In my Paris post last week, I briefly mentioned a controversy over the pledge of allegiance not being included in the Veteran’s Day service hosted by Seattle Pacific University a week ago. The university chaplain cut the Pledge of Allegiance, as well as the presentation of the colors because “there is a diversity of views on campus” and SPU was the subject of national contention. The school’s chaplain has even received death threats. What I find interesting is that the controversy was over whether or not people should be allowed to say the pledge of allegiance, not, say, whether a Christian university has any business holding or hosting a Veteran’s Day Service at all.
Point number one: When I was in elementary school, I protested being forced to say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning. I was not a Christian then, I just didn’t like being told who or what I should give my loyalty to or being forced to make public declarations that I did not understand (for example, as a seven-year-old, I thought “pledge allegiance” was one word and couldn’t find it in the dictionary when I tried to become more informed about what I was saying). And this is why I am against the decision to cut The Pledge. It’s not really about whether it belongs in a VETERAN’S DAY SERVICE or not, it’s about dictating what people can and can’t say. If your goal truly is supporting the “diversity of views on campus,” then make saying The Pledge optional. Cutting it so that a select few can feel safe is not making room for diversity; it’s mandating your own views. As a follower of Christ, I think the Pledge is idolatrous and as a becoming-way-overly-informed person, I think it’s kind of creepy. Because I live in a country theoretically governed by laws that grant freedom of speech, freedom of religion and separation of church and state, I can have that opinion. But, because I live in a country theoretically governed by laws that grant freedom of speech, freedom of religion and separation of church and state, I find it kind of inappropriate that NOT saying The Pledge would be mandatory. Maybe pulling The Pledge from a Christian-hosted Veteran’s Day service can be seen as separating church and state (the state-centric event was literally held in a church), but a Christian-hosted Veteran’s Day Service in a church has in its very premise already mixed church and state. That, though, is not really why I want to raise the issue no one (that I know of) discussed.
Point number two (brace yourselves, offensive statements ahead): Is it just a fully accepted, comfortably-usual thing, like breathing, for a Christian University to host a Veteran’s Day service in the first place? Our country is arguably the most violent one in history…which is why we have so many soldiers who are out there allegedly “fighting for our freedom.” But our freedom to/from what? Freedom from responsibility for our planet-wide actions? Freedom to continue our way of life, where hatred and uninformed bigotry are broadcast as “news” (at least the US propaganda machine is pretty), where we have a list of states who think they can identify as Christian and yet refuse refugees of another holocaust? Our way of life, our unconscionably wasteful and privatized war industry that lines the pockets of a few soi-disant elite, that wreaks so much havoc and destruction on other nations, the environment and each other? Maintain this illusion of city-on-a-hill exceptionalism?
Well, I guess American exceptionalism isn’t totally an illusion: we incarcerate more people than any nation in the world, we have more mass shootings than any nation in the world, we have more expensive health care than any nation in the world (while being 38th – just ahead of Cuba – in terms of quality of care). We’re only 2nd best among developed nations at child homelessness, but speaking of illusions, what place does a Christian University have in perpetuating the one that being a soldier (even if it were the noble, honorable thing most everyone else is certain that it is) is still treated as noble or honorable in society today? By most accounts (see more below), it’s not. I’m not saying I don’t #supportthetroops…I support our troops by being a pacifist. (Ask me about that some other time.)
Point number three: And if SPU, a Christian school, really supported our troops, why didn’t they organize a food/clothing/fundraising drive to support the over 57,000 thousand veterans living on the streets of this great nation they fought and bled for? Or find a way to come alongside veterans struggling with suicidal thoughts and PTSD (we lose about 530 vets to suicide every year), their lives and minds ravaged by the atrocities they’ve committed in the name of “fighting for our freedom?” No. Instead, it held a service (where I heard that the president of the university waxed poetic about the greatness of our nation’s military) and sparked a red-Starbucks-cup-level controversy about the corporate recitation of devotion to a spangled piece of cloth. But speaking of debacles involving the color red, did you know that the red of the American flag’s 13 stripes – one for each “original colony” (except that there weren’t actually 13) – symbolizes the blood of the British soldiers slaughtered in the Revolutionary War?