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What about the Flag in Church?

Another comment on "flags in church"


I enjoyed reading the comments of others on the flag issue. My biggest concern about having an American flag in a church sanctuary is its placement of prominence to the right of the speaker. According to American flag protocol, all other flags must be placed to the left, an inferior position, to give prominence to the American flag.

The cross, the symbol of our salvation, is also placed in what flag protocol would deem to be a lower position of honor. That is what disturbs me most of all.
Georgia Lucas


Two more views on “flags in church”


A discussion about the display of American flags in church sanctuaries began on this website almost ten years ago, in the wake of the passions aroused by the terrorist actions of 9/11.

And the discussion continues!

We’ve received two more comments within the past few days, and are happy to share them here. If you’d like to add your own reflections, just send a note, and we’ll post it here.


First, from Mary, who prefers not to be identified in any more detail:

When I see the American flag, it reminds me of all those men and women who died to give us the Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech, and that they did it for God and Country. It should be in the sanctuary and the people should be taught what this flag represents. Our great country where you have the right to practice the freedom of your choice of Religion. It doesn't undermin[e] God, it show[s] what a country can do when they put God first. One Nation Under God.



This note comes from “B Cornell,” who lives in Pennsylvania:

I've just finished reading through the many comments offered on the subject of American flags being displayed in churches. Interestingly, I had recently contacted the Session of my own Presbyterian Church about the fact there was never an American or Christian or Presbyterian flag in the church sanctuary or elsewhere in the church I've been attending. I asked for a written explanation and was called today and told about the discussion at the Session meeting held last night.

Apparently, several of the Session members felt a flag would be appropriate. I was told that many Session members had no real opinion. And, I was told that the church Minister argued strongly against any flag... apparently insisting the sanctuary was for religious ceremonies and purposes exclusively. It was determined that the church would keep with the policy "for now" of not displaying an American or other flag in the church.

Interestingly however, by virtue of my having raised the question about flags, the Session members came to realize that the church sanctuary had NO CROSS in the sanctuary either... and agreed to explore ways for dealing with the church not having a cross in the sanctuary.

For my part... I was perplexed by the church not having or displaying ANY flags anywhere within the church. I had noticed there not being any American flag anywhere quite some time ago and stopped and asked one of the church founders of the lack of flags in the church several months ago. He was surprised by my question and quickly admitted it was a darn good question. However, he had obviously not carried my question forward to any other church leader.

It has been perplexing for me to consider the idea that I've been attending a church which has never had or displayed an American flag anywhere in the church. Over the years prior to my joining this church, I've attended services at tens of dozens of different churches and I still find myself in different churches every year for weddings and funerals. I have always looked to see not only IF each church had an American flag... but... whether or not it was properly and correctly displayed (to the speaker's right / audience left). In fact... some twenty five years ago when I met the minister in the family (Presbyterian) church of the woman I was marrying, I happened to notice their flags were improperly displayed (Christian and American flags were on the wrong opposite sides of the sanctuary) and said something to the Minister. He was dumbfounded... telling me they had been displayed that way for as long as he could remember... and asking me if I was sure about the correct locations ??? I assured him I was right (and I was) and noticed the next time we were in the church that the flag locations had been properly switched... and kept switched. The minister assured me that he had simply never noticed or thought about the flags... but.. he did see that they were changed... and they were kept changed after that.

I'm not happy about my church's decision to NOT have or display either an American or Christian or PCUSA flag(s). I came to the internet to Google the question and found your site. Having looked through the several comments posted on your site, (and intending to follow some of the links and consider the referenced additional sources), I find myself agreeing with the individual who suggested that display of our American flag is a reminder that we live in a nation which was founded on religious freedom. I would add that as an American with the freedom to worship where and as I please, I am sufficiently proud and grateful of my Country that I would regard the display of our American flag as a reminder of those specially provided and protected freedoms... presented to the world by our founding fathers as being God-given.

As to the writer who suggested that an American flag has no more place in our churches than does a Christian Cross in our courthouses... I would aver that I happen to also be one who... even as a law school graduate... does not object to the idea of having The Ten Commandments on display in our court houses... nor do I question the wisdom of having legislative sessions or public ceremonies begin with a prayer or blessing. I regard the Ten Commandments in our courthouses as a "historical" reference influencing our earliest efforts at building an evolving legal system envied around the world.

