By Kristen Johnson
Today in history, in 1892, Francis Bellamy published an early version of the Pledge of Allegiance in The Youth’s Companion. This first version of the pledge, which would eventually become the Pledge of Allegiance for the United States, said: I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. (UShistory.org)
This original pledge did not include any reference to God or even the United States. The US was added to the pledge in 1923, and “under God” was added in 1954 (62 years after the original was written.) Bellamy’s original intent was that the pledge could be used by people living in any country. (UShistory.org)
According to Smithsonian.com, Bellamy was a Baptist minister, but he ultimately left his ministry to accept as job at The Youth’s Companion. He worked in the promotions department, and worked on a patriotism program for the upcoming Columbian Exposition (a celebration of Columbus’ landing 400 years prior.) Mr. Bellamy “successfully lobbied Congress for a resolution endorsing the school ceremony, and he helped convince President Benjamin Harrison to issue a proclamation declaring a Columbus Day holiday.” (Smithsonian.com)
A big issue today is that of people refusing to say “under God” during the pledge though the author of the original pledge did not include any reference to God. Also at issue now is people refusing to salute the flag at all (ala Colin Kaepernick) for moral/ethical reasons, or even for religious reasons (Jehovah’s Witnesses.)
Looking deeper into the author of the original pledge, Francis Bellamy, it’s also fascinating to note that he was a Christian socialist. That’s fascinating because the Republican party generally eschews most forms of socialism and they seem to have a great love for blind patriotism. There are numerous examples of this attitude, but just one is Bobby Jindal “Look, socialism always harms the people it claims to help the most. It handicaps them, leaving them weaker, less self-determined, less free.” (Townhall)
Contrast that attitude with the attitude of the author of the pledge. It was written by Francis Bellamy, a Christian Socialist pushed out of his post as a Baptist minister for delivering pulpit-pounding sermons on such topics as “Jesus the Socialist.” Bellamy was devoted to the ideas of his more-famous cousin Edward Bellamy, author of the 1888 utopian novel Looking Backward. Looking Backward describes the future United States as a regimented worker’s paradise where everyone has equal incomes, and men are drafted into the country’s “industrial army” at the age of 21, serving in the jobs assigned them by the state. (Cato Institute)
What does all this mean for us, in light of today’s protests and lawsuits over saying “under God” in the pledge, or refusing to salute the flag because of religious beliefs, or as a form or protest? I don’t know that I would refuse to salute the flag because I think there are other, better forms of protest. However, Mr. Kaepernick’s protest is permissible under the Constitution, so he has every right to do as he sees fit. I also don’t know that saying “under God” should be required. It just so happens that I’m a Christian, so saying “under God” doesn’t hurt me at all. But, we are not a Christian nation, in spite of any rhetoric we may get from the Religious Right, nor should we want to be a Christian nation. We should instead be very pleased that we have the right to choose to be Christians – or any other religion we may choose. That’s one of the things that makes me proud to be an American – the right to choose to follow one religion over another, or to choose no religion at all.
For Christians, I just go back to love. It doesn’t matter that some wish to salute the flag, not salute the flag, be blindly patriotic or not.
John 13:34-25 (NRSV): 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Serve all with love.
Photo courtesy of lifeofpix.com