On March 28, Jeff Struecker, hero of Black Hawk Down, spoke to about 3,000 people in chapel at Cedarville University. When he finished speaking and walked off stage, he received an emotional standing ovation. I didn’t take part in this ovation, and I think it’s important to explain why.
Many of us grew up repeating the Pledge of Allegiance every day in school. To some of us, it was just 31 words that we said, even though we didn’t really understand what it meant. To others, it really was a pledge, a promise to live in honor of the United States of America. Until recently, I really hadn’t given much thought to the Pledge of Allegiance. However, the more I thought about it, the more it troubled me. I see two options: We say it in vain, and it doesn’t mean anything, which seems rather pointless; or we truly mean it when we say that we pledge allegiance to the flag.
Neither of these seems like a very good option to me. With the first option, why would I waste my time saying something that I don’t really believe in? On the other hand, if I were to believe every word of the pledge, I would call it an idolatrous act.
In Exodus 20:5, the third of the Ten Commandments is shown to us. It tells us to not bow down to nor serve any idols. While we aren’t literally bowing to the flag, it seems that the motive is still the same. Bowing or standing, we are pledging our lives to something other than God. Daniel 3 tells the story of three young men who were unwilling to bow to the idol built by King Nebuchadnezzar. They knew that if they did not bow, they would be thrown into a furnace and die, while burning to death. Still, they did not bow. When they were brought before the king, he gave them a second chance. Once again, they refused to bow.
A lot of us grew up in church being taught that these three men were heroes for their faith in standing up to the king. What would these same church teachers say if they saw that I refused to pledge allegiance to the flag?
Another consideration that kept me from standing that day in chapel is that I believe it goes against what Jesus lived and preached. Jesus said to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself. According to Jesus, the rest of the commandments simply build off of these two. Not only did Jesus tell us to love our neighbor, he told us to love our enemies. Regardless of whether that enemy is a Republican, Democrat, or member of al-Qaeda, we are called to love and share the gospel with that person.
This is demonstrated in the well-known passage about turning the other cheek. If we understand Jesus’ words here, we see something much different than is commonly assumed. This is not a call to let someone hit you twice. Instead this forces the aggressor to look at you as an equal, a human created in the image of God.
In Jesus’ time, the most common, disrespectful way of hitting someone was with a backhand across the face. Imagine someone backhanding you with their right hand. The blow would come to your right cheek. When you turn the other cheek, the person can no longer backhand you, because in Jesus’ time, the left hand was used in the bathroom, and was not to be used for hitting people. The only option for the person at this point is to punch you with a fist, which was a style of fighting reserved for equals, as opposed to the backhand, which was used on “inferiors.”
I can’t speak for everyone, but in my mind, it is much harder to hit someone when I am forced to treat them as equal or superior to me. I can only hope that those in the military stop and think twice about the men, women and children at whom they are aiming guns, and realize that this person was created by God. Male or female, adult or child, terrorist or friend: Scripture clearly teaches that all are made in the image of God, and all are loved equally by God, regardless of actions that they may take to anger Him. We are not called to be vigilantes, carrying out justice when and how we see fit; rather, we are instructed by Christ to radically love our enemies, and trust God to mete out both justice and reward as He sees fit. An omnipotent God requires neither guns nor tanks, but only our obedience to His commands through rejection of violence and embracement of radical love.
To clarify, I am not arguing that we show disrespect to those that serve in the military. I have good friends that are involved in the military, guys who I admire and with whom I will always stay in contact. Rather, I am suggesting that we treat the men and women of the military with the same amount of respect that we would give to anyone else on the street, and encourage all to deeply consider whether Christian participation in violence or the military is ever appropriate.