To Kneel or Stand, The Problem of the Roman Christian: Torn Allegiances in the Empire

I do not pledge allegiance to the flag.
I do not sing the national anthem.
I do not stand.

Many who are reading this (if you made it past the opening three sentences) have already judged my motives, political positions and character.
That is ok but I ask you to continue to read on.

I remember the first time I decided to not stand for the national anthem. It was 2003 and the MLB season had just started. I was at an Atlanta Braves game with some friends and a booming voice came across the intercom, “Everyone please rise and remove your caps for the playing of the national anthem.”
I did not budge.
I sat there.
There were stares, a couple of sideways glances and obvious disappointment on the face of a man a few seats down from me.
It was the beginning of the Iraq war. We were in the middle of a campaign of shock and awe that was decimating a city and destroying thousands of innocent lives.
It was a campaign on the grandest scale, and it was built on lies.
At the time, I was a seminary student and did not believe the war was just. I was working my way through ideas of peacemaking and pacifism that would eventually lead me to believe that all violence was evil and could not be supported by a follower of Jesus.
There I sat.
Today I sit for many other reasons. I support my friends and those in the public eye as they make a much more difficult choice than I had to make almost 15 years ago. I support those who kneel and protest an unjust system of racism, violence, brutality and hatred.

I refuse, however, to stand and pledge for another reason.
I do not stand and pledge my allegiance because I am a Christian.

This is a foreign concept to many people of faith, especially where I live in the Southeastern United States, in Birmingham Alabama: the buckle of the bible belt. The ideas of manifest destiny, a country who is a light on a hill and a Christian nation are deeply ingrained and function as a fifth gospel here.

For God and Country.

This has not always been the case with people of faith. Christianity has seen tremendous ebb and flow in its elicit affairs with power and nation states. From the later years of the “Holy” Roman Empire, to the Inquisitions of Spain to the corrupt church of England which gave birth to this country, Christianity has had a toxic infatuation with political power.

When I see the likes of Robert Jeffers, Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson, Jerry Fawell Jr. and Paula White kneel before the golden statue of power, fame, political agendas and fundamentalist agendas it makes my resolve even deeper.

Christians are supposed to only have one allegiance, one God and one love and we have been found in default of our vows and in an adulterous relationship with America.

If you look deeply into the narratives of the Bible, this is a story that has been told almost since the beginning. God calls out the faithful, provides for them and benefits the world through their love, generosity and justice. The faithful eventually become complacent and seek the love of another. The narrative repeats itself over and over again.

The sweet voice of power whispers into our ears and calls us away from the God who loves us.

It amazes me how easily we forget that narrative, or ignore it. That is the whole story of redemption that we see repeated time and again.
God Loves.
We Leave.
God Loves.
We Return.

It amazes me that some of the most violent and angry words I read about those who refuse to stand come from those who call themselves Christians, those who are supposed to have only one love, one allegiance one God…

Paul, who so many of these laity and clergy like to quote (often ignoring the worlds of Jesus) was a Roman citizen, and found to be in contempt of the empire and subsequently was killed by the empire in the heart of the empire, the eternal city of Rome!

Jesus was an enemy of the state, captured, tortured and killed because he refused to play by the rules of the empire. At the root of his crime was the charge of kneeling to another power and refusing not to partake in Caesar worship.

The country is not Christian; the flag is not Christian and our allegiance should only ever be pledged to one and that is our God.

Can you be a Christian and live in the belly of the empire? Yes, but it is hard.
Those who we call the heroes of the faith are the ones who lived in the empire but were not co-opted by it, who lived beautiful lives of protest, pointing to something greater. Many of them were persecuted and died for these beautiful lives.

There were others who claimed the faith.
They claimed to be followers of the faith.
They even, for a time, walked with Jesus.
Then under the cloak of night, when the soldiers came, they took their 30 pieces of silver and gladly pledged their allegiance to the empire.

1 comments On To Kneel or Stand, The Problem of the Roman Christian: Torn Allegiances in the Empire

  • Thanks for these words. I’m sharing them with a church group I’m meeting with tonight who are discussing this very topic. I think you’ve named the divide between cultural “Christianity” and what it means to truly follow the way of Jesus.

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Stephen Ingram is an Author, Speaker, Consultant & Student Ministry Expert. His books include Organic Student Ministry, ExtraOrdinary Time & Hollow Faith.

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