Christianity as a religion has its fair share of good, bad and ugly. History teaches us that the ‘Angel of Light’ theory professed and portrayed by Christian institutions in some cases is a depiction of the ‘Angel of Darkness’.
The mistake made by most Christian institutions and over zealot Christians is to assume that their religion can be more important than the intrinsic nationalistic identity of India itself.
One such sect of the Christian community is the Jehovah’s Witnesses who have been spreading their wings in India over the last couple of years.
On August 15, 2022, Tamil Selvi is the headmistress of a government Tamil Nadu has refused to hoist the flag. When she was requested by students and parents to hoist the flag as a gesture. She refused to hoist the flag saying she cannot offer salutations to anything other than Jesus and won’t salute the flag.
She further expressed when questioned by certain sections of the media, “I belong to the Jehovah’s Witnesses sect of Christianity. Our god says that salutations must be given only to him. That’s what the Bible says. But we are bound by laws. We accept the national flag, but won’t salute it. I will pay salutations only to the god I worship. I did not insult the national flag. But my salutations are only for my god.”
The firm resolve of the headmistress is not an isolated phenomenon in India alone. Most Christians belonging to the Jehovah’s Witnesses sect do not salute any nation’s flag. Jehovah’s Witnesses behave in such as manner because they view the flag salute as an act of worship, and worship belongs to God; they cannot conscientiously give worship to anyone or anything except God.
I wonder whether the Christian headmistress read the verses in the New Testament of the Bible, Romans 13:1-7.
Verse 1-2 states, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment”
Verse 3-4 states, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”
Furthermore, Verse 5-7 states, “Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”
However, the Christian headmistress would have allowed herself to be guided by the following passages that drive the thought process of the Jehovah’s Witnesses:
Jehovah’s Witness believe that Satan is the ruler of this world. According to John 12:31 “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.”
Furthermore, John 14:30, “I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that each and every kingdom here on Earth is ruled and controlled by Satan. So, for them, if you are saluting the flag they feel that you are saluting what Satan has made:
The view of the headmistress is best explained in the Biblical Verse 1 John 5:19, “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.”
As a Christian, I have not been taught not to salute the Indian flag.
I salute the Indian flag out of respect and not worship. I salute the Indian flag because it represents the sacrifices of thousands of my fellow Indians because of whom I live in a free land to practice my Christian faith. I salute the Indian flag because being an Indian is my identity in this world. I salute the Indian flag because it is my duty as a citizen to honor my nation’s identity and symbol.
I have often mooted that my religion cannot define my nationalism. In the same way, one’s religious beliefs must not be allowed to infringe in respect to the nation or its symbols.
In the US, in 1940, in Minersville v. Gobitis case, the Supreme Court upheld a state law requiring school children to salute the flag, despite religious objections by Jehovah Witnesses, who said the statutory requirement violated their religious liberties under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Three years later, on June 14, 1943, in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, the court changed its mind and, in a landmark opinion, held that school children have a constitutional right to refuse to salute the flag
To believe that paying respect to a nation’s flag is similar to worshiping a nation’s flag might seem absurd and questionable to many of us Indians but it is not unusual because that is the religious belief of this Christian sect Jehovah’s witnesses.
It is only natural for people raising objections and criticising the action of the Christian headmistress because they think it was wrong on her part not to hoist the national flag because of her religious beliefs. However, the moot question is whether the laws in India considers her action of not hoisting the national flag because of her religious beliefs as unlawful.
Of course, I am shocked by her action because I do not believe Jesus in his religious teachings inscribed in the Bible that a Christian must not hoist a nation’s flag. More so, respect to a nation’s flag does not mean worship.