During a recent social event linked to the 4th of July, I heard another Orthodox convert tell an interesting -- at times hilarious -- story about what happened the first time she took her children into a Baptist service in which there was, shall we say, an excessive amount of red-white-and-blue liturgical material in the music, decorations and even preaching.
This got me to thinking like a reporter. I wondered if, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's recent 5-4 Obergefell decision backing same-sex marriage coast to coast, the patriotic July 4th rubrics might have changed in some conservative congregations.
All newspapers had to do was send a few reporters out to megachurches and see what happened. This could have been a timely story.
In other words: Got news?
Lo and behold, this broad category of stories -- the chance that conservative Christians doubting their loyalties to American civil religion -- may have life after the 4th. Heed the top of this news report from Baptist Press, which indicates that some newsrooms are aware of this television-friendly story:
North Carolina pastor Rit Varriale wants to see churches fly the Christian flag above the American flag as a biblical statement, reversing flag etiquette that calls for the American flag to be flown in the prominent position.
Varriale, as senior pastor of Elizabeth Baptist Church in Shelby, N.C., said the church installed its first-ever flagpole in order to raise the two flags in a special ceremony after morning worship on Sunday (July 5) in which the Christian flag was raised in the higher position -- which prompted interviews by Charlotte-area NBC, CBS and Fox affiliates.
"If you stop and think about it, [flag etiquette] is inconsistent with what the Bible teaches us," Varriale said. "We are first and foremost Christians who are called to serve the living God."
What is the theological content of this move, which has currently has some political connotations? Also, note that this particular pastor has some pretty heavy-duty academic credentials. He also says that a local African-American church has made the same flagpole decision, and for the same reasons.
"So from a Christian perspective, our flag etiquette is completely improper," he said. "We should be flying the Christian flag above the American flag" as a demonstration that Christians will respect and obey the federal government up to the point that the government asks something that is inconsistent with what God has called His people to do.
Varriale is among an increasing number of pastors who believe government is trying to coerce Christians to live in ways that violate Scripture. "They use different justifications for it, like anti-discrimination laws," he said. "Christians are being coerced to serve the government before they serve God. That is something we can't stand for." Varriale is an Army veteran as a Ranger and officer with the 82nd Airborne Division and graduate of The Citadel, Campbell University Divinity School, Duke Divinity School and Princeton Theological Seminary.
There is, of course, a social-media hook for this. Reporters might want to check out GodBeforeGovernment.org -- in part to look for comments from churches in other parts of the nation. Sooner or later, there may be a localized version of this story coming to a zip code near you.
Is this a story? Well, would it be a story if a liberal congregation had taken this action in response to, let's say, America's first or second move into Iraq? How about an African-American church in Baltimore doing this action as a protest against government actions, or lack thereof, in poor neighborhoods? A Mennonite flock protesting a new missile silo?