In my opinion... while we are to have separation of church and state... which I interpret as preventing our government from imposing any particular religion or belief on any citizen or group, I worry that those who argue against display of American flags within any church...are helping and reinforcing the arguments of those who want all references to any religion or deity completely removed from all levels of government or any government funded program. institution or activity.

MY Bottom Line: I see the display of an American flag in an American church as a silent yet visible appreciation of the unique religious freedoms we have and uniquely enjoy in America. After all... Jesus said... pay Cesar what is his.. and while many have argued over this phrase, its meaning and the context in which it was given, the fact remains that no church in our nation is "required" to display any flag. According to the founders of our nation... God had a hand in what was created and I believe we need to celebrate and reinforce those claims.. that ours is a nation brought forth by God.

Another comment on the display of the U.S. flag in church    [1-17-11]

We've just received this comment by e-mail from  Richard J. Davis:

Although I am neutral about the subject, I do have a thought to consider.

In recent years it has become fashionable to downplay the importance of American citizenship, and the symbols related to it.  More and more we are told that this is an old fashioned view, and we don't appreciate what others have to offer.
Let's stop for a few moments to consider some of those countries.  Just the other day a news item noted that individuals were shot as they tried to escape from North Korea.  In many nations in the world today, being a Christian means facing the prospect of brutal treatment for being someone else's idea of an infidel.
This is not to suggest that Americans as a group are candidates for sainthood.  But we do have the advantage of living in a country where we enjoy freedom of religion.  The American flag is a symbol of this right, and having the flag in the sanctuary is a weekly reminder that we have an obligation to preserve and protect this right for others, as well as for ourselves.
Flags in church: a student reports on his research

Some time ago we posted notes in an e-mail conversation on the question of the display of U.S. flags in church sanctuaries. We recently received this interesting comment, based on empirical research, from the college student:

I found your discussion from Google as I was researching for a project on civil religion for a sociology class at Presbyterian related Centre College. From my research of actually going to churches as well as calling them, there are only two responses.

The first is that if a church regardless of denomination has a flag in it, they don't know why they do and the same is true of those churches that do not display the flag with one exception. Those churches that don't display the American Flag were really not conscious that they didn't until I asked them.

The exception is that with churches who have a very developed theology which enters prominently into the life of the church like the PCUSA and others even the Lutheran
Church Missouri Synod which is very conservative but say as a denomination that it is not a supported practice but isn't something that the powers that be dwell on.

I am an elder in my home congregation, and when I was on the Session we removed the American Flag as well as the old PCUS flag (even though it was 19 years after reunion) and moved them to Fellowship Hall, and replaced the PCUS Flag with the PCUSA flag.

From a sociological perspective, for the most part it seems that it is the denomination that has a stance on the issue, but when it comes down to actual practice, it is usually a congregational issue with not much attention paid to the issue.

Peace of Christ,
Tyler Ward
Centre College
Danville, KY

What about the Flag in Church?

a conversation on PresbyNet

Check out a visitor's helpful comment about keeping this issue in perspective. [12-5-01]

Recently in the "Witherspoon members" meeting on PresbyNet, the Rev. Darlene Little raised a question that has taken on new urgency these days: She was looking for an essay she had seen some time ago, "on the why nots [and the how-to's] of national flags in the sanctuary."

This question inspired a number of responses that seem worth sharing in this wider circle of conversation.


Barbara Kellam-Scott, a member of the Witherspoon executive board, responded quickly:

I don't know about a particular piece, but of course my own why nots center on idolatry, especially around a pretty ambiguous idol (aren't they all?). I can also, however, offer you my favorite how-to, which came from the mouth of my own dear babe, my elder son, Elder Christopher James Kellam Scott (now known as Kellam as his given name) during his service on the session of the Presbyterian Church at Franklin Lakes, NJ. He suggested we put the flag right by the door, just inside, where it could be part of our gathering in community, but most prominent as a reminder, as we left to go back into the world, that we must carry with us into that world what went on in the sanctuary.

