Display of the national flag, a symbol that evokes powerful feelings of allegiance, is a controversial practice among some Mennonites. Congregational dissension over this emblem stems from debate regarding the separation of church and state, a principle embraced by 16th-century Anabaptists.
In the United States, the refusal of a Mennonite pupil to salute the flag in 1918 in West Liberty, Ohio, led to civil prosecution. Similar incidents followed. In 1943 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the rights of persons conscientiously opposed to saluting the flag.
Flags began appearing in American church sanctuaries during the Spanish-American War and during the two World Wars. Wartime stresses led some historic peace churches to display prominently their respect for country and gratitude for religious liberty. Certain congregations within the General Conference Mennonite Church, Mennonite Brethren Church, and Evangelical Mennonite Brethren Church displayed flags, although some congregations removed them during the postwar years.
American congregations of the Mennonite Church (MC) and those of smaller Mennonite groups which emphasize nonconformity have never displayed flags. Moreover, Mennonites in most other countries do not exhibit their national flags. In the 1980s, international guests at Mennonite gatherings in the United States where flags are present have critiqued the practice.
The flag has not been as controversial an issue in Canada. Since Canada didn't have it's own flag until 1965, the linkage of patriotism and the flag were not as prominent. This perhaps has meant that many Canadian Mennonites have also been less hesitant to display the flag in their homes or when travelling.
An Annotated Bibliography of Mennonite Writings on War and Peace, 1930-1980, ed. Willard Swartley and Cornelius J. Dyck. Scottdale, PA : Herald Press 1987: 417-18.
Manwaring, David R. Render unto Caesar. Chicago: U. of Chicago Press, 1962.
Waltner Goossen, Rachel and Robert S. Kreider. When Good people Quarrel: Studies of Conflict Resolution. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1989, esp. ch. titled "That Our Flag Was Still There: the Flag in the Church" and "A Schoolboy Refuses to Salute the Flag."
Hartzler, R. L. "Time to Move Them Out." Christian Evangel 34 (May 1946): 99-100.
Smucker, J. N. "Editorial." Mennonite 68 (1 December 1953): 739.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p. 299. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Goossen, Rachel Waltner. "Flag." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 23 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/F6ME.html.
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