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The American and Christian flags have adorned every church sanctuary where I’ve led worship. Sometimes this stirs a mild controversy, depending on your point of view. Some ask why have the American flag in a Christian sanctuary, since the Gospel transcends any nation. Others ask why the American flag isn’t displayed more prominently, as if the Constitution and the Bible were synonymous.

It’s appropriate to adorn American sanctuaries with the flag because that is a way of honoring a nation that respects and protects freedom for people to worship if, and as, they choose. It also honors a nation that allows freedom for people to express their convictions without repercussions.

But the Christian flag must also be posted. Some of my faith’s deepest values intersect with those of this country. Equality. Justice. Compassion. Freedom. And when our country veers from those values, it’s the Christian civic duty to help steer it back on course. Most poignantly, we must listen to the protests coming from perspectives other than our own. Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of American ideals when we take them for granted.

This is why America must always listen for any truth that may be behind criticism, and not deem it unpatriotic.

This past week President Donald Trump criticized four progressive Democratic congresswomen of color. He implied they were socialists or communists, and suggested they leave if they’re not happy here. “This is about love for America. Certain people HATE our Country [sic]…”

I recalled similar criticism being leveled at former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. People questioned his patriotism when he took a knee during the national anthem in 2017. He stated that his action was to protest a country that has strayed from its ideal of equality for all. “When there’s significant change and I feel that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”

The congresswomen and the athlete speak about problems that may not register on my white male radar. It is my duty as a Christian American, though, to listen and ask questions. Why be defensive when someone protests or criticizes? Is it that such dissent may prick the false-security illusion that our country is perfect? On the contrary, listening to what may be wrong in our country, and addressing those concerns, will help America move toward its ideal. It will make us stronger.

America is great because of the amazing experiment in democracy it’s been running since 1776. It’s a work in progress of securing the ideals of the founding fathers. That’s why we have constitutional amendments along with the bickering on Capitol Hill.

The heart of the experiment is to allow freedom of expression without fear that such expression is seen as unpatriotic and anti-American. The strength of our country lies in the ability to promote such expression and, if necessary, address the wrongs that spurred the protest.

The American flag should remain in houses of worship in our country. How we honor the nation for which it stands may vary.

But in the end, we are all Americans. There is a place for us all.

Greg Weeks is a retired pastor in the United Methodist Church. He is a regular Faith Perspectives contributor to STLtoday.com/religion. Read his blog at www.revgregweeks.com.