little background in theology so I will leave this aside. I raised her words for two reasons, first they are especially egregious to Christians and second they seemed to show a pattern in Republican thinking.
Vice President Pence’s comments, though admittedly not as concerning on their own are difficult for me to handle because he has said in the past, “I’m a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.” And I find it difficult to reconcile this statement with one which removes the name of Jesus for “old glory”.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”Hebrews 12:1-3
These verses establish the purpose of the Christian life and one does not simply remove Jesus from this passage. Mr. Pence in this statement puts the primary emphasis on our symbols: the flag and our heroes. Even if we grant that he mentions God in his use of “author and perfecter of our faith”, it is in a secondary role to our fixation on American symbols.
Why do I think these statements were made at the convention? I think they were part of a cheap attempt to court Christian voters. Do I think that Mr. Pence particularly went beyond where he should have? Yes! does that mean we should not vote for him? Not necessarily. But we as I have said repeatedly, we as Christians must call a spade a spade. Mr. Pence spoke out of line, what he did is removed the name of Jesus and gave that place to an American symbol. This is exactly the mindset that many claim drives the push to remove under God from the pledge. Again, I do not doubt Mr. Pence’s Christian faith, I think he truly blundered, but I do have an obligation to say that such comments should not be made. Because some might believe him and fall into a cult of the American spirit. We live in somewhat difficult times for Christians politically. It is not easy for us to criticize candidates we support because of the deep division in the country. Criticism is understood as our removal of support, but we need to change the narrative criticism must become our message to candidates they can do better. Mr. Pence can do better and he needs to hear that message.