Driving just west of The Big Chicken — Marietta, Georgia’s famous landmark — yesterday, I passed the expansive Roswell Street Baptist Church. A large American flag was blowing in the brisk wind — with a much, much smaller Christian flag on the same chain below it.

What is the message here? I wondered while trying to not judge.

But the size and prominence of the American flag — with the hardly noticeable Christian flag below — may well communicate a (perhaps unintended) message.

It raises the very important question: Are we Christian Americans or American Christians?

Civil religion — the mixing of religious faith and nationalism to the point of being indistinguishable — is hard to address rationally. Those who embrace that perspective are very emotional about their feelings and see any challenge as unpatriotic.

I learned of another good Baptist church that simply forgot to have Communion for nearly two years when without a pastor. But shortly thereafter, someone told me, “all hell broke loose when someone moved the American flag.”

For ministers and other church leaders who are both patriotic Americans and committed Christians — but understand the priorities and differences between the two — are often challenged by church members who cannot.

But order really is important.

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