The Church and The Flag (Confederate and Otherwise)

While I have long advocated the removal of the confederate flag, the reality is, growing up in the States of Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee, my life path could have easily veered and led to me driving a Chevy pickup down a backroad with a gun rack and 10-foot flag flying behind it.

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(image of author as a child, waiving a USAmerican flag)

It seems far-fetched, but it’s not so hard to believe. I remember when Georgia governor Roy Barnes pushed through the ugliest flag in the Union in order to try, as a compromise, to remove the confederate battle flag (though the new flag still had a smaller version of the battle flag on it). And there was significant outrage among the rural white people in the state. And then, 2 years later the next governor pushed through a change to another flag, which still flies today, this time, the confederate national flag instead of the battle flag.

I have heard the most elaborate arguments about heritage, symbols of states’ rights, and honoring war veterans. I’ve heard these words from politicians, neighbors, and relatives. But I never heard these arguments made in church. Thank God. Perhaps, in the shadow of the cross, there was enough decency and humility to be honest; to say that symbols that evoke hatred and racial oppression are important to study and remember so that we do not forget our shared stories of trauma, but they do not belong as symbols to be revered. Perhaps. Or perhaps there was just enough honesty to feel ashamed, and thus to seek out another symbol under which to lay claim to power.


Every church of my childhood had a cross and two flags. The Christian flag (did you know we had a flag?!?!) and the flag of the United States of America. I learned the Pledge of Allegiance and said it each week in church. On Veterans Day, Memorial Day, and Independence  Day, we recognized and applauded military personnel. I’ve been in church services where people ecstatically raised their hands in worship as the congregation reached the chorus of America the beautiful: “America, America, God shed his grace on thee. . .” Even as an adolescent, it was not lost on me that these people were literally singing a worship song to a nation state that they primarily revered for it’s military power.

The confederate battle flag (and national flag, for that matter–here’s looking at you, Georgia) is inarguably a symbol of racialized oppression and disunity, with concrete historical ties to slavery, segregation, and white supremacy. But make no mistake, “Old Glory” is every bit as blood spattered and represents a heinous history and ideology:

  • Genocide of dozens of sovereign nations of indigenous people
  • Continued second-tier status for U.S. owned territories
  • Exploitative global capitalism
  • Military oppression around the world
  • US Exceptionalism
  • Using the myth of the merit of citizenship to oppress, exploit, underpay, imprison, and then export immigrant workers and families all to subsidize our capital corporations

And while there are those who would argue that a flag is a symbol of our ideals, not our shortcomings, I have to ask, at what point do we finally admit that our nation-state does not, in fact, provide “liberty and justice for all”? Or perhaps, what should be clear, in the case of the US flag and the Confederate flag, we are willing to stomach just about anything as long as it is a symbol of our own supremacy.

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(image of author, age 11, at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, GA, wearing a USA hat)

It is this dynamic that is at play when mass media refers to African American, Latino American, Native American, and Asian American communities, crime, problems, etc. But does not discuss White American communities, crimes, or problems–problems like white supremacy, rabid defense of gun ownership and access that is irrevocably linked to mass shootings the vast majority of which are committed by white men. When it is convenient for white problems to disappear, the word “American” means ever citizen of every race. But when it comes time to assert white supremacy, “American” becomes an implicit stand in for White Americans, by use of racialized modifiers to single out “problems in the Black Community.”

It’s this “American” means everybody when it’s time to take responsibility, but “American” means white when it comes time to determine who holds power, that makes this word, and this flag, so slick with blood.


This is why I detest the Confederate flag; this is why I detest the American flag.

I do not pledge allegiance. I do not stand, I do not place my hand on my heart. I do not sing the national anthem.

My allegiance and my heart belong to my human brothers and sisters. I do not give a damn what nationality they are, and this country and this flag represent a nation that has grown up out of racialized oppression, beginning with the genocide of this land’s first inhabitants and growing from there.

As a Christian my faith compels me to follow a God who moves towards all people to bless our differences and bring us into community. The heart of my faith, as taught by Jesus is to love God and love my neighbor. And from everything that I can see, the flag is a veil that is meant to obscure–to hide bloody truths, to shift directions with the wind of convenience, and, because I am a white USAmerican, it is meant to enforce my power in this world, over and against my neighbors. And that is not a poison that I am willing to ingest.


