Progressive Christian activist and author Shane Claiborne has called on churches to remove the United States flag from their altars or consider adding the banners of other nations.
In a post on Twitter last Saturday, Claiborne stated that “every pastor who has a flag on the altar” should “please consider removing it” or add “the flags of the other 195 countries of the world.”
“To be part of the Body of Christ is to transcend nationality,” the Red Letter Christians co-founder and leading figure in the New Monasticism movement argued. “That’s part of what it means to be ‘born again.’”
As of Tuesday morning, the tweet compiled over 2,400 likes and over 300 retweets.
In an interview with The Christian Post Monday, Claiborne explained that he was “very concerned about this version of American nationalism that is camouflaging itself as Christianity.”
“Jesus inviting us to be born again means that we think beyond biology, beyond nationality, and have a broader compassion,” Claiborne argued. “The Bible does say ‘God so loved the world,’ not ‘God so loved America.’”
“I think it’s always a good thing to have compassion, not be confined to borders or nations,” the co-founder of the Simple Way community in Philadelphia continued. “So if that helps someone, then I think that’s great.”
Claiborne’s tweet also included a link to a statement released last week signed by hundreds of evangelical leaders denouncing Christian nationalism and claiming it played a role in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
“We urge all pastors, ministers, and priests to boldly make it clear that a commitment to Jesus Christ is incompatible with calls to violence, support of white Christian nationalism, conspiracy theories, and all religious and racial prejudice,” the statement reads.
“We urge faith leaders to engage pastorally with those who support or sympathize with these groups, and make it clear that our churches are not neutral about these matters: we are on the side of democracy, equality for all people, anti-racism, and the common good of all people.”
The question of national flags in churches has been a source of debate for some time, with some arguing that it is out of respect for the U.S. that flags be on display in the sanctuary.
Mike Holloway, the senior pastor at Ouachita Baptist Church in West Monroe, Louisiana, penned a column in 2019 arguing that American flags should be in sanctuaries out of gratitude. Holloway slammed what he called an “unpatriotic movement among many Christian churches today” who are “removing the American flag because [it] may be offensive to someone.”
“I can’t think of another country I would rather live in, or I would move to that country. This is still [the] greatest and freest nation on earth. Therefore, I love it and pray for it and seek to make it a better place,” wrote Holloway.
“… as a nation built on Judeo-Christian values that promises freedom not only for our nation but helps others around the world who desire freedom, the flag represents a nation that pushes for freedom.”
During a webinar on Christian nationalism earlier this year, Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry spoke of a flag display debate on his childhood churches back in the 1960s.
Curry explained that many members of his church came from the West Indies, and so some argued over whether the sanctuary should display the American flag or the United Kingdom flag.
“The compromise was that both the American flag and the Union Jack were both put up on a balcony,” he recalled. “They weren’t upfront where the altar was.”
Andrew Whitehead, an associate professor of sociology at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, also spoke during the webinar and defined Christian nationalism as a “cultural framework that idealizes and advocates a fusion of Christianity with American civic life.”
He shared polling information that indicated that about 80% of white evangelical Protestants were either ambassadors or accommodators of Christian nationalism. At the same time, half of the mainline Protestants surveyed also identified as ambassadors or accommodators of Christian nationalism.
John Stonestreet and Timothy D. Padgett of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview argued in a recent column that “Christian nationalism” is too often being used as “a scare label to dismiss any policy or person more conservative than whoever is using the term.”
“… we’re all but guaranteed for the near future that anything vaguely traditional or moral, and any appeal to anything higher than the latest cultural fad, will be smeared with this label,” they wrote. “It’s silly. Even more, it’s dangerous. Even so, Christians must not abandon the public square just because people say mean things about us.”