Be careful with Pledge in church

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 22, 2002

This may seem inconsistent at first thought, but I submit it to be eminently consistent: churches and other houses of worship are not the appropriate place to recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the American Flag. Just as the Constitution disallows a state church, the constitutional provision of separation of church and state means that no church -- as a church -- can be expected to pledge allegiance to a civil government.

The currently disputed phrase "under God" should remain in the pledge, and the pledge should be recited regularly in appropriate places. I have for long held and asserted this position and again most recently here. Moreover, this is consistent

with what the Bible teaches about the duty of people of faith toward the civil government under which they live. The Hebrew Bible, also accepted by Christians, states: "Thus says …the God of Israel …seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to Yahweh on its behalf" (Jeremiah 29).

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Although Jewish people do not accept what Christians call the New Testament to be religious scriptures, consonant with the Hebrew Bible is this: "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities …" (Romans 13).

The early Hebrews lived under the theocracy (God-rule) of the nation Israel. As they were conquered by foreign nations, later Hebrews and Jews found it necessary to practice their ancient faith under the rule of these nations. The Christian Church was born and lived under pagan Roman rule. It was always the counsel to be faithful private citizens and carry their share of civic responsibility. Jesus put it famously: "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's" (Matthew 22).

However, such injunctions were to individuals and not religious institutions. Although the Hebrew Temple was part of the government, later Jewish synagogues were never instructed to pledge allegiance to the Assyrian, Babylonian, or Persian governments under which they suffered. Neither Jesus nor his apostles directed the first century Christian churches to do so to the Roman government.

I have never known a rabbi to include the pledge in a synagogue service, and this might be the reason. Jewish people have good reason to be suspicious of governments and careful about their relationships. The history of the Roman Catholic Church as the established church of many nations may allow American Catholics to find it natural to pledge allegiance. Yet, no priest has ever suggested it was his parish per se that was pledging allegiance. No protestant pastor has done so. It has been the individual citizens present, including the clergy, who were pledging individual allegiance.

This being the concept even though often not understood, then, I caution carefulness. I am not going to say the pledge should not be recited in houses of worship, but I feel constrained to say: Be careful. Make certain no one misunderstands the significance of the pledge within a religious context. We are not accountable to the government for our spiritual faith or even religious practice. The legal obligations churches sustain are in secular affairs as incorporated organizations.


though every member of a church owes individual allegiance, this is irrelevant for churches. We would do well to be restrained in church use of the pledge, and any recitation must be understood as that of individual citizens and not the church as a religious body--separate, as it is, from the state.