People of a faith that’s most important tenant is love have a responsibility not only to demand the removal of symbols of inequity from our houses of worship. We are also faced, in the faces of our brothers and sisters, with the call to repent of our allegiances to the symbols and ideals that callous our hearts to the lived realities of oppression. As the book of Common Prayer leads us, we must “repent of the evil that enslaves us; the evil we have done, and the evil done on our behalf.”

The flag–like military force, police brutality, privatized ICE interment camps, the stock market, and unmanned drones–is an abstraction that allows us to think of ourselves as loving and good, while enacting evil on our behalf. Removing the veil from our eyes and de-sacralizing the symbols is only a first step that opens the wound so that we can do the difficult work of repentance.

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7 thoughts on “The Church and The Flag (Confederate and Otherwise)

  1. The wounds of our society are deep and fester often. The opening of them is necessary for healing to begin at the deepest level. Thank you Daniel for your honesty and integrity in bringing us out of coma.

  2. Dan, your fireworks show started early this year. : ) Though I found it premature (As a father I’m still leaning into Father’s Day), I also found it colorful, worth watching, and at times daringly applaudable. That being said, and metaphorically speaking, I live with the assumption that everyone’s “old nature” is flying a flag of some kind and giving it their allegiance; though, it seems, many people aren’t aware of their own personal flag. As well, I’ve observed that our “old nature” demands (vocal, silent, or otherwise) that everyone else sincerely salute our flag, or at least show honor of it with intentionality or respectfulness. Because you are smart, well educated, and can articulate and pen (“give voice”) intelligent arguments (conversations), I assume you get applauded and praised more than questioned about your blog articles (Forgive me if this is an erroneous assumption. I’ve only read a couple of your other posts; and in those I noticed mostly praiseworthy responses)? So, I’d like to offer this two part question: What flag is your “old nature” flying; and how have you demanded that others salute it? Oh wait… these questions too: How is the Holy Spirit burning ti up? Is she allowed to? What would be respectful or disrespectful of me while it’s being incinerated?

    • Hey there Danny,

      Thanks for the comment. You’re right that I do get many kind words from readers, though I do occasionally get pushback, which I am glad to receive. Some of the critical comments get filtered out because they are beyond the level of civility that I maintain as a boundary for conversation on my blog, but I try to let most comments through for the sake of movement in the conversation.

      I think what you’re asking (in different words) is what I would describe as repentance. What you ask seems to be asking about my sins of pride, and while I certainly have those, I think that in this post I am talking about another category of sin that I feel the Holy Spirit rooting out in me–the sin of giving over my identity to a vision of USAmerican patriotism that is tied up in white privilege, and capital ownership. These categories are subtle invitations in our collective narratives that set me up over/against my neighbor, leading me away from love. What I am talking about here is a way of naming this failure to love, both individually and collectively, that I participate in.

      As an Episcopal Christian, I go back to my baptismal covenant, particularly the part where we renounce the hold of evil over us. It’s my understanding that my failure to see and love my neighbors as I love myself is sin, and my allegiance to these narratives has to be renounced, which is what I am writing about here.

      There’s a great temptation to derail this conversation and make this about personal sins. But we are beings made for community, and I am attempting to own my part in a collective repentance that needs to happen.

      What I am trying to engage is all said much better here: http://austinchanning.com/blog/logical-conclusion

      Peace,
      Daniel

      • Thanks Daniel. That was a thoughtful response. One that gives me greater understanding concerning your motives and purpose. In my response I hadn’t specifically thought about you has being prideful. I was, instead, feeling the unformed thought, “I miss Dan’s vulnerability.” You said some courageous things, to be sure. Things that challenge some of my ideologies while affirmed others. But it’s your vulnerability that truly captures me, and changes me into a lover of Jesus and neighbor. Whenever any of us can speak vulnerably about the “already” and “not yet” of our Christlikeness, especially so intellegently and articulately as you usually do, I’m provked to encourage it when it seems amiss.

        P.S. I’d love to know who taught you about shame vs. ashamed. Your nuance deeply intrigues me as my dissertation was on shame and glory as told through the semiotic of biblical nakedness. Pray tell…?

      • That’s a great question. I had to go back and read my post about shame & ashamed to think that through. I think that some of my nuance around how I have talked about feeling shame and being ashamed is really specific to the context of being gay and growing up in Western Evangelical/Pentecostal Christianity.