Your WebWeaver went on a little Google search [If you haven't tried it when looking for something to help you write a sermon or find an article, you should!], which yielded an interesting assortment of views on flags in the sanctuary. Here's a sampling:

First, from three Presbyterian sources:

The Office of Theology and Worship of the PC(USA) offers a good theological look at the issue, concluding that "since we profess God as sovereign, claiming our highest allegiance, and since God's realm extends beyond the bounds of any one nation, embracing all nations, it is preferable that no national flag be displayed in a Christian place of worship."  (This was the document that Darlene Little was looking for.)

The Rev. James Ayers, writing in Presbyterians Today in 1999, offered good thoughts, and briefer, in the "Q and A" section.

He says, "Whatever your view on saluting the flag, the Christian perspective insists our true citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20), and our final loyalty and allegiance are due to Jesus Christ himself - not to our nations, not even to our families or ourselves (Luke 14:26)."

Last July Martha Juillerat preached a sermon at St. Luke Presbyterian Church, in Wayzata, MN, which explored some of the complex and ambiguous meanings of the U.S. flag.

And from some other traditions:

The Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) offers a critical look at the dangers of displays of the American flag in the sanctuary - and is pretty negative about the "Christian flag." It also provides details of the proper display of the flag.

For the United Methodist Church, the General Board of Discipleship prepared a document (in 1993) that seems less worried about displaying the flag, offering more practical and theological reflection. It concludes, however: "To sum it up, we in American wisely separate church and state. As American Christians, we honor the cross and we honor the flag; but we keep them separate. An American flag used in the worship of the universal church is no more appropriate than hanging a cross in a civil courtroom used by Americans of all religions."

For one Southern Baptist view:

A position paper by Bill White of the Baptist Center for Ethics doesn't beat around the bush. (Or Bush?) It begins, "I oppose the regular display of the United States flag in worship."

From the Catholic Church, a U.S. bishops' Committee on the Liturgy suggested on Sept. 26, 2001, that American flags displayed in Catholic churches should be outside the sanctuary. But they added that the ultimate decision on placement of flags rests with the local bishop, or, if he chooses, the pastors. (What, not the Session??)

Bob Dooling, a strong voice in the conservative ranks of the PC(USA), joined in with this note:

This may surprise some of you, but I am fully in agreement that national flags have no place in a Christian sanctuary. After studying the issue, we removed the American flag from our sanctuary seventeen years ago.

But on the other side, Jeff Book commented:

I'm concerned about a tone of ridicule toward persons who support having a flag in church...

....about the repeated implication that those who favor this are not as deep or as thoughtful about Christianity as are those who oppose it...

....and about the presumption that political motivations lie solely with those who favor having a flag.

Darlene Little responded:

I see no need for outside organizations to dictate what the church has or does not have in the sanctuary. If after study and consideration the session wishes to have them in the sanctuary that's one thing. But if the only reason is to show support for "my country right or wrong" then the flag has no place in the sanctuary.

Jeff Book answered her thus:

What outside organization is attempting to dictate what the church has in the sanctuary?

I've seen flags in sanctuaries my whole life, and I have never received them as messages of "my country right or wrong."

I have received them as signs of respect and affection for the nation and its people, and as reminders that we are called to be good citizens of our country.

Witherspoon president Jane Hanna joined in, basing her thoughts on the Theology and Worship paper:

On the subject of flags in the sanctuary: What I have found most helpful as a guide has been what the Office of Theology and Worship has written about this subject in the past. Look at

Historically and symbolically neither of the flags would seem to be of great importance. What people as individuals read into these symbols is something else, but according to this website, theologically it may be more correct to remove all flags from the sanctuary itself. Personally I don't think too many people pay any attention to either of the flags. Perhaps by removing them I'd learn differently.

Darlene Little responded to Jeff Book:

The original question came from me, dealing with an individual congregation and commenting based on the discussion within that congregation.

Symbols take on a life of their own. I wish to have the discussion on flags in the sanctuary based on something other than the Boy Scouts think it should happen because of what's going on in the world and to show our support of the actions of the President.

I realize this is a tender subject for you and others--in fact for all of us. It need not polarize us, however, there are a variety of viewpoints in the pews and in the pulpits. Decisions should not be knee jerk reactions.


A final thought from your WebWeaver:

It's been reassuring to see that we Presbyterians can differ and still be civil, about an issue which is obviously a very sensitive one for many people these days.

