What Was Being Worshiped Yesterday at First Baptist Church in Dallas?

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Yesterday was “Freedom Sunday” at the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas.  The pastor of First Baptist is Robert Jeffress.  He is a Trump supporter, Christian nationalist, and prominent court evangelical. As the pictures attached to this tweet indicate, it was a day of patriotic celebration in the church sanctuary.

People waved American flags during the service.

The last time I checked, the waving of the American flag was a sign of support or loyalty to the nation.  Jeffress had no problem allowing such an act to take place in a church sanctuary–the place where Christians worship God as a form of expressing their ultimate loyalty.  Patriotism is fine. Flag-waving is fine.  But I wonder if any of the congregation felt uncomfortable that all of this took place in the church sanctuary on a Sunday morning.

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There were fireworks.  Yes, fireworks.  Somehow the pyrotech crew at First Baptist figured out a way to pull this off without burning the place down.  I assume that these fireworks did not represent the pillars of fire that led the Israelites through the wilderness in the Old Testament. (Although it wouldn’t surprise me if someone during the service connected these patriotic fireworks to God’s leading of his new “chosen people”–the United States–through the desert of extreme religious persecution). I also don’t think the fireworks were meant to represent the “tongues of fire” present on the day of Pentecost as recorded in the book of Acts, chapter 2.  (Also, from what I am able to tell from the church website, First Baptist did not celebrate Pentecost Sunday on June 4, 2017).

It also looks like the congregation of First Baptist sung the Woody Guthrie classic “This Land is Your Land.”  I am guessing they did not sing all of the original verses.

How can this not be a form of idolatry?

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The American Flag, the Nazis, and the Socialist Origins of the Pledge of Allegiance

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Check out Jordan Teicher’s great short piece at JSTOR Daily about the so-called “Bellamy Salute.”  (Pictured above in 1915).

Seventy-four years ago today, lawmakers passed an amendment to the U.S. Flag Code, which President Franklin D. Roosevelt had approved just a few months earlier, instructing Americans reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to do so while “standing at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart.”

This may have been the earliest federal rule addressing what civilians should do to accompany the recitation of the Pledge, but it was by no means the first time someone had thought about it. That distinction goes to Francis Bellamy, a Christian socialist minister who, in 1892, was working at Youth’s Companion magazine. He came up with a physical component to the Pledge because, in fact, he was the guy who wrote it.

Keep reading.

Grace Wisher and the Star Spangled Banner

The good folks at the National Museum of American History have published a post telling the story of Grace Wisher, the 13-year-old African American servant who helped Mary Pickersgill design the Star Spangled Banner which flew over Fort McHenry and inspired Francis Scott Key to write the national anthem of the United States of America.  Here is a taste of Wisher’s story as told by Helen Yuen and Asantewa Boakyewa of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore:

The size of the Star-Spangled Banner and its six-week timeline for completion would have necessitated many people working on the flag, including Mary Pickersgill’s three nieces and Grace Wisher. The household also had an enslaved person, whose name we do not know.
The home where Pickersgill and Wisher lived is now a museum called the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House. It holds a 1962 painting by famed Baltimore artist Robert McGill Mackall. The portrait features the Pickersgill household and the three men who commissioned the garrison and storm flags for Fort McHenry: Commodore Joshua Barney, General John Stricker, and Colonel George Armistead. As a tribute to Wisher, the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House drew in a ghost figure into the painting that represents the young girl. Due to our uncertainty of what she looked like, the placeholder is a traced line, but the recognition is tangible.
A major show inspired by Wisher is now on view at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture in Baltimore, Maryland. The exhibition For Whom It Stands: The Flag and the American People chronicles the flag through our nation’s history and culture. Coming full circle, the museum and exhibition are on the same city block where Wisher once lived and sewed the flag. Although none of Wisher’s personal effects are on display there and may have been lost to history, her untold story is a major theme of the show.

Why Doesn’t the U.S. Olympic Team Lower the Flag?

I am sure Amy Bass knew this, but I did not.  During the opening ceremonies, the United States is the only country whose Olympic team does not dip its flag when passing the box containing the leaders of the host nation.  The tradition–a clear manifestation of American exceptionalism–goes back to 1908.

David Wharton explains it all at the LA Times.  Here is a taste:

Most Olympic teams briefly lower their colors as a sign of respect when they march past the box where the host nation’s leaders are seated. The U.S. does not.

When the Americans pick a flag bearer for the 2012 London Olympics this week, he or she almost certainly will be advised to uphold a tradition that dates back more than a century.

According to popular legend, shotputter Ralph Rose set the tone at the 1908 Summer Games — also held in London — when he supposedly proclaimed: “This flag dips for no earthly king.”

To the rest of the world, it seemed like blatant nationalism. The truth of the matter, and the history of America’s refusal to dip, is far more complicated than that.

I wonder if this non-dipping practice will have any deeper resonance this year.  After all, the Olympics are in England!  You know–1776 and all that.