Our answer addresses strictly the situation in the USA. In regard to other countries, any pledge or its wording would have to be examined on an individual basis, although the principles expressed herein would most certainly apply.
The short answer whether or not it is permissible for a Christian to pledge allegiance to the U.S. flag is that the Church of the Eternal God does not feel that it is biblically problematic for a Christian or his children to do so. However, if someone has conscientious problems in that regard, he must of course follow his convictions (compare Romans 14:23).
For our non-American readers, the current version of the Pledge of Allegiance states the following: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Our short answer is in accordance with the position which was stated by the Worldwide Church of God (WCG), under its late human leader, Herbert W. Armstrong, who died in 1986. As we are upholding the teachings of WCG under Mr. Armstrong, unless the letter or the spirit of Scripture shows the understanding to be in need of modification (see our Statements of Beliefs), we do not feel that we ought to deviate from this teaching. We also note that in regard to issues which are perhaps less clearly expressed in Scripture, God has given His Church the right to make binding administrative decisions (see Q&A on binding and loosing authority).
The teaching of the WCG under Mr. Armstrong has been as follows, as stated in a letter from the Letter Answering Department:
“Since the words ‘one nation under God’ are used, we are certainly free to take this pledge. It is then understood that our allegiance is pledged only so far as we are not forced to disobey God’s laws. The Bible commands us to be good citizens of the country in which we live. We know God has set government over all human beings, and every Christian should ‘be subject unto the higher powers’ (Rom. 13:1). This is with the understanding that our greater, higher, FIRST allegiance belongs to God.
“A similar question involves saluting the flag. Some believe that saluting the flag is idolatrous. However, saluting is not in itself an act of worship, but merely a matter of showing respect. Through Paul, God commands us to render respect and honor where they are due (Rom. 13:1-7).
“We salute the flag, not because it is the symbol of another god, but because it stands for the freedom and blessings which the Most High God has given this nation.”
As expressed above, our foremost allegiance is to God. We pledge allegiance to our flag (or to the nation it represents) only to the extent that the government does not require us to disobey God’s laws, either deliberately or inadvertently (Acts 5:29). We should not view allegiance to country as a sole, absolute or ultimate allegiance. Rather, we are merely declaring to which country we are pledging national allegiance. We have many allegiances—to our spouse and family, our employer, our church organization, our sports team, etc. Our most important allegiance is our allegiance to God and the Kingdom of God. Any allegiance that supersedes allegiance to God is of course idolatry. The clause “under God” expresses an allegiance that is UNDER one’s allegiance to God. Just as we pay taxes and comply with the laws of the land, we should also render honor and respect where it is due. It would therefore not be wrong to salute or pledge allegiance to the flag, if and when the occasion calls for it.
A pledge is not to be confused with an oath. Christ tells us not to swear (compare Matthew 5:33-37), but pledging is not tantamount to swearing. In fact, the word “pledge” has a wide variety of meaning. Black’s Law Dictionary defines a pledge as “a promise or agreement by which one binds himself to do or forbear something.” Pledging to do something is promising to do it; such as pledging money to a fund or to a favorite charity, especially at regular intervals.
The thesaurus also defines a pledge as “a binding commitment to do or give or refrain from something; ‘an assurance of help when needed.'” A pledge may include a solemn vow of poverty or fidelity. We may pledge to honor our husband or our wife. We may pledge our honor or our silence. A few dictionaries define a pledge as an oath; however, this is technically incorrect. They would also define an “affirmation” as an “oath”–which is likewise technically incorrect.
As a pledge is simply a promise to do or not to do something, it is obvious that children, once they are old enough to understand the meaning of a promise, can give a “pledge.” It is of course expected of the parents to explain to their children the meaning of the “Pledge of Allegiance.”
In an editorial, the late Senior Pastor of the Church of the Eternal God, J. Edwin Pope, wrote the following about the Pledge of Allegiance and related topics (see Update 221, December 9, 2005):
“The Pledge of Allegiance to flag and country was originally written by Francis Bellamy in August, 1892. A minor change in a couple of words was made in 1924, and in 1954 the words ‘under God’ were added to the pledge… The motto, ‘In God We Trust’ was placed on U.S. coins largely because of increased religious sentiment existing during the Civil War. After many appeals in favor of such a move, Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon P. Chase, instructed James Pollock, Director of the Mint at Philadelphia, by letter dated November 20, 1861, as follows: ‘Dear Sir: No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins. You will cause a device to be prepared without unnecessary delay with a motto expressing in the fewest and tersest words possible this national recognition.’
