Evangelicalism killed my patriotism
My partner brought home a kiddie pool with an American flag design and I threw up in my mouth a little.
I wish I was kidding.
As I reminisce about my time in Evangelical Christianity, I'm intrigued by how many memories are steeped in heavy patriotic symbolism. Evangelicals claim to love our country and our flag, but it almost goes beyond that, into an idolatrous obsession, or a - dare I say it - fetish.
Attend any Evangelical picnic and you'll find the entire Old Navy flag shirt line. American flags adorned every church stage of my childhood. The sparse literature and poetry sections of Christian homeschool curricula are largely patriotic. A common party trick in my middle school community was to know the entirety of the Declaration of Independence by heart and recite it as often as possible. The constitution was second only to the Bible in the ranking of sacred texts.
There is much to say about the blurriness of church and state when it serves the church, but the commitment to blind and ferocious patriotism is an interesting study, particularly when you consider that the protestant Christian church loves the idea of patriotic loyalty so much they made a Christian flag, which typically flies alongside the American one in their sanctuaries.
AWANA, arguably the largest children's program in Evangelicalism, starts the patriotic indoctrination young, beginning every one of their weekly meetings and regular inter-church competitions with pledges to the American flag and the Christian flag (in that order). American patriotism is put on the same level of non-negotiable adherence as loyalty to the Christian faith, and even the Bible itself.
Each week of my childhood AWANA experience, two lucky children were chosen to walk the big flags to the center of the play field or gymnasium. To be chosen was an honor. I was selected once, though I've since forgotten for which flag. The Christian flag has its own pledge, too, but don't worry - the Bible got its very own pledge eventually. (And if you're wondering whether AWANA itself has a flag and a pledge, wonder no more.)
Most of my high school history education was deeply whitewashed (Fundiewashed?) American history. I became so over-saturated that I cannot even feign interest in Americana literature, music, or art anymore. American flags make me feel trapped and somehow simultaneously bored. Patriotic memes and aesthetics - Duck Dynasty, anyone? - repel me. I no longer stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.
I no longer stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.
Writing those words is the first time I've articulated this fact. I know I have the right, as an American citizen exercising her right to free speech, to not recite the Pledge. But it's more than grief over our national state or protest against the atrocity of our current administration. It feels, somehow, like reciting the Pledge would put me back in the cage.
And of course, that's the point. By giving everything they hold dear - or perhaps everything they can use as a tool of control - a flag and a pledge, Evangelical Christianity demanded the sort of unflinching and emotional loyalty that most Americans feel on the 4th of July. They saw how Americans proudly rally behind our flag and our Pledge, and knew they could recreate that sort of communal passion with their own.
I associate heartfelt patriotism with white nationalist Evangelical Christianity so much that I'm not even interested in learning how to practice patriotism anymore. In my mind, patriotism means stepping in line, exhibiting unyielding loyalty even in the face of fascism, and sacrificing myself on the altar of the Cause. I won't do it. I can't.
Tomorrow is July 4th, and we have plans to eat delicious food and roast marshmallows for s'mores with my partner's family. We'll watch some fireworks, most likely, and perhaps chat over a star-spangled tablecloth. On any other day, this would be an easy and delightful occasion. But tomorrow I'll be cringing inside. Being surrounded by the American flag is like being back in the pew. I've left it, and I'm not going back.