SHELBY, N.C. (Christian Examiner) -- North Carolina pastor Rit Varriale wants to see churches fly the Christian flag above the American flag as a biblical statement, reversing flag etiquette that calls for the American flag to be flown in the prominent position.
Varriale, as senior pastor of Elizabeth Baptist Church in Shelby, N.C., said the church installed its first-ever flagpole in order to raise the two flags in a special ceremony after morning worship on Sunday (July 5) in which the Christian flag was raised in the higher position -- which prompted interviews by Charlotte-area NBC, CBS and Fox affiliates.
"If you stop and think about it, [flag etiquette] is inconsistent with what the Bible teaches us," Varriale said. "We are first and foremost Christians who are called to serve the living God."
The national motto of the United States, "In God we trust," was signed into law in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Varriale said the statement acknowledges that there is a Divine Being to whom we are all accountable, and that is our greatest authority.
"Before our accountability to government is our accountability to God," he said.
He joins the increasing number of pastors who believe government is trying to coerce Christians to live in ways that violate the teachings of scripture.
"They use different justifications for it, like anti-discrimination laws. Christians are being coerced to serve the government before they serve God. That is something we can't stand for," said Varriale.
"So from a Christian perspective, our flag etiquette is completely improper. We should be flying the Christian flag above the American flag," as a demonstration that Christians will respect and obey the federal government up to the point that the government asks us to do something that is inconsistent with what God has called us to do.
Elizabeth Baptist Church is not alone. Varriale noticed a small African-American congregation a few miles down the road that was flying the Christian flag on top of the American flag.
"I asked the pastor about this, and he shared the very sentiments that I have. We have a common bond on this. With all due respect, we honor our government, and we're very proud to be Americans, but we must honor God before human authority."
The July 5 worship service aimed to focus on independence and freedom, Varriale said beforehand. "But it's going to address the fact that with our freedom, the greatest thing we can do is to stand up for God's church and the principles of religious liberty. As a symbol that we are committed to this truth, after the worship service in the sanctuary, the congregation will go outside and raise the flags on a new flagpole. We're just doing this to honor our Lord and as a testimony to our community that serving God is our first priority."
The Sunday morning message was titled, "God Before Government."
Along with the church's newly launched website GodBeforeGovernment.org and Facebook page, Varriale said he hopes the public ceremony will encourage other churches to join the movement as a public witness.
"If a church already has a flagpole, start flying the flags in that order. If they don't have a flagpole, go get one, and fly the flags in that order, so any person who drives by their church will see the Christian flag in the highest place and know they are driving by a church that has made the commitment to honor God before anything else."
The pastor said the clash of religious rights and minority/individual rights particularly in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) agenda and the large number of lawsuits against Christian businesses should cause Christians to ask, "Where did we start going wrong, and how did we come to this place?"
"In large part we started going wrong when we stopped standing up for things that are inherently part of the Christian life, like prayer," Varriale said. "The admonition from the government to stop praying in the public school system was packaged under the notion of rights – the rights of the individual."
The minority didn't want to pray, and felt they should not be asked to pray in a government institution. But Varriale contends the public school is not only a government institution, but a place that serves the people of the community. "Any institution should be able to reflect the values of the people who live there," he added.
"Now, stepping back and looking at the issue of prayer in school from a biblical perspective, the church made an incredible mistake by listening to and appeasing the government and refusing to pray with our children," he said.
"Now we are reaping what we have sown by not standing up for the things we believe in."
Varriale says the same scripture that teaches respect for authority, as in Romans 13:1-2, and resistance to that authority, also invites judgement on ourselves.
"When the authority asks you or commands you to do something that is against our Christian values – that is, something God tells you not to do, or God specifically commands you to do – then the responsibility of Christians is civil disobedience. You see it in the Old Testament – as in Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, – or in the New Testament in the lives of the apostles."
LGBT leaders have practiced civil disobedience, Varriale noted. "That is the level of commitment they have, and that's why they are winning. The church is going to have to be as committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ as the LGBT community has been committed to their agenda."
"If the church doesn't stand up and articulate that we serve God first, we are setting ourselves up for failure, because the very next step for government coercion will be the pulpit."
He noted the example of five Texas pastors whose sermons were recently subpoenaed by the city of Houston. He believes all speech that addresses biblical morals will soon be labeled discriminatory, and will not be tolerated by the government.
This article reprinted with permission from BRnow.org, the official website of the Biblical Recorder. Allan Blume is editor/president.