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Mennonites and the Flagby Susan Mark Landis, Minister of Peace and Justice
Mennonites have different ideas about the flag. Perhaps there are several issues involved:
What follows are only very brief responses.
The Historical Context of Mennonites and Their Relationship to the State
Our confession of faith states that Mennonites first and foremost see the church as God's holy nation. "The only Christian nation is the church of Jesus Christ, made up of people from every tribe and nation, called to witness to God's glory."
Because Mennonites put their citizenship and allegiance to God far ahead of citizenship of any earthly nation, they have often been persecuted during times of war when they refuse to join the military. Because we know that God's church is made up of people from every nation, we believe that God blesses each nation and doesn't play favorites. This is why some Mennonites hesitate to sing "God bless America." They want God to bless all nations.
Mennonites began this denomination on the run from the government and many times through the years have found themselves opposed to their earthly government. Sometimes they have had good relations with their host country, but always there is an unease about how long this will last. Often the relationship sours over the issue of conscientious objection to war: when Mennonites weren't given this right, they often moved to another country.
Other parts of this section of the confession of faith talk about the respect due to our governing authorities and how important it is that we pray for them.
Mennonites' Relationship to the FlagBecause Mennonites give their primary allegiance to God, some choose to not say the Pledge of Allegiance. They claim the pledge does not allow them to first be citizens of God's kingdom. This issue has been so important to Mennonites over the years that many Mennonite communities built and staffed their own Mennonite schools, so their children did not have to say the pledge. Mennonites have often been persecuted in the United States for refusing to fly the flag.
One reason some Mennonites see the flag as a symbol of violence is because a primary purpose of a flag is to identify a nation during war. Back when the Revolutionary War was fought, the flag was created so that it could be carried into battle. As soon as territory is taken over during a war, the nation's flag is raised over it. Our national anthem was a poem written during a battle, glorifying war. That's the reason many Mennonites don't sing it.
Where Our Freedoms of Religion Originated
I'm not sure exactly what some folks mean when they talk about the freedoms we enjoy which others have fought for. Mennonites were not given legal CO status until just before World War II. During WW I, people from peace churches who refused to serve in the military were put in jail and sorely mistreated. Two even died. More than likely, it was the uproar over the death of those two men, and the hard work done by leaders of the peace churches in the years between the first and second world wars who made possible my freedom of religion. It wasn't given to me by any soldier, but legislated through the courts.
Many nations broke off from the British empire over the years, and they all have basic freedom of religion and speech--Canada, Australia, India. None of these nations fought a war against England. Only the U. S. chose to do that. One plan the Continental Congress considered, and which lost by only one vote, would have made possible a peaceful resolution to the taxation problem.
Patriotism means different things to different people, but feelings often run deep and passionate on this topic. Mennonites have widely divergent views usually influenced by their life experiences. If you choose to discuss this in your Sunday school class or other settings, please