“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything”—God at Mt. Sinai
I hope the day will come when no one in this world will pledge allegiance to the flag of their country, and our only loyalty will be to the welfare of all humanity. I believe the survival of humanity on this planet depends on it. I quit pledging allegiance to the American Flag fourteen years ago. It is striking how much resentment many/most feel when someone does not “keep pace with their companions” by choosing to “march to the beat of their own drummer” followed by personal attacks. It is also telling how quickly conclusions are reached as to the why someone does not conform to nationalistic icons, but seldom, if ever, does anyone care to know why. For those few that might care to know I will share my “Why.”
The Flag and Militarism
Colin Kaepernick has repeatedly told us that his refusal to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance is limited to racial and social injustices. His critics immediately and persistently protest by claiming that his refusal to pledge allegiance to our flag carries with it a near treasonous insult to our military. I believe his critics are correct. Our flag embodies our military and that is all the more reason why anyone who really loves this country should also refuse to pledge allegiance to our flag “for which it stands” or rather has come to stand throughout the world.
“The Department of Defense has paid 14 different NFL teams a total of $5.4 million over the last four years in exchange for patriotic displays at games.”
If the United States could be compared to a house, Mr. Kaepernick had an awakening that caused him to knock on the front door, come inside and take a serious look inside the main floor living conditions. There he saw internal racial and social injustices, but what he sees is the crust of even darker sins buried in the basement. It is time we become the real “Home of the Brave” and take a flashlight down into the basement and see where the bodies have been buried. To do so will take real courage and loyalty to our nation.
President/General Eisenhower was prescient when he gave his farewell speech before leaving office. He warned, as did the founders of our nation, creating a standing army was the greatest threat to our nation in that the military industrial complex would create a need for perpetual war. President Eisenhower has proven prophetic.
Let me make this perfectly clear. There have been and will be tens of millions of virtuous, courageous and deserving of respect men and women serving in our military. But if you have served in the military from Viet Nam to the present you have been lied to and manipulated by “evil and designing men” to perpetuate unspeakable evil upon the world under the very misleading slogan that you were “fighting for our freedom.” We invaded Viet Nam based on deliberately fabricated false intelligence (Gulf of Tonkin), we killed several million poor, brown people during that conflict. Just listen to the haunting presidential audio recordings of Nixon and Kissinger during Viet Nam conflict when Nixon proposed use of nuclear bombs on North Viet Nam with Kissinger suggesting a more “humane” way to break North Viet Nam by blowing up a dam that would drown an estimated 200,000 civilians—which they did. From My Lai to the Pentagon Papers we can know the truth. (see also the Viet Nam era U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert MacNamara’s “Fog of War’ movie of 2003 where he confessed that it was never necessary to invade Viet Nam and our involvement was based on deliberate falsehoods)
We dig deeper in the basement and the bodies continue to be found. Our CIA has funded one coup after another throughout the world and supported one fascist after another such as Pinochet who murdered 60,000 of his own people on 9/11/73; we produced 80% of all the weapons that have been used in one war after another in the last several decades which we willingly sold to all sides of nearly every conflict. 9/11 occurs and the neocons saw an opportunity to use it as an excuse to invade Iraq. There were no WMDs and they knew it but deceived us into a war of aggression resulting in the killing of over 1.4 million Iraqis who were only guilty of being Iraqis. In the last decade more of our soldiers perished in Iraq and Afghanistan that those lost in 9/11—- and ten times that number sustaining permanent injuries not to mention the 28,000 plus post combat suicides. From Abu Ghraib to double tap drone bombing our war crimes are well documented for those who care more about our nation than feel good clichés. Our enemies do not hate us for our freedom. They hate us because we invade their countries and kill innocent men, women and children.
“There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”—Howard Zinn
Since the start of this century there has been no country on this planet that has been a greater purveyor of violence in the world. The United States military has taken more innocent life than any other country since 9/11—and it continues with drone bombing nearly every day. So I personally quit pledging allegiance to the flag in protest of the violence “for which it stands” in the world. That was my impetus to dissent. But even if I lived in the most benevolent and peaceful country in the world I still would not pledge allegiance to my nation’s flag. Why? I take literally the words of God and his son Jesus to not do so. Or, in other words, I am striving to be a Christian.
Nationalism: Our Golden Calf
Descending Mt. Sinai, Moses returned not only with a message from The God of all mankind but also a set in stone very first commandment written by His very finger:
“Thou shalt have no other God before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in the heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath…thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.”