A visitor urges us to keep this question in perspective 

You know, Aztec [NM] Presbyterian has had a US flag in there for as long as anyone can remember. We don't worship it, it is just there as a symbol of many people's respect for our country. Not all like it there, but there are more important things to worry about. Budgets, caring for the sick and the elderly, caring for each other, feeding those in need, speaking the word, worshiping God, and loving our neighbors as our selves. You know - the stuff Jesus called on us to worry about and the practical stuff we have to worry about.

Yeah, this is just what we need - another flash point. Another tempest in a teapot to soak up our energies so that we ignore the relevant issues. You know - like peace, justice, mission, outreach, and equity.

Seems to me that you are doing a great disservice to God by worrying about such petty issues. Seems to me you are just handing ammunition to Witherspoon's critics by even wasting space on such an emotional issue. It is a battle that, if fought, will cause you more harm than good.

Liberals care about our country and yes, many of us care about the flag. A very wise person once told me to choose my battles well. To fight only those that are worthy. This tempest in a teapot that Witherspoon raises is a battle best left alone.

joe sayre

Your WebWeaver responded:

Dear Joe -- Thanks for these thoughtful comments about flags.

I appreciate the way you put this flag question in perspective. My only addition would be to point out that Witherspoon didn't raise this question -- it came from someone in the Witherspoon meeting on PresbyNet, and I thought we should respond to it.

And if you look at some of the sites mentioned there, you'll see that lots of other folks -- right, left, and center -- have been concerned about the same question.

Still, I DO agree with your basic point: there are more important things to be doing!

doug king

Now it's your turn!

You've heard what others have to say. What would you like to contribute to this exchange of thoughts and suggestions?

Please send a note!

And maybe this will encourage you to join in this and other conversations on PresbyNet!

Go to the PC(USA) web site for information and help.


More on flags in church:

We appreciate the fact that people are still offering helpful comments on this issue!

The latest comes from Tim Musser, of Cleveland, Ohio, who says, "Here is the best piece I’ve ever seen on the issue - and not just for Catholics but all Christians." He sends a link to an essay by the Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy, with the interesting title, "Sacerdotal Flagism: Should the Flag Be Permanently Displayed in Church Sanctuaries Or Other Explicitly Christian Environments?"  [This four-page essay is in PDF format.]

He opens with Jesus’ words: "My house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples." (Mark 11:17) He builds his argument against the display of the American flag (or that of any other nation) on the Catholic Church’s traditional claim to be a truly universal church, which means it must never identify itself with any single nation.

He writes: "The flag is a sign of the temporal, the totally passing, the utterly perishable. The state is not an object of redemption in the New Testament. Its existence is as fleeting as a cloud, here today, extinct tomorrow." Good grief, is he talking about the US of A??

If you have thoughts or resources to share,
please send a note!

On church flags – a little more history   [1-2-07]

There is some history to the flags in churches. One does not typically find national flags in churches overseas. In the United States the practice seems to have developed during the Taft administration when the world was heading toward WWI. Franklin Roosevelt issued a statement requesting churches to have the flag placed in churches as we entered WWII. My memory is that this was done reluctantly and at the advice of and pressure of Secretary of War Stimson. The cross on the Christian flag is one inch taller than the eagle on the American flag.

John Rauhut

See the earlier discussion from about 3 years ago >>

If you have thoughts to add this conversation,
feel free!

Just send a note to be posted here.


Some blogs worth visiting

PVJ's Facebook page

Mitch Trigger, PVJ's Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!

You can post your own news and views, or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.


John Shuck’s new "Religion for Life" website

Long-time and stimulating blogger John Shuck, a Presbyterian minister currently serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, Tenn., writes about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and lightening up.

Click here for his blog posts.

Click here for podcasts of his radio program, which "explores the intersection of religion, social justice and public life."


John Harris’ Summit to Shore blogspot

Theological and philosophical reflections on everything between summit to shore, including kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens neighborhood of Ridgewood -- by a progressive New York City Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in Flushing, NY.


Voices of Sophia blog

Heather Reichgott, who has created this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:

After fifteen years of scholarship and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy, students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and thoughtful community.


Got more blogs to recommend?

Please send a note, and we'll see what we can do!


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