Pledging allegiance
Religion & Liberty Online

Pledging allegiance

A website of some interest has come to me today, Prayer Of Allegiance. Spurred on by the controversy surrounding the inclusion of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, the author of the prayer states, “While I am proud and privileged to be an American, my allegiance ultimately is to God — and it must run deeper than two symbolic words in a patriotic statement. That epiphany inspired me to write the Prayer of Allegiance.”

This reminds me of the first article of the Barmen Declaration of 1934, confessed in resistance to the German Reich church:

1. “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold through the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved.” John 10:1,9

Jesus Christ, as he is attested to us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God whom we have to hear, and whom we have to trust and obey in life and in death.

We reject the false doctrine that the Church could and should recognize as a source of its proclamation, beyond and besides this one Word of God, yet other events, powers, historic figures and truths as God’s revelation.”

Karl Barth, the author of the Barmen Declaration, was forced into exile from Germany after his refusal to sign a pledge of loyalty to Hitler.

Here’s a brief excerpt of what I’ve written in the past, somewhat related to this topic:

Whatever their particular political leanings, Christians must beware not to become beholden to an ideology which supersedes the ultimate claims of Christian loyalty. This wariness is exemplified in the apostolic confession, “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29 NIV). When the claims of secular authority, as they so often do, seek to become the ultimate objects of human activity, Christians are called to consistently reorient themselves to God, the object of their ultimate allegiance.

The church is witness to this higher reality. As theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg writes, “This means ipso facto, by the very existence of the church and in the living of its liturgical life, a challenging of the claims of every political and judicial order, whether monarchical, oligarchical, or democratic, to embody the form of social life that is ultimately in keeping with human destiny.” To this end, individual Christians, and to an even greater extent Christian institutions, should not identify so closely with any secular agenda that they lose their autonomy and abdicate their prophetic responsibility. An extreme and frightening example of such abdication is the German state church’s complicity in Hitler’s grab for power in Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.

Just as a Christian’s pledge of allegiance to any particular nation-state must be “under God,” so too our political allegiances must be subservient to our allegiance to God. This is what Jesus demands of us when he says: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21 NIV).

Jordan J. Ballor

Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is director of research at the Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy, an initiative of the First Liberty Institute. He has previously held research positions at the Acton Institute and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and has authored multiple books, including a forthcoming introduction to the public theology of Abraham Kuyper. Working with Lexham Press, he served as a general editor for the 12 volume Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology series, and his research can be found in publications including Journal of Markets & Morality, Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Faith & Economics, and Calvin Theological Journal. He is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary and the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity & Politics at Calvin University.