The worship of The God of all mankind was meant to eliminate all forms of allegiance to any “image” of “anything.” Through faith and undivided allegiance to the God of all mankind it was a hope that all man made boundaries would in time evaporate.
God sent His son to manifest in the flesh the example for all of us to follow. Jesus of Nazareth never pledged allegiance to any nation or flag and neither did his apostles/disciples for the first three hundred years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Those that knew Him most intimately understood:
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”
How was it possible for a tiny band of followers of Jesus of Nazareth to forever change the world when both the formidable Roman Empire and the nationalistic zealotry of their own culture and religious traditions sought to compel them to pledge allegiance to them or be destroyed?
These few disciples of Jesus had a message that was more powerful than any nation/state, any army, and the entire weight of the history of civilization. They walked with, talked with and knew Jesus personally and came to know with perfect clarity the “good news” that Jesus was offering. Being born again in His message, they exemplified what it meant to accept Christ and follow in His footsteps. They too were willing to speak truth to power even if it meant taking up the cross.
Their message was radically subversive to all the boundaries created by humanity. It offered freedom from the “us against them” fostered by all nation states from the dawn of civilization. Salvation was freely offered to all. There was only one citizenship—for there was no Jew nor Gentile, male or female, slave or freeman, no race, no immigrants, no Roman or Heathen—for it was a message to love not only your neighbor but even your enemies. It made no sense to the world. It was beyond subversive— it was revolutionary. It was a threat to every power of this world for those truly born again found a new allegiance that this world could not control. And that allegiance was placed higher than all other allegiances.
“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God”
For the first three centuries, those converted to Christ refused military service and those that were in the military were encouraged to resign being in conflict with their baptismal vows and teaching of Jesus. “We do not arm ourselves against any nation. We do not learn the art of war because, through Jesus Christ, we have become the children of peace.” (Origen).
The power of Christianity was witnessed in the conviction of its adherents who chose God over country. One poignant example of primal Christianity in action was that of the recorded trial of a Roman Centurion, Marcellus that occurred as late as 298 A.D. Marcellus, after years of military service, found he could no longer serve both his country and his God.
One day in 298 A.D., during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian, Marcellus’s unit in northern Africa was celebrating the Festival of the Empire and in defiance of their “standards’ aka flags suddenly Marcellus rose before the King and ripped off his Roman military insignias and said “I will no longer serve your emperors.” Marcellus was immediately arrested for breach of discipline. At his trial, he admitted that he had done that of which he was accused. He declared: “it is not right for a Christian man, who serves the Lord Christ, to serve in the armies of the world.” Found guilty, he was immediately beheaded. According to the testimonies, he died in great peace of mind, asking God to bless the judge who had condemned him.
Because of their uncompromising allegiance to following in Christ’s footsteps these disciples were subject to constant persecution. They chose to follow Jesus’ admonition to “resist not evil” lest they become the very evil they rejected when they took upon themselves the “shame of the world.” But that was about to change.
The Constantine Shift
For the first Christians Jesus was the center of their allegiance and the empire was at its margins. Their sole allegiance was to follow Jesus and when that commitment came in conflict with the nation in which they resided they chose to follow Jesus even if it meant defying their sovereign nation. Christians became an affront to the empires of this world when they, through both words and deeds, were constantly calling it to repentance. They refused to “pledge allegiance” to any nation and its colors aka flags.
“But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s Throne; Nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the Great King; Neither shall thou swear by the head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay : for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.” (Matthew 5: 34-37).
However, after three centuries what could not be defeated by persecution could be tempted by the power of the state. Emperor Constantine observed the passion of Christianity and sought to marry it to the empire. Constantine ‘became’ a Christian and in just one generation during the reign of Emperor Constantine, Christianity was seduced by the desire to be accepted by the powers of this world to the point that they subjugated their beliefs to the state—and in just one generation all soldiers were required to be Christians and pledge allegiance to the greatest nation and military the world had ever known:
“In 416 A.D. an order was decreed with the result that pagans were not admitted to the army. All the soldiers had become Christians; or, in the other words, all the Christians had, with few exceptions, denied Christ.” —Tolstoy
Where Christians had placed their allegiance to Christ above all earthly powers, with the Constantine shift complete, Christians now pledged their allegiance to their host nation so that the next generation would be taught from childhood to believe it was their duty to justify and support the wars and injustices of their host nation. Thus they became enablers of the same oppression upon others that they had endured for centuries. The collective guilt was manifest in not just pledging their allegiance to this false god but in demanding fellow Christians do the same.
