Enough with the "Christian flag" tantrum: "God before government" might work for church, but not for city hall

Confederate flags are coming down -- so here comes another little flag war

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Published July 8, 2015 7:34PM (EDT)

 Christian flag (Creidt: Flickr/Joanne Canen, Creative Commons License)
Christian flag (Creidt: Flickr/Joanne Canen, Creative Commons License)

And we were doing so well for a few minutes there, America. Marriage equality. Confederate flags on the wane. But then we had to push it. So Christian flags can now be this month's outdated nonsense cause, I guess.

The push began last week, when North Carolina's Elizabeth Baptist Church Pastor Rit Varriale posted a video to YouTube calling people across the land "to stand up for traditional values and beliefs" by raising a Christian flag above the American one to send a message that "We'll serve God before government… a government that tries to coerce us to violate our commitments to God." He seems upset about something. Hm, what could it be? Is there a hint when he says, "A message to the Supreme Court: You've tried to tell us that you will coerce us to violate our religious convictions? Nah, I don't think so." In a conversation with Baptist Press, Variable added that "If you stop and think about it, [flag etiquette] is inconsistent with what the Bible teaches us. We are first and foremost Christians who are called to serve the living God." (Flag etiquette dictates that the American flag always appear above all other flags on the same flagpole.)

The pastor's invitation is just a part of our latest round of national flag wars. Recently, the City Hall of Glencoe, Alabama removed its Christian flag after a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation threatening legal action. The town's mayor Charles Gilchrist soon complained to the press that "That's what they do, they pick on these smaller towns that can't defend ourselves." And when local restaurant owner Jeff Word heard about the situation, he says, "We decided it was about time someone took a stand. I’m a private business owner. Today, I have the right to do this. I may not have that right tomorrow." 

I'm a Christian and to be honest, I never even knew we had a flag until a few days ago. I thought we just had a cross; I thought the cross was our thing. I get that a cross doesn't flap in the breeze, but it's nice enough and if you put one on top of a building, people entering it do know what they're in for. Yet apparently some feel a need for the supplement or substitute of a flag. This spring, both Cochran and Bleckley County, Georgia, voted to raise a Christian flag over municipal buildings — despite the fact that as Americans United for Separation of Church and State pointed out, "It sends a crystal clear message that one religion is favored above all others." 

If you own a privately run business or, obviously, run a church, knock yourself out — even if I personally think that at rest the flag has an unfortunately ominous vibe. But if you're busting out a piece of fabric as a means of declaring how victimized you feel by the Supreme Court's recognition of same-sex unions or, you know, the separation of church and state, please consider growing up. And learn that when you're talking about "our" country, it's chock full of other people who aren't conservative Christians who want to live in a theocracy.

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Christianity Confederate Flag Marriage Equality Rit Varriale