Controversy continues to follow the Confederate Flag, with rallies being held to both defend and condemn this symbol. Often symbols are like words, in that, the meaning isn’t within them but within us. With this flag, as with most everything in our culture, the idea of meaning becomes infinitely more complicated because of the fallen condition of our world and ourselves.
Some argue that the Confederate Flag is a symbol of southern heritage and pride, others argue it is a symbol of hatred raised in the defense of slavery. History is resolute that it was a source of clear division during a defining moment in our nation’s history. By definition the Civil War in the United States was the most divisive time in our nation’s history.
A division that continues to run deep, generations following its conclusion. How one sees this flag is dependent upon our experiences with this symbol, some feeling pride, others feeling persecution. May I suggest that both may be true, from a certain perspective. But just because both may be true, doesn’t mean that both are equally valid. The hate that is that is so often embraced and expressed through this symbol of division or the pride that it fuels are both presumptive and offensive to the character of God. God isn’t a Southerner, and He isn’t an American. He is God. His allegiance and loyalty is to Himself and His glory alone. For too many the conflation of patriotism, nationalism, sectarianism and Christianity has served to weaken the potency of the truth of God’s Word. As a Christian our identity isn’t rooted in nationalistic or regional pride, but in Christ.
As a Christian our chief concern should not be the perpetuation of symbols, but the proclamation of substance. As a Christian there is one symbol that perpetuates the substance of truth and that is the cross of Jesus Christ. And even that symbol has been weakened by the atrocities committed by so-called Christians throughout history, the Crusades being but one tragic example. Slavery, segregation, white supremacy movements and acts of violence in the name of hatred, being others.
So what symbol should we defend? What colors are we willing to fight for, to die for? To live for?
The answers to these questions will not be found in my own heart or mind, but only in the truth of Scripture. These passages come to mind:
Exodus 17:15 “Moses built an altar, and named it the LORD is my banner (flag)”
Psalm 60:4 “You have given a banner (a flag) to those who fear you. That it may be displayed because of truth.”
Isaiah 59:19 “…when the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him.”
In the Old Testament, banners or flags served to distinguish the twelve tribes of Israel and to identify nations and armies that found themselves at odds with one another. Their flags and our flags today serve as distinguishing marks of the following:
1. Identity: I identify with the red, white, and blue colors of the American flag because I was born in the United States of America. Part of my identity is nationalistic, I see things and understand the world because of my experiences as an an American. But as I stated earlier, my loyalties have been transformed because of the gospel of Christ. He is my ultimate banner, my world view is being transformed by the power of gospel. My prayer is that my identity will be completely grounded and formed by Christ.
2. Origin: A flag at the very least identifies our country of origin. As Christians we do not find our origins in the ways of this world, but in the ability of Christ to save us and give us a new start.
3. Destiny: A flag can also serve to shape our destiny. God has plans for us, and those plans are in Christ. 1 John 3:2 declares “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see him as He is.”
4. Purpose: A flag serves to unite troops and peoples for a common cause. In the banner of Christ we find true unity of purpose. His mission in the world becomes our mission and moves us forward for His glory.
5. Power: Some flags are feared and respected more than others because of the national or military power they represent. The only real power of the universe is in God, He is the source of all power and might, and He will and does use that power to defend His people. His power is put on display continually in Scripture, but one place is apropos to this discussion, Isaiah 5:26 “He will also lift up a standard to the distant nation. And will whistle for it from the ends of the earth; and behold it will come with speed swiftly.” The nations do not command God, He commands the nations. They obey His whistle.
6. Victory: When a victory is secured in a military campaign, the victor’s colors are raised. Our victory over sin and death is secure in Christ Jesus! He is our true champion, our conquering hero, our Lord, Savior and King.
7. Confidence: Philippians 1:6 declares “I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the Day of Jesus Christ.” In moments of crises a flag can serve as a source of confidence. Jesus is the ultimate source of confidence in a world lacking peace.
Are you spending great amounts of time and energy defending certain flags and banners, forgetting that those symbols will one day be added to trash heap of history? Are you flying colors in a show of pride that by their very existence serve to perpetuate values that aren’t those of Christ?
I choose to defend the Flag of Christ, He is my source, my hope, my peace. All other banners pale in comparison. Jesus is the banner over me!