For four centuries Christians were the victims but now confederating with the empire they became the victimizers of others—they traded the cross for a flag.
The Pattern Continued
In the two millennia that followed a predictable pattern emerged. With the marriage of church and state, vast armies were arrayed in one Crusade after another to “set their nation free” from the infidels. Allegiance to church and the nation state became one. Protestant faiths seeking to take literally the words of Christ challenged the now deeply embedded patriotism supported by the church. Any faith community that chose to not pledge allegiance to its nation saw all the powers of hell (church combining with the state) came down upon them—inquisitions, isolation, massacres and both spiritual and secular excommunication. However, with the exception of the Anabaptist communities (Amish/ Mennonite, etc.) and a few other isolated faiths, the pattern of assimilation repeated itself. Over time protesting faiths eventually gained enough foothold they too were invited into the corridors of the power of the state and underwent their own “Constantine Shift.”
A Latter-Day Kingdom of God
Mediated through a seer a vision emerged as to how we could once again strive to create on this earth His Kingdom. This was not just an ethereal promise for the hereafter but a full throttled effort to make His Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Through revelations pointing us towards the teachings and example of Jesus, the message was once again for all mankind to come be a part of establishing His Kingdom. Like the first Christians we were offered a broader vision of what allegiance to His Kingdom meant:
“I am not national or sectional, and God forbid that I should be, for I have that spirit that delighteth in the welfare and salvation of the human family. And when I have that Spirit about me, can I be national? You never knew that feeling to be in me for I abhor it. I will not bow my head to that national spirit, nor to any spirit that is not of God.” (Heber C. Kimball JD 4:278).
After keeping hidden for more than 170 years, our church just recently disclosed the “Council of Fifty or Kingdom of God” minutes which illustrate just how much the founders of our faith saw the United States government anathema to the Kingdom of God. Participants in the council spoke openly of their nation’s demise, plotted ways to escape the United States’ borders, and envisioned a post-American future. It was obvious why Smith desired to keep the record secret:
“The United States government is a damned wrotten (sic) thing full of lice, moth eaten, corrupt, and there is nothing but meanness about it.” (Apostle LymanWight/ Council Fifty Minutes)
Joseph Smith published an editorial in the Times and Seasons that “the earth was rent from center to circumference, with party strife, political intrigue and sectional interest” because no nation or kingdom acknowledge the role of the divine law (quoting from “The Mormon Council of Fifty: What Joseph Smith Records Reveal by Benjamin Park 9/9/16).
Latter-day Saints saw the United States government as a persecutor and unable to protect the rights of minorities such as the Mormons.
“We are under the United States, but the United States is not the Kingdom of God. It (Kingdom of God) prefers not to be under his (United States) rule, nor his government, nor his authority.”—John Taylor JD 21.9 page 69
The “standard” for Zion was not national but universal. It knew no boundaries or jingoistic sentiments. Its’ only allegiance was to a Kingdom that would, as prophesied by Daniel, break up all nations.
The Mormon “Constantine” Shift
When Mormonism was discriminated against and felt a keen sense of injustice at the hands of its government, state militias, local law enforcement and the justice system, we defiantly protested even if the rest of the country saw us as treasonous, but that all changed.
Like the first Christians, Mormonism undertook just as a dramatic shift from having a solitary allegiance to God to subjugating that allegiance to the state, but unlike Christianity it did not take us four hundred years to trade the cross for a flag. Utah became a state in 1896. Two years later the United States was engaged in the Spanish-American war (incidentally a false flag operation aka “Remember the Maine,” was used by “evil and designing men” within our government to whip our nation into a patriotic fervor resulting in the wholesale butcher of several hundred thousand in the Philippines —killing anyone that opposed our military that invaded their country which is a model still followed today by the USA military killing machine). So in just a matter of years we wanted to show the United States that now instead of being suspicious of their evil that we had protested for six decades prior to statehood, we would provide the best soldiers and support our nation in time of war without any reservation.
