10 April 2023 |
Today Aunty answers two very similar questions from readers:
Dear Aunt Sevvy,
It’s been awhile since I attended an Adventist church service, but I went recently for a musical event.
It was interesting to me that the church didn’t have a cross anywhere in the sanctuary—but there was a prominently displayed American flag.
I am thankful to be an American, but my nationality is not related to my worship of God. In fact, nationality and politics seems to divide those in the church rather than unite us. Why is nationalism so prominent in Adventist churches?
Signed, National Idolatry?
Dear Aunt Sevvy,
I am from Canada. I travel a lot, and when I’m attending church in the United States I always see the flag of the country in a prominent place at the front.
I believe in patriotism, but cannot understand why, since we Adventists stand so strongly for the separation of church and state, that the flag of the country is brought right into the sanctuary.
Dear Idolatry? & Puzzled,
You both have identified one of the ironies of American Adventism. Not only is this phenomenon puzzling in terms of our church’s prophecy-informed belief in separation of church and state, but even more so when you consider the number of people from other countries who make up our congregations in the United States.
Seventh-day Adventism was birthed as an American religion. Our interpretation of Revelation 13:11-18, in which our church identified America as the lamb-like beast who carries out Rome’s persecution of Sabbath-keepers, made other Christians and even national leaders wonder whether we were true blue Americans. This came up again when Adventists claimed pacifism when called to do military service, which contributed to the well-known “noncombatancy” compromise.
While there is a great deal more history here than Aunty can relate, church historians have suggested that Adventist nationalism may have been driven by a desire to downplay the fact that our prophetic interpretation, as expressed in The Great Controversy and prophetic evangelistic series, has anti-American elements.
The line between church and state has been muddied further in the past two decades, as many Bible-believing American churches and evangelists have aligned themselves with right-wing anti-immigrant and nationalist ideologies. The aging church membership in American Adventism has bought into this idea, to the extent that the prophetic warnings of the past about governments’ moving into the realm of religion have been forgotten.
Aunty has known pastors and members here who have urged removing the American flag from the front of their churches. But they meet a lot of resistance: at this point in our history, American Adventists either see no contradiction between patriotism and faith, or are frightened of being tagged as anti-American.
In short, nationalism seems to be in the ascendency—and Aunty isn’t sure what can be done about that.
You can write to Aunt Sevvy at DearAuntSevvy@gmail.com. Please keep questions or comments short. What you send us at this address won’t necessarily be, but could be, published—without identifying the writer. Aunt Sevvy writes her own column, and her opinions are not necessarily those of Adventist Today’s editors.