Once upon a time, Vacation Bible School (VBS) lasted a week, took place in the morning and featured a highly structured opening assembly.
During the assembly, the pianist would play a “stand-up chord” (a major lift) and a “sit-down chord” (a minor fall) to signal us when we were to stand up or sit down.
Early in the ceremony, the pianist would play the stand-up chord, and we’d rise for the pledges. We said three.
We’d pledge allegiance to the Christian flag. You may not know there is a Christian flag, much less a pledge to it.
So, as a public service, here are the words to the pledge: “I pledge allegiance to the Christian flag and to the Savior for whose kingdom it stands, one brotherhood uniting all mankind in service and love.”
That’s the version I learned. Sometime during my childhood, our Southern Baptist VBS guide led us to stop saying “mankind.”
“Good,” you might be thinking. “‘Humankind’ is less sexist.”
Well, no, that’s not what changed; in fact, we kept right on saying “brotherhood.” We changed “mankind” to “Christians.” I reckon we were more concerned about flirting with universalism than we were with engendering sexism.
We’d also pledge allegiance to the Bible. That pledge went like this: “I pledge allegiance to the Bible, God’s Holy Word, and will make it a lamp unto my feet, a light unto my path, and hide its words in my heart that I may not sin against God.”
Over the 50 or so years that I’ve lived since those days, I’ve encountered lots of adults who pledge allegiance to the Bible, but who seem to have little allegiance to – or even awareness of – what it says, and especially of what it means.
I’ve seen lots of people who profess to be Christians who will, with great passion bordering on glee, beat you about the head with the Bible if you won’t join them in swearing allegiance to it.
I’ve seen many people whose lives reflect the Savior who shows us what the words of the Bible mean but who won’t – out of their commitment as Christians – swear allegiance to the Bible. They’ll be vilified by people who swear such allegiance, but whose lives exhibit little to none of the love and grace of Jesus.
Sometimes, people who swear allegiance to the Bible embody its teachings much less than others who won’t swear allegiance to it.
It’s hard to accept that someone is loyal to the Bible when he or she exhibits hate instead of love, prefers conflict over reconciliation and utters falsehoods rather than truth.
It’s easier to believe that someone who exhibits love, seeks reconciliation and speaks truth believes the Bible, even if she or he won’t swear allegiance to it.
It’s ironic, isn’t it?
We’d also pledge allegiance to the United States flag in our VBS assembly.
I think I’ve heard some talk lately about how some people respond to that flag and how other people respond to those who respond. Maybe you’ve heard it too.
Sometimes it seems that people who say they take the flag seriously may not take that “liberty and justice for all” line quite as seriously.
And sometimes it seems that people who have some reservations about pledging allegiance to the flag have more allegiance to “liberty and justice for all” than those who criticize them.
It’s ironic, isn’t it?
As for me, I’ll pledge allegiance to the flag. I’ll also stand for the national anthem.
In doing so, I’m pledging allegiance to the republic whose goal is to make liberty and justice available to all and to be a land where all are free to strive for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
And I do so recognizing that some who choose to act differently than I do may be doing so to help us think about just how far we have to go in becoming “the land of the free” where “liberty and justice” are truly “for all.”
Michael Ruffin is curriculum editor with Smyth & Helwys Publishing in Macon, Georgia. A version of this column first appeared on his blog, On the Jericho Road, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @ruffinmichael.