Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

Evolution for the Catholic Student

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Saturday, July 11, 2015

One Nation, Under God

One Nation, Under God

          A North Carolina Baptist church created a bit of a firestorm recently for flying, on its flagpole, the American flag, underneath the church’s flag, rather than at the top of the flagpole.  The pastor, Rit Varriale, explained the move, saying that it was meant to be a visual representation of what we say every time we pledge allegiance to the flag: that we are “one nation, under God.”  He also wants to remind his flock that they are Christians first, and Americans second.

          Some of the response has been less than favorable (and rational).  He’s been called insulting, disgraceful, and accused of politicizing his religion.  Bear in mind that no one desecrated the flag; they didn’t even take it down.  In fact, both flags were raised in a patriotic ceremony surrounding July 4.

          The crime of this Christian community, it seems, is that it was being too Christian.  Each of our loves, including love of country, must be subordinated to love of God.  That is true patriotism.  This has been a hallmark of Catholicism for 2,000 years (though it has earned us much suspicion and scorn as well over our nation’s history).  Remember St. Thomas More: “I die the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”

          Perhaps that’s never been good enough.  It wasn’t good enough in sixteenth century England, and it’s not good enough in twenty-first century America.

          When patriotism, which is a virtue, becomes our religion, it turns into nationalism, which is a sin.  These days, when Christians are told our faith must remain private (and silent), but secular culture feels free to dictate (quite loudly) how we must live it, I am glad to find allies among our Protestant brothers and sisters.  May we both stand firm in our common convictions.