Q: #435. Is it idolatry to "Pledge Allegiance To The Flag?"
By: Steve Shirley
A: There are several religious groups (i.e. Jehovah Witnesses) who refuse to say the "Pledge of Allegiance" because they consider it a form of idolatry. However, if one understands the actual meaning of "idolatry," it is pretty clear that this is not the case.
Here is a good definition of idolatry: "anything or anyone that we love or worship more than God, place ahead of God, or put in place of God." This is perhaps best summed up in (Rom 1:25) which says "worshipping and serving created things rather than the Creator." (I speak more in depth about what idolatry is here.) In other words, when you "pledge allegiance to the flag," are you "worshipping" the flag (or what it represents)? Do you "love the flag (or what it represents) more than God?" Are you "placing the flag (or what it represents) ahead of God?" Are you making the flag (or what it represents) your God? I think it is safe to say that very few people are doing these things when they say the pledge. Therefore, saying the "pledge of allegiance" would NOT be idolatry.
However, your question has also brought up something that has personally challenged me, and has been the topic of several discussions: "Are you making a vow when you say the "pledge," and if so, is it ok to do this?" I have spent a fair amount of time studying this.
First, I wanted to see what the Bible says about what a "pledge" is. The word "pledge" in the Bible is used 22 times, and basically meant "to give something as security for a debt" (i.e. see Gen 38:16-20, Deut 24:6,10-13). Therefore, this doesn't really apply to what we are discussing.
Second, is it then an "oath/vow, and if so what does the Bible say about this? Interestingly, when you study the "oaths/vows" that were made in the Bible, you find that in nearly every instance where a person or persons made a "oath/vow," it was made only to God (i.e. Gen 24:3-4, Deut 23:21-23, Josh 8:14-21, 2 Chr 15:12-15). (God also made a few "oaths/vows:" Lk 1:73, Acts 2:30, Heb 6:13,17). This being said, when we say the "Pledge of Allegiance," are we making a "oath/vow" to God? I do not believe this to be the case. Therefore, this also doesn't seem to apply to saying the "pledge."
***Note: The Bible urges us not to make oaths/vows (Mt 5:34-37)(James 5:12), but if we do, God expects us to keep them. I discuss this in detail here.
Thirdly, if the "pledge" it isn't what the Bible calls a "pledge," nor an "oath/vow," is it perhaps a "promise?" And, if it is, should we be making this "promise?" THIS is where I have personally had some struggles. It does seem equal to making a "promise" to me. And, if we make a "promise," we are told to keep it. If we do not keep a "promise," this is called "lying." The Bible has a LOT to say about being truthful, and not "lying" (or being a "false witness"). I discuss this, and share verses here.
If we look in the dictionary for the definition of "allegiance," we find several meanings, 1. the fidelity owed by a subject or citizen to his sovereign or government, 2. the obligation of an alien to the government under which he resides, 3. a devotion or loyalty to a person, group, or cause (Webster's dictionary). These being said, should we "pledge our allegiance," (or make this promise) to the United States?
On one hand, the Bible is very clear that we are to obey our government, and the laws of the land (Rom 13:1-7)(1 Pet 2:13-17)(Titus 3:1). (I speak in more detail about this here). We have many examples in the Bible, and through history of people submitting to governmental authority. For example, Jesus told us to pay taxes (Mt 17:24-27)(Mt 22:18-21)(Mk 12:13-17)(Lk 20:20-26), and also submitted to the capital punishment of that time, death on a cross. In another example, David knew that he would be made king, but he submitted to Saul and would do him no harm, even though Saul sought to kill him, because David realized Saul was God's anointed, placed in power by God (1 Sam 24:6,10)(1 Sam 26:9-16)(2 Sam 1:14-16).
The Bible tells that no one is in power that God has not placed there (Rom 13:1-2)(Jn 19:11)(Dan 2:21). While God may not always agree with the way a leader or government rules, He allows them to be there and has given them authority. We are told to respect and submit to this authority and those who enforce it, even if we don't agree with it. We are also told to pray for our government and its leaders (1 Tim 2:1-3).
But, on the other hand, our first duty as Christians is to submit to God first (James 4:7,10)(1 Pet 5:6)(Rom 10:3)(Ps 81:15). For examples of this, see (Acts 5:29) and (Acts 4:19-20). If the laws that governing authorities impose on us would cause us to sin or disobey God, then God's laws must always come before man's. This is where my dilemma comes in. Sadly, today (in these last days) the laws of this land are increasingly going against the teachings of the Bible (i.e. homosexual marriage, legalized abortion, etc...). Can we, or should we "pledge allegiance" to a government, and country that is legalizing and supporting these things? Or, can I make a "promise" with conditions? I will "pledge my allegiance" in as far as it doesn't conflict with my first allegiance to God and His laws and rules. God did this several times. For example, "if you obey me, I will......., but if you don't obey me, I will........" (i.e. see Lev ch. 26, Deut ch. 28, Jer 17:24-27).
Now, let me tell you one thing about me; I am a COMPULSIVE "truth-teller." I go WAY overboard on being truthful. If you ask me, "Will you come to the meeting," my reply is usually going to be "I plan on being there" or "I can't see any reason why I wouldn't be there." I almost never say, "Yes, I will be there." If you ask when I will be there, I will usually say "around 7 p.m.," not 7 p.m. I do this with almost everything (I know... a bit crazy). Don't ask me, "Does this dress make me look fat?" or don't have your child ask me, "Is Santa real" unless you want the EXACT truth (as I see it). (As I am sure you can imagine, this has caused some difficulty on more than one occasion.)
Let me share one example. Many years ago, when I was a fairly new Christian, a child was being dedicated at my church. The pastor asked all who would commit to pray for this child as he grew up to stand. Almost everyone stood up, including me. After I did this, I thought about what I had done. I had committed to pray for this child "as he grew up!!" As a result, I ended up praying for this child off and on for about 18 years to keep this promise (vow) I made. Did anyone else who stood up do this? I am guessing not. But, again, this is my obsession in telling the truth (and in keeping vows), and I have never forgotten this lesson.
SO, do I "pledge allegiance," or make a "promise" that I might have to break, or can I make a "promise" with conditions? In the opinion every Christian person I discussed this with, they believe it is ok pledge allegiance to the flag and this country. As far as I can remember, I have not had to say the "pledge of allegiance" since I was in grade school. I suspect I may never have to say it again for the rest of my life. However, if the occasion does come up, I will certainly have a lot to think about (in my compulsive truth-telling). However, if you are like the vast majority of other Christians, you may feel perfectly fine saying the pledge. This is something that is between you and God.
I do want to close with this though. Whether or not I would make this "promise" when the time comes, it doesn't mean that I don't LOVE this country. The United States is the most awesome country in the world. I believe it is important to stand when the flag is presented (which some are failing to do today). The flag is a symbol for our country that symbolizes things such as "one nation under God" with "liberty and justice for all," which is awesome, and something not every country has. It also symbolizes the many lives that have been given in order for us to have that freedom. There are amazing, patriotic songs such as "The Star Spangled Banner" and "God Bless America" that explain this, and sometimes still give me goose bumps when I hear them sung. I will still sing them. I am also proud when our flag is raised in the Olympics.
God has blessed this country, and I am honored and thankful to live here.
P.S. It is interesting to note that the Bible says the 12 tribes of Israel had "standards" (Heb. word = degel), which means a "flag" (i.e. Num 2:2,3,10,17,18,25,31,34). God never condemned this, therefore, it must have been acceptable for them to have different flags. However, there is nothing which shows them making any kind of oath or promise to their flags.