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What is the deal with playing the national anthem before every single sporting event or public event here in the US?  I mean that literally too.  We play the national anthem before professional sports events, school sports and music events, concerts, and pretty much anywhere there is some kind of sound system available and people are gathered.  Every time.  This is not an exaggeration.  We attended a circus recently and the national anthem was played before the show started.  Really?

I never noticed this until I lived outside of the country for a year.  I can count on one hand the amount of times I heard the Finnish national anthem while we lived there.  And it was never played for sporting events.  It was only played for national events – like their Independence Day (Dec. 6) or other big national holidays.

From what I have read, the consensus is that the national anthem being played at sporting events started with baseball. And it really picked up steam during the 1918 World Series as a way to show the patriotism of the people in attendance.  You know, there was a war going on, so people had to show how loyal they were to the country.

Reminds me of the stories I’ve heard about when American flags started entering sanctuaries at churches – during World War II.  It was a way for German-Americans to show patriotism, especially in Lutheran congregations.

That’s great and all, but times have changed.  Why do we continue with these practices?

I think we all know we’re Americans.  I don’t think we need a reminder of that at every single sporting event, do we?  What does sports and patriotism really have to do with each other anyway?   Here’s the answer – nothing.  But nationalism is a powerful force.  It can cause people to do things they wouldn’t normally do.  In a sense, nationalism takes on a religious conviction.

Imagine an effort to try to change this – stop playing the national anthem at sporting events and other public events and reserve it for special occasions.  At this point, it would be impossible.  You’d be labeled as unpatriotic or worse.  I know of churches that have been torn apart over fights about having the flag in the sanctuary or not.

The symbolism of the American flag carries a great deal of meaning.  Yet I wonder how much of the symbolism conflicts with Christianity and how much aligns with it.  Yes, there is the ideals.  But there is also the realities too that we so easy brush aside or feign ignorance about.  Having a flag in church aligns with Christendom – which is different.  Christendom is the idea that church and state can be united and promote the same thing – that’s my definition anyway.  It’s much more complicated than that of course.

I would imagine this post might be extremely offensive to some people.  You might think I’m pretty unpatriotic for even asking these questions.  I already know the criticisms.  And yet, all I’m doing is asking some questions.  I’m not making any effort to remove the anthem or the flag from anywhere.

Here’s a few serious, and probably very uncomfortable, questions for you.  Sit with them for awhile.  At what point does nationalism become an article of faith that is spared from questioning?  If we are Christian, what is our primary allegiance?  What happens when our allegiance to God’s kingdom and our citizenship in a nation comes in conflict?