Three times in my life I have raised my right hand and taken an oath to serve this country in her armed forces. The first time was at the age of eighteen when I joined the United States Navy, next was to serve as a member of the Louisiana Army National Guard and the last time for the Navy Reserves.
This is the oath I took "I, [my name], do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God."
I meant those words when I said them. I was proud to take this oath then and I would do so again today if I were needed to. I am sure most Americans would do the same. I believe every American should be willing to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic" even if it means loosing ones own life in that struggle.
I dearly love the Constitution of these United States. I’ve read it many times. Sadly most Americans have failed to read our nations covenant document even once. I especially love reading the often heated debates which the Founding Fathers had over the Constitution’s ratification. These men on, whichever side they took, were passionate about it. The ratification debates are a wonderful treasure and if you want to know what the Founders actually meant in this great document you must read their debates about it.
Now I wish to write about a popular oath that I cannot recite with a clear conscience. It has been news lately and we all know this oath very well. It is called the Pledge of Allegiance. Someone reading this maybe asking him or herself "How can he proudly take the first oath and not repeat the pledge?"
I think I have a very sound constitutional reason for my position. In the first oath I am pledging to defend something that is well defined and has clear limits. It is a patriotic oath to defend the system of government handed down to us by our forebears. It is an oath to defend ideas.
The pledge to the flag is very different. First the original author of the pledge, Francis Bellamy (1855 - 1931), was a socialist. This fact alone should give us some hesitation. Next there are points in the pledge that are not historically accurate. The United States was not founded as a single nation state, but as a federated republic of states (nations). The founders did not create the union to be indivisible. In fact eleven states did legally divide themselves from the union but were forcibly reattached to the union by the point of a bayonet after the bloodiest war in our history.
But those reasons are minor and are not the main reason why I can’t say the pledge. The main reason I can not in good conscience say the Pledge of Allegiance is the pledge is a nationalist pledge. It is not a statement of patriotism, though it is often confused with patriotism, but an oath to follow the flag wherever it goes for what ever reason. That is nationalism and not patriotism.
There is a famous toast from 1816 by a young naval officer named Stephen Decatur that epitomizes what I mean by nationalism as opposed to patriotism. Decatur said "To our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations, may she always be in the right, but our country, right or wrong!" His loyalty was first to the nation even if she is wrong. That is not a Christian concept.
John Quincy Adams responded to the words of Decatur this way. He said "I can never join with my voice in the toast which I see in the papers attributed to one of our gallant naval heroes. I cannot ask of heaven success, even for my country, in a cause where she should be in the wrong. Fiat justitia, pereat coelum. My toast would be, may our country always be successful, but whether successful or otherwise, always right." [The Latin phrase translates this way "Let justice be done though heaven should fall" - anonymous, circa 43 B.C.]
The only entity deserving of our unquestioned loyalty is God. If our nation seeks to do evil then it is our duty to God and country to stand against the evil. Meanings ascribed to a flag can change and does change. Our allegiance to symbols may have to change as well, but our loyalty to the triune God of the Bible.
The oath I took to defend the Constitution is clear. It is not an unquestioned oath to a symbol, but an oath to an idea that is clearly stated. Lawyers and others have done a great deal to muddle the meaning of those words, but you and I can read them and the writings and speeches of the men who ratified them. We can know what they meant and what it means.
Nationalism is a very dangerous thing. It can be used far great evil so it is important that we never give blind allegiance to an earthly government.
Patriotism is noble and good and it is kin to familial loyalty. Christians especially need to be able to understand the difference between nationalism and patriotism. The difference is vast and the Pledge of Allegiance is, like it or not a nationalist pledge.