Busted Halo

Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft tries to balance her traditional Mexican-American cultural heritage and Catholic identity, personified by her grandmother La Lupe, with her roles as a young wife and mother.

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June 14th, 2011

Separation of Flag and Faith (Take 2)


flag2-flashWhen I was a kid, I always enjoyed holding my hand over my heart and saying the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of the school day. I love singing the “Star-Spangled Banner” at the beginning of baseball games. My heart can’t help but swell with pride for my country. My dad, being from Mexico, always made sure I knew how blessed I was to be born and live in the United States of America.

That being said, my first allegiance is to God. When it comes to “God stuff” in “State stuff,” I have no problems. I think it’s great that the Pledge of Allegiance includes “one nation under God.” I know the Knights of Columbus fought hard for this addition. It is citing the correct order of things — God first, Country second.

It is important to keep this order in mind when putting “State stuff” in “God stuff.” The majority of Catholic churches in Texas that I have entered (which is a lot because I’m a big nerd and love visiting churches I’ve never been to) have an American flag displayed near or next to the tabernacle. I take issue with the flag being up there next to the true presence of Christ and addressed this point in a blog post last year. I have thought about this a lot and have found no theological argument for its placement there.

I know there is nothing in Canon Law that regulates the placement of flags in a church, but it just seems proper for the sanctuary of the church to be free of all civil signs as it is the sacred space where the Body and Blood are present with us. I have no problem with an American flag in a church but I think that its placement it very important. It should be in the parish hall or in the atrium or narthex. To have it in the sanctuary of the church seems opposed to what the church stands for, a place for all people, no exceptions.

As Christians, I do believe that we are called to be patriotic and to perform our civic duty. I see nothing incompatible with a patriotic Catholic who has pride in his/her country. But in the physical space of the Mass, in that sacred place, our country is heaven and our allegiance is to God.

This being a country with a very large immigrant population, I have often wondered if immigrants feel somewhat excluded when they are in Mass and see a flag up there by Jesus. Do they feel like the church is telling them that Jesus is only for the American citizens?

I believe that it is important to make sure the symbols we have in a church are not going to ostracize anyone. Having the American flag right next to the tabernacle seems like a symbol of division. The message of Jesus is that all are welcome to come to God regardless of sins committed, socioeconomic status, past history, race, ethnicity, or citizenship. Having a flag in the church changes this message.

In our time here in Austin, my husband and I have had the opportunity to get to know the Paulist community. The vision of Isaac Hecker, the founder of the Paulist Fathers, was that being American could make you a better Catholic and being Catholic could make you a better American. Even with this vision, the Paulist churches here in Austin that we’ve been to do not have an American flag in the sanctuary of the church. I bring this up because these churches obviously value being American but I don’t think it is an accident that they have chosen to place the American flag in other places outside of the main church.

As the Church, we want to get rid of any barriers that might prevent people from coming to Jesus. I believe when it comes to the Body of Christ, there should be a separation of flag and faith.

The Author : Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft
Vanessa, a Notre Dame grad, loves the Catholic Worker Movement, Catholic education, and overbearing Mexican mothers, which she may or may not be. She lives in Austin with her husband and five daughters and is a freelance writer. You can find Vanessa at v.kraft.im or follow Vanessa on Twitter @laluped.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Deacon Tom Evrard

    I am happy the see the US and Vatican Flags in some Catholic Churches. Ultimately, we know that God truly is “in charge”. The Founders had the inspired insight to understand that the Country they were working to establish could not be sustained without a God.
    As a USMC veteran, I was and am proud to serve under both flags! When I pray and view the US flag in church I am reminded of the sacrifice all who gave years and lives as a payment for the blessing of being born in this country. “In God we trust” is an expression of gratitude for the gifts our country provides. In spite of all our flaws, I believe that God is watching over us.
    In the end, the flag and the phrase is a but symbol and a motto that are meant to inspire and motivate us to be better citizens, not to institute a theocracy.

  • Ian Johnson

    I’m a Protstant, but the same sort of mixing of American patriotism into theworship of Christ happens in many Protestant churches. I have the same kind of reservations about it that you do. It seems to me that those who want us to worship “God and country” have one god too many.

  • GB

    We should get God removed from the Declaration of Independence too, eh?

    For the sake of saying, the original pledge was composed by a Baptism minister who wanted “equality” to be included in it, but knew that it wouldn’t fly since he knew too many people would object as women and African-Americans shouldn’t be considered equal.

  • Richard S.

    I cannot tell you how offended I am by your second paragraph, and how convinced I am that the phrase “under God” has NO BUSINESS being in the Pledge. The Pledge is a SECULAR AFFIRMATION of patriotism, not a declaration of religious belief. Personally, I couldn’t care less whether the American flag is displayed at church, but I have NEVER uttered the words “under God” when reciting the pledge — I simply remain silent for that moment — and I fully support those who periodically attempt to get the Pledge restored to its original, intended form. Oh, and while we’re at it, let’s get “In God We Trust” off our currency as well — it doesn’t belong there either.

  • Brian

    In Canada we often see a Canadian flag and a Vatican flag at the far corners of the Sancturary. I never had a problem with it, I just assumed it was in case someone forgot what country they where in, and what church they where praying in. :)

  • Fr. Dan

    Actually, there are rubrics for the USA as this occurs only in the United States. The US Flag and Vatican flag may be displayed in the worship space, however, they cannot be in the sanctuary. A lot of parishes have the flags in the back of the church, either hanging from the choir loft or wall or in the gathering space with photos of deployed parishioners. A blue or gold star flag may also be displayed (usually the window display one) in the worship space or gathering space. I do not have the reference in front of me but it was a letter from the US Bishops that Rome sanctioned. Zenit litury column wrote about it and I believe the Divine Worship at the USCCB has it there.

  • Theresa

    And it’s not just immigrants who might feel excluded. What about visitors and businessmen from other countries? We invite them to worship with us, too.
    I guess I’m surprised that so many churches have the flag near the tabernacle. Catholic churches around here place them near the entrence of the church.

  • Adam

    A great post and a great point. As someone who (almost) always disagrees with Mrs. Gonzalez-Kraft’s viewpoint I have to say this article brings up a very important point. Kudos to her and to the Paulist churches who are taking the right approach.

  • Zeb

    I agree completely. Our worship should be separate from our national allegiance. I am also very bothered when patriotic songs are substituted for hymns on or around national holidays.

  • James Leo Oliver

    I remember as a kid thinking how lucky I was to be born Catholic and American.

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