A lot of churches in the Bible Belt have taken to wrapping themselves in the American flag. It’s a natural extension of the line that this country is supposedly a Christian nation. But June 25’s service at First Baptist Church of Dallas saw a display that was extreme even by those standards.
The “Freedom Sunday” service featured lots of patriotic music, lots of pyrotechnics, and lots of flag-waving. Watch a clip here.
A number of Christian bloggers thought this was very inappropriate in a church setting. For instance, John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College, was stunned that the church’s pastor, Robert Jeffress–an ardent Republican and ardent Trump supporter–would allow flag-waving, “a sign of support or loyalty to the nation,” to occur in “the place where Christians worship God as a form of expressing their ultimate loyalty.”
Jonathan Aigner, a music minister in Houston, was equally appalled, saying that First Baptist Dallas had “bowed before a red, white, and blue altar”–a sign that “something has gone desperately wrong” in the church. But he also asked another question–how someone who was visiting First Baptist from another country would react.
“What would a Christian from another country say? Would they recognize their place in this church?”
In response to a firestorm of criticism, Aigner decided to get some answers from frequent readers of his blog, “Ponder Anew,” who aren’t American citizens. The response was almost unanimous–from an international perspective, this service was a fail.
Colin Tarrant, an Australian, said that at his church, they don’t worship their country, but “we worship God and preach from the Bible.” The biggest displays of patriotism he’s seen are “services of remembrance”–and even then, they’re “only in passing.”
Patricia Presswell Strung, a Canadian, was disgusted by the “shameless flag waving.” Such displays are almost unthinkable at her church; indeed, she recalled that “fewer churches even display the Canadian flag.” As she sees it, what happened at First Baptist wasn’t really worship at all, but “spectacle and showmanship!” Another Canadian, Jane Kennedy, watched the service as well. She didn’t think there was “a lot of Faith based content” that day, “unless ‘americanism’ is the denomination.”
Andrew Rolph watched it from his home in the UK. With typical British bluntness, he called the service “pure and utter idolatry.” He recalls services along similar lines being held on Remembrance Sunday–the last Sunday before Armistice Day/Remembrance Day–but isn’t “particularly fond” of those services either.
Marnie Barrell, a New Zealander, said that First Baptist Dallas’ version of Freedom Sunday would be “unrecognizable as a Christian service” in her country. Indeed, she didn’t think it was a service at all, but “absolutely a patriotic rally.”
Having spent the last eight years at a low-key charismatic church that was planted out of a charismatic Anglican church in the UK and is led by Brits, I can understand why these internationals were struck dumb by what they saw from Dallas. When you take the blinders off, it’s easy to wonder whether God was truly being honored here.
Thankfully, there are some pastors in this country who do get it. For instance, Joel Tooley, the Nazarene pastor who had to take his daughter home from a Trump rally earlier this spring because it got too ugly for comfort, was not pleased when a pastor praised God for making this country “the greatest nation on earth.” Tooley rightly pointed out that any true Jesus-follower would know that nation doesn’t exist. That’s something a lot of pastors would do well to remember–including Jeffress.
(featured image courtesy Gage Skidmore, available under a Creative Commons BY-SA license)