“Samples were presented and the present wording which is used on U.S. coins today was adopted and passed by the U.S. Congress on April 22, 1864. This motto, ‘In God We Trust,’ was added to $1 silver certificates with printings beginning in 1957. In 1964, the motto was added to Federal Reserve Notes in the amounts of $1, $5, $10, as well as with the $5 United States Note, and in 1966 the motto was added to the $50, and $100 Federal Reserve Notes.
“But a program of stamping out religion on national currency began in 1978 and continues today… Programs are ongoing to declare the Pledge of Allegiance as ‘unconstitutional’ and to not allow it to be recited in public schools because it contains the words ‘under God’…
“God established this great nation as He promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and to the sons of Joseph. Yet, just as He raised it up, He will put it down if it continues to move in the direction upon which it has now established as its course. We, as a people of God, must not cover our faces to what is looming upon the horizon, as prophesied in the Word of God.”
By way of legal background, we sometimes hear that pledging allegiance to the flag is strictly voluntary in each and every circumstance, but this is not necessarily the case, at least not from a practical standpoint. We read the following in the Encyclopedia of Everyday Law:
“In ‘West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette,’ the Supreme Court ruled that requiring the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments… The decision’s practical effect is to permit voluntary recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance but to forbid mandatory requirements that students participate. The decision itself has not been challenged in court, but its requirements have not always been observed. In the 1990s, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) repeatedly defended students in school districts who suffered reprisals for failing to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance. In 1998, for instance, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit against the Fallbrook Union High School District of San Diego, California, after school officials required a dissenting student to stand silently during the pledge, leave the classroom, or face detention; settling the case out of court, the school district agreed to change its policy…
“The situation for the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools is… mixed. Most states, in fact, still have decades-old laws relating to the pledge. Thirty-two states mention some form of school participation in their laws, while twenty states require students to recite it… Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks upon the United States,… outpourings of patriotism and strong renewed interest in having students recite the pledge pushed the issue back to the forefront, with some governments declaring they would use old laws and others vowing to pass new ones.”
We should note that pledging allegiance to the U.S. flag is not necessarily a reflection of improper patriotism. Herbert W. Armstrong did note that there is a “KIND of patriotism which, indeed, IS wrong in the sight of God” (Plain Truth, October 1964). It is that kind of patriotism which is expressed in the form of loyalty to country, as OPPOSED TO other countries. It includes an automatic HOSTILITY toward other countries—either passive or active. THAT kind of patriotism, which is specifically manifested in war, is unchristian (For more information, please read our free booklet, “Should You Fight in War?”).
On the other hand, it is not wrong to love our own country—or even to love our own self. But it is wrong to love ourselves more than others. The Pledge of Allegiance, when properly understood, expresses the principle of right patriotism, specifically including the words “one nation under God.” That makes it clear that our allegiance is to God before country. Love and concern for one’s own country—without discrimination or prejudice against or hostility towards other nations, peoples or races—is not wrong.
In addition, it expresses our desire that our country should be a nation under God–sadly realizing at the same time that our nation is drifting farther and farther away from God and His laws. The same can also be said about our desire for “liberty and justice for all”–knowing that true justice and liberty will only come when Jesus Christ will rule here on earth. It is only then that this nation will REALLY become a nation under God, with true liberty and justice for all of its citizens.
At the same time, many in the Church of God sing the song, “Onward Christian Soldiers,” in their weekly Sabbath services. This hymn includes the line, “We are not divided, All one body we; One in hope and doctrine, One in charity.” Sadly, the reality is that these words are not accurate today; rather, we find the body divided, due to different organizations with diverse doctrines and opinions. But it is not wrong to sing these words, anticipating the time when there will be no more schisms within the spiritual body of Christ.
In conclusion, the Church of the Eternal God does not teach that pledging allegiance to the U.S. flag is inherently wrong or opposed to the Bible or biblical principles. If, however, individuals are conscientiously opposed to participation, then they must follow their conviction. At the same time, as is the case with all matters of individual conscience which are not taught per se by the Church, they must be careful not to attempt to influence others to follow their example, as this might cause division in violation of official Church teaching.
In addition, note our cautionary remark on individual conscience, as stated in our free booklet, “God’s Commanded Holy Days“:
“It would be advisable, though, to review the Scriptures to see whether your conscience is based on the Bible or merely on man-made traditions. God never accepts our conviction as justification for the violation of His law, and man-made regulations can, as we saw, cloud the intent of God’s commandments in the minds of men.” In cases of uncertainty, it would be advisable to consult with the ministry.
Lead Writer: Norbert Link