This past week was our Vacation Bible School week. Even though we’re all always pretty tired by the end of it from all the extra hours, it’s always a great week. We had over 150 kids attend and 19 of them had their lives forever changed as they began a lifetime of following Christ. In many ways, VBS week is an exciting and important time for us as a church.
I do, however, have one problem with VBS. It’s nothing against our church as we’re just following the curriculum. Instead, it’s a problem with the way LifeWay constructs the VBS material. It may seem pretty insignificant at first, but I don’t think it actually is. The problem is that the worship services incorporate pledges to the United States flag, Christian flag, and Bible.
I have nothing against any of these pledges on their own. In fact, I don’t even have a problem with two out of the three of them being used in Vacation Bible School. It’s the first one that bothers me. Why must we pledge allegiance to the United States flag during a church program?
I see two major problems with this idea. First, it intertwines faith and nationalism – the proverbial blend of “God and country.” This is a problematic approach, though, because blending the two could lead one to believe that they must coexist in order to exist. In other words, having these children pledge allegiance to the American flag along with the Christian flag and the Bible could lead them to believe that they must be Americans in order to be Christians. One of the many beautiful moments of VBS this week for me was seeing two children led to Christ in Spanish. It’s amazing when I am reminded of how big God is – even bigger than my language! God is also bigger than our nation. One does not have to be American to be Christian, and I would not want to lead anyone to believe this is the case. Even though our church is located in the United States, I don’t want these children (or anyone else) to believe that only in this country may they be Christians.
The second problem is that pledging allegiance to the American flag, Christian flag, and Bible seems to assume equal priority (and even worship) given to each of the entities acknowledged. In other words, when we pledge allegiance to our country, our faith, and our Bible, it makes the three seem as equals. Even though I am 100% American just as I am 100% Christian, the two should not be seen as equal, especially in the context of church. In the context of a worship service (after all, LifeWay does call it the “worship rally”), it is even worse; it presents the idea that we worship our country just as we worship our God. This is blatant idolatry. While it is possible that this is not the intended result of saying the pledge to the American flag, it could easily be seen that way by the children in attendance. Why risk leading children down the path of idolatry in what is supposed to be a time of worship and drawing children to Christ?
Sadly, Vacation Bible School is not the only place in some churches where this problem is present. As Independence Day approaches, I cringe to think about how some churches celebrate. I wish more ministers and churchgoers alike thought about the dangers involved in a “God and country” service (I’ve seen plenty bearing that very name!). The same issues with using the pledges in VBS apply to “patriotic services” at church. I understand that much of this is done to honor veterans who are also church members, but when we take the focus off of God and place it on people or a nation we are no longer worshiping God. Especially in the context of a worship service, when we place too much emphasis on patriotic elements, we end up worshiping our country or our veterans.
Don’t get me wrong; I love my country deeply. I’m thankful for those who have given so much to defend and protect our country and the freedoms for which it stands. I’m proud to be an American and there’s not a country in the world in which I’d rather live. However, I also don’t believe church is the proper venue for patriotism, as blending the two takes away from true faith. I can only hope that LifeWay and American ministers will recognize this and adjust their worship accordingly.