“For many the first serious test of Mormon patriotism occurred with the outbreak of the Spanish American War. Although a few Mormons, notably Brigham Young, Jr. spoke out against the war, most Latter-day Saints, like other Americans, gave it their enthusiastic support. With official encouragement from church leaders, several hundred young Mormons enlisted. There were cheers and waving of flags as the young men marched through the streets of Salt Lake City before boarding their train to their destination. Mormons responded with general enthusiasm to demonstrate their national loyalty.” The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-day Saints, Leonard J. Arrington. Page 251
With the glaring exception of the First Presidency issuing a statement after WWII renouncing the creation of any standing army and the a military draft (since largely ignored), as LDS we have taken pride in being super patriots. We have conflated commitment to God and our religion with commitment to military service. Consider these few samplings of war endorsements and patriotism from Viet Nam to the present:
Viet Nam: “When our nation calls the manhood of the Church into the armed service of any country to which they owe allegiance, their highest duty requires that they meet that call.” Howard Hunter
Invasion of Iraq; “God will not hold men and women in uniform responsible as agents of their government in carrying forward that which they are legally obligated to do . “As citizens we are under the will of our respective sovereigns“ –Pres. Hinckley
LDS.org: “Latter-day Saints in the military do not need to feel torn between their country and their God. In the Church, “we believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law” – Articles of Faith 1:12).
“Military service shows dedication to this principle. If they are required to shed another’s blood, their action will not be counted as a sin.” (lds.org)
And our presiding authority speaks:
“Our church has always taught members to obey the nation. In times of war we have no hesitancy in following he flag. You won’t find a more patriotic group” Pres. Monson
President Monson is spot on in the last two sentences just quoted. As LDS we are now conditioned to having “no hesitancy in following the flag” and we take pride in being the most “patriotic group” but he could not be more wrong in saying our church “has always taught members to obey the nation.” Our obedience to our nation came when we became accepted and no longer marginalized or persecuted. We were now assimilated and privileged and yes we now have “no hesitancy in following the flag” in supporting the police state domestically as long as the injustices are not directed towards us nor “hesitancy in following the flag” invading foreign nations and slaughtering hundreds of thousands of innocent victims of American imperialism—because it is not us.
The Mormon “Constantine Shift” is now complete. Contrast the above statements by our church leaders supporting every war of aggression and subsequent occupation by the United States military with the words of the Roman Legionnaire Marcellus refusing to honor the “banners” of his nation even if it cost him his life. The last sentence found in LDS.org regarding military service is almost identical to that of Pope Urban II who launched the crusades against the Muslims when he issued his Papal “War Indulgence” absolving the sins of any Christian soldiers when they kill under the banner/flag of their country.
Nothing has changed. Prophecies are timeless. The Book of Mormon foresees that us gentiles once receiving the “fullness of the gospel” would “sin against the gospel” and “pollute the Holy Church of God.” I cannot think of a greater pollution/sin and renunciation of Christ than to drop the cross and pick up the sword. The flag has become synonymous with allegiance to the military and now is conflated, in the ultimate blasphemy, with the gospel of the Prince of Peace.
So where do you stand, kneel or even sit when it comes to pledging allegiance to the flag of your country? Before reflexively going through any self-rationalization ask yourself this question:
When someone in your community does not share your beliefs, religion or faith traditions what is your reaction to that person? Now compare that to your conditioned reaction when someone in your community does not pledge allegiance our nation’s flag or refuses to support the police and/or military of our nation? If the later offends you even more than a rejection of your Christianity, then maybe you need to consider why you react so viscerally and with contempt for the one and not the other, and then step back and recognize how we have all been socially conditioned from our childhood to conflate all aspects of our culture with allegiance to a flag—- and then ask yourself how that relates to your alleged belief in the teachings and example of Jesus?
I cherish our constitution, our Bill of Rights, and our inherited common law traditions. Personally, for a myriad of reasons I made the decision more than two decades ago to never pledge allegiance to “the” flag or for that matter any flag of any sovereign state. My personal belief in the words and example of Jesus governs my decision to pledge to nothing but my creator. It has become increasingly clear to me that choosing to NOT pledge allegiance to the flag is a manifestation of loyalty to the values of the founding fathers of this nation for I am certain they would have found pledging allegiance to a flag antithetical to the principles upon which this nation was founded —-but that is another matter for another day to address.
I have gratitude that our nation allows Christians and monotheists, who take literally the words of Christ, to live by the commandment of our God to not pledge allegiance to any “image” or “likeness of anything” other than our Creator who invites us to look to and pledge allegiance to Him and Him alone.
For an LDS historical overview of our first six decades of rejection of American government allegiance followed by our own “Constantine Shift” see The Mormon Worker
And for, in all modesty, an irrefutable essay on why as LDS we should all be Conscientious objectors: http://ldsrenouncewar.org/essays/renounce-war-an-invitation-to-conscientiously-object-witness/