Pledging Allegiance, Part II

Girl Pledging Allegiance to the FlagIn response to my previous post on pledging allegiance, I received a couple of good questions that I’d like to follow up on.  The first issue is lexical – what am I taking “allegiance” to mean, and the second is a matter of degree – how far am I willing to go to show “allegiance” to our country.

I had originally intended to discuss the lexical issue in the first post, but then decided to postpone.  Now I get to play catch-up.  The problem arises between the first definition and the second.  Back in the early days of the English language, back in the 14th century when there were knights, castles, lords, and vassals, “allegiance” was the word used to describe the obligation of a feudal vassal to his liege lord.  As in “alLIEGiance.”  But as we have done with many other words, this one later came to mean other things, more general than specific, to express ideas like  “devotion” or “loyalty.”

It is this later, secondary definition that I believe is meant by the Pledge of Allegiance in the United States.  Of course, you might say, “Yeah, but – it was written by a socialist.  Don’t you expect it was meant to actually mean feudal allegiance?”  Perhaps.  I have no idea what Francis Bellamy was hoping the generations of Americans that came later would think.  But what I do know with certainty is that Bellamy wrote the Pledge after the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, which in no uncertain terms made clear that all men are created equal, thereby preventing anything that would later be used to describe all Americans and their unity from indicating that we are vassals under obligation to a lord. 

Which brings me to another point about Francis Bellamy – I’ve seen some people criticize him for the Bellamy salute, saying that it mimicked and copied the Nazi salute.  Except that Bellamy made his salute popular in the late 1800s and died in 1931.  The salute made popular by Hitler wasn’t even adopted by the Nazi party until the 1930s.  So enough about Bellamy = Hitler.

It is my firm belief that “allegiance” only refers to a devotion and loyalty that we as citizens of these United States share towards our country.

As I mentioned earlier, the second issue is one of degrees.  The comment was made to me:

If we were Christians in China today or the Soviet Union twenty+ years ago, I doubt either of us would advocate pledging allegiance to that country, singing its national anthem, or holding any patriotism toward our nation whatsoever. How bad would it have to get for you to consider the United States a “beast”? Where would you personally place the line?

How bad would it have to get for me?  Well, to start with – 73% of Americans still identify themselves as Christians.  And despite things looking gloomy and depressing here in the States – it’s still NOTHING like it is in China.  Although it’s impossible to get anywhere near an accurate number, roughly 4-5% of the Chinese are Christian.  My suspicion is that the Soviet Union back in the ’80s would have been roughly similar.  So no matter how sorry we would like to feel for ourselves, the United States is still one of the friendliest places in the world to the Christian religion.  Yes, the government is encroaching on our faith.  Yes, as a whole we have abandoned orthodox Christianity as a culture.  Yes, our society sacrifices to the gods of immorality by offering up condoms and abortions.  It’s not pretty.  But that’s what we find wherever Christ is not being faithfully served.

What does it look like in your household when Mom’s upset at the kids and Dad’s frustrated with Mom?  What does it look like when sin has taken root in your house?  Is it pretty?  I’d hope you wouldn’t think so.  When that happens do you throw out the vows from way back when when Mom and Dad got married?  Do you throw out the vows you made when your family joined your church and promised to live faithfully and in accordance with the Scriptures?  Of course not!  Instead, you go back to those vows.  You remind yourselves what you promised each other – the devotion and loyalty and love that you hoped would characterize your relationship.

I don’t believe in “my country, right or wrong” any more than I believe in “my family, right or wrong,” or “my marriage, right or wrong.”  There’s only one relationship that is primary – that holds my utmost allegiance.  And my other secondary allegiances only deserve to be dropped when they have taken the place of that primary allegiance.  If I can no longer serve my King and God, then I have no business serving or honoring or “pledging allegiance” to my country.  My country is fallen – she is no heavenly Kingdom.  But she is my country.  I love her.  I stand up for her when she is right, and I disapprove, condemn, and call her to repentance when she is wrong.  My country is not a beast, and I pray that God will grant her and her citizens the ability to see clearly so that she never reaches such a point.  There is much work to be done to recover certain truths and morals that have been lost, but there is also a large remnant of faithful, convicted Christians that see these errors and desire to bring our country around.  I’m not saying it will be easy.  It won’t be.  Dealing with sin is never easy.  But it is right and good to do so.  And to do so I will strive with all my might.

