When I was in boy scouts, I learned the term “participating citizenship” and it was described to me as taking the time to learn about and practice the rights and responsibilities of being a citizen in your home country. This need not be a complicated process, nor should it imply an unhealthy obsession with nationalism or politics.
For boys, this could mean learning about our nation’s symbols, their meanings and how they are part of our national identity. One of the most prominent symbols of any country is it’s flag. It’s design typically tells a story of the country it represents, and the protocols around how it is displayed help us show reasonable respect and honor to the flag.
The flag of the United States is one of the nation’s most widely recognized symbols. Within the United States, flags are frequently displayed not only on public buildings but on private residences. The 50 stars on the flag represent the 50 states of the United States of America and the 13 stripes represent the thirteen British colonies that declared independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain and became the first states in the Union. Nicknames for the flag include the “Stars and Stripes”, “Old Glory”, and “The Star-Spangled Banner”. The United States Flag Code outlines certain guidelines for the use, display, and disposal of the flag.
The American flag should also be folded in a particular manner. Boys should learn to fold the flag properly so that at any time in their life they could confidently participate in a flag folding ceremony (such as at funerals honoring veterans, first responders, police officers, etc)
There are specific steps which are easy to follow. Wikipedia provides a clear description (below) and there are numerous videos to show how to properly fold a flag (one is embedded below)
(From Wikipedia) To properly fold the flag:
- Begin by holding it waist-high with another person so that its surface is parallel to the ground.
- Fold the lower half of the stripe section lengthwise over the field of stars, holding the bottom and top edges securely.
- Fold the flag again lengthwise with the blue field on the outside.
- Make a rectangular fold then a triangular fold by bringing the striped corner of the folded edge to meet the open top edge of the flag, starting the fold from the left side over to the right.
- Turn the outer end point inward, parallel to the open edge, to form a second triangle.
- The triangular folding is continued until the entire length of the flag is folded in this manner (usually thirteen triangular folds, as shown at right). On the final fold, any remnant that does not neatly fold into a triangle (or in the case of exactly even folds, the last triangle) is tucked into the previous fold.
- When the flag is completely folded, only a triangular blue field of stars should be visible.
Our activity program for this evening’s meeting will be learning how to fold the American flag properly. The activity provides opportunities for teamwork, physical coordination and learning to be precise.
Thoughts on Citizenship
In the 1911 Boy Scout’s Handbook, there’s a letter to the scouting organization from Teddy Roosevelt which states:
“No one can be a good American unless he is a good citizen, and every boy ought to train himself so that as a man he will be able to do his full duty to the community. I want to see the boy scouts not merely utter fine sentiments, but act on them; not merely sing, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” but act in a way that will give them a country to be proud of. No man is a good citizen unless he so acts as to show that he actually uses the Ten Commandments, and translates the Golden Rule into his life conduct–and I don’t mean by this in exceptional cases under spectacular circumstances, but I mean applying the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule in the ordinary affairs of every-day life. I hope the boy scouts will practise truth and square dealing, and courage and honesty… Any boy is worth nothing if he has not got courage, courage to stand up against the forces of evil, and courage to stand up in the right path. Let him be unselfish and gentle, as well as strong and brave.”
I have always liked this quote. The spirit of the statement is that we ought to be ready and willing to serve others. Our sense of community, especially as Christians (not just citizens of this or that country), ought to be rooted in love and caring for others. While these are interesting comments offered by a former US President, what does the Bible say about citizenship? I was able to find three specific references to our behavior towards government:
- 1 Peter 2:13-17 – Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.
- Romans 13 – Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
- 1 Timothy 2:1-6 – I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time.
Based on these three passages, I would submit that doing our duty to country (whether USA, Canada, or another country) is part of doing our duty to God since He has allowed us to set up governments. Further, we could argue that our calling to practice hospitality towards strangers and to take care of people within our own church families are related to being a good citizen as part of being a “good Christian”.