As we stand between Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, it is a good time to reflect on the fraught relationship between Christian churches and American civil religion. One of the most contentious issues is whether churches should have an American flag in their worship space.
The place of the flag in church has always been controversial in American history. For instance, as Timothy Wesley tells the story in his book The Politics of Faith During the Civil War, a wartime Methodist church in border state Missouri was being used by both Northern and Southern Methodist congregations. The Southern Methodists arrived one Sunday morning to find an American flag hanging from the pulpit, left over from the Unionists’ meeting. Some Unionists were attending the Southern Methodist meeting that day, and after the sermon, they took down the flag and held it over the door, trying to force the Southern Methodist minister to walk under it.