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4 Comments

  1. thereby preventing anything that would later be used to describe all Americans and their unity from indicating that we are vassals under obligation to a lord.

    The vassalage of persons to a person is not really what is in view, Daniel. Instead, it is the vassalage of persons to the state that is the issue. That would most certainly be a socialist leaning, and certainly also be the direction that our government leans. And, frankly, at the end of the day, the Civil War was in great part about vassalage of states to the Republic, now wasn’t it?

    With the qualifications you have placed… maybe. But I have to ask…what exactly is devotion?

  2. I would agree that it leans that direction, and for the sake of argument let’s say that’s what Bellamy desired as well. That doesn’t change the fact that the founders’ intention was that we are most certainly NOT subject to the state in such a manner. And a union of minor states being “vassals” to a “federation” as a whole is very different than the citizenry as a whole being “vassals” to the state. We’re talking about the citizens. I would say that the states do have more of a medieval “allegiance” to the US as their current constitutions stand.

    And devotion – as a husband is devoted to his wife and a layman to his church, so ought anyone who has become a member and a part of something larger be “devoted” to that group. That doesn’t presume the group can’t lose that devotion, but it does mean there is devotion until it is definitively lost.

  3. I’m not sure you’ve successfully connected your ruminations about working hard to “bring our country around” with saying the Pledge. You keep mentioning the Founders, so is it your contention that the entity spoken of in the Pledge, “the Republic,” actually still exists? If we accept the intellectual framework of the Founders, though, I think the most problematic part of the Pledge is the “indivisible” part. If the Declaration of Independence is correct, how is can it be true that any governmental union is “indivisible”? This is not to mention that in the Pledge it doesn’t seem one is giving allegiance to an ideal of “liberty and justice for all” but to a presumed reality. It’s good to have ideals about liberty and justice, but no earthly polity can actually meet those ideals. Only the City of God can, and it is mainly eschatological in nature, peeking out through the fabric of temporal politics here and there, but never fully realizable. I worry that being attached to the Pledge of Allegiance is connected to the mistaken vision, long and deeply held here, of America as some sort of New Israel, a politiccal entity with a temporally, if not spiritually, soteriological mission.

    1. Hey Tim, thanks for the comment.

      I would say that the parts are still in play for “the Republic” to still exist (or be restored), and it does still exist as an idea in this country. We refer to it when we like and when it’s politically convenient, and there is a large group of Americans that want to restore the Republic. So it’s not dead yet, to borrow from Monty Python. Its heart is beating faintly.

      And while the use of “indivisible” might seem worrisome, I would again point to the marriage illustration. We are “one”… “indivisible” with our spouses, but does that mean that something won’t happen to tear us apart? Of course not. Yet we use that language to not only indicate our willingness or desire for unity, but to help hold us to one another. I think the founders would have said (if they didn’t do so specifically somewhere) that if we disregarded everything they laid out in the Declaration and Constitution, we would likely become divided and scattered.

      Like you point out, it’s confusing what is the meaning – a set of ideals, or a presumed reality. I have no problem with either. If the facts point to a reality in which there is liberty and justice for all and a nation that despite individual differences is still, as a whole, unified and “indivisible,” then that’s fine by me. Or if we look at it as a set of ideals which we aim for, knowing we can’t possibly always meet them.

      My only problem is when the City of God is confused for the City of Man. I don’t think our founders confused the two, nor many Christians today. I willingly admit that there are those who have confused the two, though, and my recommendation is that we cure them of their idolatry. That requires placing the US in its proper place to the City of God – alongside the entire rest of the nations as one more that King Jesus will set at His feet. I don’t think we are any kind of New Israel, but I do think we have been blessed with great freedoms because of the faithfulness of our ancestors.

      We have a responsibility to work in our neighborhoods, in our communities, states, and country to make them all more faithful to the Gospel. Our ancestors consciously tried to do this, and now we are seeing it consciously being torn down. I see no problem remembering the faithfulness of our fathers and calling our generations back to a time when we more consistently lived in a Godly manner. No, the past wasn’t perfect or without sin, but we once had something unique in the history of the world. It isn’t wrong to want that again.

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