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Under God, Christians Should Refuse to Pledge Allegiance to the Flag

South Dakota theologian Anna Madsen reports that when her daughter Else was seven, she refused to pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. Why? Because she believes in liberty, justice, and God:

...three years ago, on her own, when she was seven, Else (whose middle name, by the way, is my grandmother’s first) announced that she had decided to refuse to say the Pledge.

I was pretty sure that I saw my grandma’s glint in Else’s eyes.

“Why, baby girl?” I asked, trying badly to suppress my glee that already she was rabblerousing.

“Because there clearly isn’t justice and liberty for all. More than that, I don’t think it’s right to pledge allegiance to anything but God” [Anna Madsen, "Pledging Allegiance," OMG Center for Theological Conversation, 2014.01.30].

Madsen reminds us that the author of the Pledge was a Christian socialist selling flags and magazines. We like to cite that history as evidence of the flimsiness of the Pledge as a crucial thread in American patriotism... but maybe those crass capitalist origins say as much about America as the words themselves.

Madsen then emphasizes that pledging allegiance to a flag is not Christian:

...In God we Christian disciples trust (I can’t and shouldn’t speak for Americans as a whole).

That is our primary identity. As Christians we trust in God.

Not in America. Not in America above all other nations.

But in God the God of all creation, which includes, of course, all peoples.

No Others exist in the Christian community.


We are a people claimed by, formed by, defined by the risen Christ who came for all, and by the Jesus who fed, welcomed, healed, forgave, taught, visited, and who taught to give to the poor, to clothe the naked, and to turn the other cheek.

And Christians, by their very faith allegiance, not to mention their name (Christ-ians), become ambassadors, become disciples of this particular way of being in the world…a way that, while on occasion might gel with the nationalistic goals of the United States of America, may also, in fact, preclude them.

That’s nicely radical [Madsen, 2014.01.30].

Our mostly Christian legislators think that pasting God onto a patriotic exercise reinforces both Christianity and America. They are wrong on both counts.


  1. interested party 2014.01.31

    E pleb neesta.

  2. Joan 2014.01.31

    Amen, Cory! Anna has done her parenting well. Nothing warms my heart as much as seeing one of my kids unafraid to ask a question or require an explanation.

  3. Roger Elgersma 2014.01.31

    Go through divorce court and you will not trust America anymore. They will try to wreck your faith in God.

  4. Tasi Livermont 2014.01.31

    Many anabaptist Christians, including their colleges, won't say the Pledge, either. I used to attend a church that had us say it every year on Veteran's Day and sometimes for the fourth. You want some cognitive dissonance, try that one on for size, considering Christians are supposed to be following someone who said, "My Kingdom is not of this world." This is why I'm a recovering Evangelical…I'm to Christocentric in the face of the American Religion they mostly serve.

  5. Roger Cornelius 2014.01.31


    I liked the "recovering Evangelical", that's a great line

  6. Joan Brown 2014.01.31

    Finally some people that agree with me.

  7. Deb Geelsdottir/ 2014.02.01

    The Rev. Anna Madsen is a woman to respect and emulate. She was living in Germany with her son, husband and daughter. Early 2000s. Husband and son were bicycling and were hit by a car. Husband was killed, son was severely injured. I think he has permanent disabilities. Anna became a prof at Augustana. I think she still is.

    The point is she has been through the fire. Her faith has endured brutal testing. I trust anything she says. It comes from a place most of us have not been near. She speaks from conviction.

  8. Anna Madsen 2014.02.01

    Thank you all for your comments about the piece, and to Cory for blogging about it.

    The Pledge issue fascinates me as a citizen and as a Christian.

    It was written by a man who would never have supported the present-day conservative agendas (and wrote the Pledge with these contrary ideas very much in mind); it gives power to big government in the lives of private citizens; and it asks Christians to ally themselves to something over and above God.

    So, for conservatives anyway, it is a historical, political, and theological quagmire and I'm not sure why they don't see it.

    A special word to Deb Geelsdottir: your words are over-the-top kind. Three quick things: 1) Bill and Karl were pedestrians, but you are right: Bill died, and Karl suffered a traumatic brain injury from which he is still and will always be recovering; 2) I did teach at Augustana, but now am doing OMG: Center for Theological Conversation full-time; 3) I deeply appreciate your trust, but let me be the first to say that the accident brought an awareness to me about a lot of things, not least of all the reality that on any given thing, I might be wrong, and that I surely make mistakes. That said, I do indeed speak from conviction--even when I might be wrong. :-)

  9. Deb Geelsdottir/ 2014.02.01

    It's good to hear from you Anna. Yes, I know you're not perfect and I don't expect you to be. I've bookmarked OMG. I do enjoy a good thealogical discussion.

  10. sampeil 2014.02.02

    Thanks for posting this, Cory.

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