        I’m influenced by the psychological notion about shame in contrast to guilt, but I’m trying to hold onto the question of where this kind of shame comes from–in essence, where the social dimension comes into play and gives us messages of being bad, wrong, and less than. I’m also trying to think anthropologically about shame in the shame/honor dynamics in different cultural settings. To distinguish these things, I connect shame as dishonor with the idea of feeling ashamed for doing something wrong–almost synonymous with guilt (but with more of an interpersonal twist than a legal one).

        Feeling ashamed can actually be a quite useful social pressure–it’s tied in with empathy and realizing we’ve wronged someone else, leading us to make amends.

        As an example, take a white man who is a police officer who shoots an unarmed black woman that he perceives as dangerous. When the media (shaped by narratives of white normativity) starts reporting this, they do so within the broad cultural narrative of white oppression of black bodies–there is a dissonance between image of white people as normatively good, and white people doing bad things, and now they have to decide how to contextualize this particular story.

        One way is to own the feelings of guilt and being ashamed and name what the officer did as wrong–asking deep questions about his underlying assumptions and perceptions of this woman’s black body and why she was perceived as dangerous and needed to be shot when, say a possibly armed white man who just shot 9 African Americans to death in a church could be perceived in such a way that he was peacefully apprehended by police (and given the protection of a bullet-proof vest). To own the feelings of being ashamed, could lead to difficult questions and repentance. But that is difficult work to do when you are in a position of privilege.

        So, more likely, the choice is made (unconsciously) to project that shame away from the self and toward the person who is less privileged, in this scenario, the black woman who has been shot by the white policeman. The media scrutinizes the way she was dressed, how loud she was talking to the officer, and finds a neighbor who will say on camera that this woman was known to violate city ordinances by planting roses in the neighborhood roundabout–clearly criminal behavior. While this type of projection is obvious bumbling buffoonery to the trained eye, for the 10-year-old black child (and all the children) who will see this same story every day of his life, the message begins to sink in that white is right and black is inherently wrong or bad.

        You can retell this story about little LGBTIQ kids in the church; about little girls who see women paid 78.3% what men are paid for the same work; about immigrant children who come home to an empty house wondering if their parents are at the store or in an ICE detention center. These are the shadows of shame–messages sent from society to people who experience oppression, that point the finger at the victim of oppression, blaming them for the wrong of the oppression.

        Because the feeling of being ashamed, and the call to repentance is rejected, the message that is sent to those being oppressed, is that their experience of pain is deserved.

        This is more nuanced way of talking about shame, than say, Brene Brown, because I am layering in micro-aggressions and systemic oppression and talking about shame that is attached to the ongoing low-level stress/PTSD-inducing responses that occur when being experience ongoing oppression. This is different than talking about shame as an individual category of I am bad, and it ties it back to the internalization of a cultural message of “you are bad” that results from the mishandling of the appropriate feeling of being ashamed because of the guilt of wrongdoing.

        By locating shame back in the social dimension, it helps those of us who experience daily micro-aggressions and messages that we are bad, sent to us by the same social systems that mistreat us. We are able to hear the internalized voice of shame and then do the work of contradicting it, and expelling it–even leading to the point of being able to speak back to individuals and society and call them out when these messages are projected on us. When we do that, we are violating the social norms; we don’t come across as nice anymore; and we re-trigger the experience of being ashamed in those who are dissociating from those feelings through the buffer of privilege.

        This is why, we white folks often protest too much when called out for racist assumptions. We back pedal and fall back on the nuance of our words to claim that the implicit racist messages where not what we really meant. We hide behind the technicalities and legalities that we have built around us to protect our image of ourselves as basically good. It takes humility to hear the feedback that we have done wrong, and usually what happens in these moments is that we push back and repeat the same cycle of projection, saying, “no, you’re the one making this about race. It’s not me, I’m basically good, so it must be you.” We rightfully feel a-shamed, but we don’t like that feeling so we pass the buck and add insult to the injured party.

        As someone who’s experienced a lot of this as a gay man in USAmerican protestantism, I recognize how toxic these messages of shame can be inside of me, and it makes me want to do the work of contradicting these messages. It also makes me want to listen with humility when I receive the feedback that in my privilege, I am participating in the same pattern. I deeply need to feel the feelings of being ashamed, and then move through those feelings in order to make amends and work to not continue to enact the harm that I have been doing in areas where my collusion with my privilege adds to the harm of others.

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