Thinking about the American Pledge of Allegiance got me thinking about flags in general. When you come to Texas, it’s impossible not to notice them. Firstly, there are all of the massive American flags flown by everything from car dealerships to public libraries. This in itself is odd compared to Britain, where the Union Jack is only really flown at all from government buildings and on nationally festive occasions like a Royal wedding or an Olympics.
Then there’s the Texas flag. Flown right alongside the US flag, as I’m told by proud Texans, the only state flag that gets to fly at the same height as the Stars and Stripes. Almost as prevalent as the US flag.
Then there are other flags. As a new arrival in Texas, I quickly got to recognise the American and Texan flags. But what’s that other one, the mostly white one that gets flown by churches?
“That’s the Christian Flag“, I’m told.
We have a flag? Why do we need a flag? Why is it so obviously based off the Stars and Stripes if it’s supposed to represent global Christianity? In addition, why is it so poorly-designed and ugly?
I’m something of a flag nerd and connoisseur of flags, and while this isn’t the worst flag in the world (at least it doesn’t try to have text on it), it’s got problems. White is a poor choice for a flag’s field colour because it gets lost at a distance against a bright sky. The whole point of a flag is easy visibility; having a mostly white flag runs counter to this. And a red cross on the blue canton? Again, serious visibility issues, as well as just looking ugly. Of course, questions of ugly are a matter of personal taste, but I think we could do better.
Why red, white and blue, apart from their usage in the Stars and Stripes? Gold would have good symbolic associations, with the heavenly glory of Jesus. Purple would evoke His royal majesty, though it’s not that great a flag colour, being too easily confused with either red or blue from a distance. White for purity, truth and sinless perfection, that’s a good colour symbolism. Red for the blood shed on the cross – we can do this. Blue, particularly the dark navy blue, has little symbolic business there apart from being American Flag colour.
In addition, the layout is obviously inspired by the Stars and Stripes. Remove the white stars and the red stripes, and add a red cross in the canton. The obvious connection, both in colours and general design, is that being a Christian is The American Thing To Do.
It is, however, an American-designed flag. What did I expect?
Well, actually I really did expect a symbolic acknowledgement that the Church is a global entity and not just an American one.
All Americans can feel free to laugh themselves sily at my naïveté now. As the joke goes, here is an easy magic trick you can do as a foreigner in America: buy a newspaper, and watch your country disappear. Seriously, though, if you’re German or Belgian, the national colours are red, black and gold. Most African countries use red, gold and green. Mexico and Italy use red, white and green. Brazil uses green, gold and blue. Most of these countries have large Christian populations, even if you only count Protestants. Red, white and blue works for Britain, France and the Netherlands (among others). But the design is too obviously descended from the American flag to work in Europe. We were Christians when your whole country wasn’t more than a rumour among some scruffy Vikings. We need something that looks established and ancient, befitting the majesty of the Ancient of Days. Otherwise the faith of our fathers looks like a foreign modern innovation. Most Americans probably won’t pick up the nuances of that sentence, but trust me when I say that “modern” and “innovation” aren’t always good things.
But as I said, this is an American-designed flag intended primarily for use by an American church. Does it matter that much?
I’d say that it does, actually. Americans are very good at thinking that America is the world. You have some justification; it’s a big country with a lot going on in it. But if any national church needed to be reminded that it was part of something bigger than itself, surely it’s the American church. The Christian Flag says that Christianity is purely an American religion associated with American nationhood and American culture.
And then we wonder why Muslims can’t distinguish between the actions of America and the actions of Christians.
All of this really begs the question of why we need a flag at all.
Didn’t Jesus say that His Kingdom was not of this world? Doesn’t the Book of Revelation say that He is worthy “because You were slain, and with Your blood You purchased men for God from every people and nation and tribe and language” (Rev 5:9, emphasis mine)? Doesn’t the very existence of a “Christian flag” suggest the opposite, that His Kingdom is temporal, this-worldly, political? Why do we need to have a flag? To have something to salute alongside our national flag? To make an idol of a piece of cloth?
Maybe I’m reading too much into it. At the end of the day, it’s just a piece of coloured cloth. But it’s imbued with certain symbolic meanings, and symbolic meanings are important. As evidence of the importance of symbolic meaning, look at the Eucharist. This, this “Christian Flag”, looks like it has too many of the wrong symbolic meanings and too few of the right ones. Christianity is global, transnational and spiritual. The so-called “Christian Flag” look purely American, political and nationalistic.