Our new house has a flag pole holder on the front porch and I plan to fly an American flag tomorrow for the Fourth of July. It feels like a big deal to me because I’ve had mixed feeling about flying the flag over the years. I grew up pledging allegiance to the flag every morning at the beginning of school. (Does that even happen anymore?) As a Boy Scout I learned how to properly respect our nation’s flag and as an Eagle Scout I was presented one that had flown over the US Capitol. Yet I’ve never been very comfortable with American flags in churches because this seems to blur the lines between Christian faith and American civil religion.
I’m mindful that flags have been very central in public discourse lately. My Facebook feed is populated with friends who have overlaid their profile pictures with rainbow flags in celebration of the SCOTUS ruling on same gender marriage. I haven’t followed suit for any particular reason other than I’ve been rather preoccupied with settling into our new house and my new office, yet I have been a longtime supporter of LGBT rights and was proud to officiate the first same gender wedding at Fourth Presbyterian Church last fall. I’m curious to see how sexuality debates play out in my new context at Union Presbyterian Seminary and the Presbytery of the James.
Debate also continues to rage about the Confederate flag, and I now find myself right in the middle of it. As a brand new resident of the city that served as the capital of the Confederacy, I have been hesitant to wade into this—I don’t yet know the ghosts of this town or its current realities. I understand both sides of the debate. I grew up in the South and as a boy I idolized two fictitious cousins who drove an orange race car named “General Lee” with a Confederate flag painted on the top. It never occurred to me that these were symbols of racism. Now I know that the Confederate flag can convey harmful messages—intentionally and unintentionally. For my part, I have never been compelled to express my family’s Southern pride with this flag, and for the healing of our nation I think it needs to be retired from public use.
When I fly an American flag on the front porch of our house tomorrow, I will do so in gratitude for a nation that encompasses people on all sides of these debates, a grand experiment in democracy in which we join together to work through our difference toward a more perfect union.