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The so-called Christian flag was invented in 1897 by Charles C. Overton, a well-known Coney Island real estate dealer and Sunday school superintendent in the USA, and promoted by the Methodist Young People's Missionary Movement starting in 1907. The background is a white field upon which a blue canton charged with a red Latin cross rests in the upper left corner. The white field represents surrender to Jesus, the blue canton represents baptismal water, and the red cross represents Jesus's sacrificial blood.
It is meant to represent all the different denominations of Christianity, but is most popular among North American Protestants. Any similarities between it and the U.S. flag are purely coincidental, because the U.S. is not a Christian nation. Overton believed in the abolition of slavery and organized the "Wide Awake" club in Brooklyn in 1856, which supported John Fremont (the first anti-slavery and first Republican candidate) for President of the United States. Therefore, the resemblance of his flag to the "Stainless Banner" of the Confederacy may have been an effort to appeal to Christians in the South who had supported the Confederacy during the American Civil War.
Hymns and pledges
A hymn, named "The Christian Flag," was created soon after Overton created his flag. The words were written by Fanny J. Crosby, and the music was written by R. Huntington Woodman. As with the US flag there is also a pledge to go with the so-called Christian flag. The original pledge was created by a Methodist minister, Lynn Harold Hough, in 1908 who was later charged and acquitted of heresy by Methodists in 1925 "because of a discussion of the Scopes evolution trial, in which the Detroit pastor gave 'aid and comfort' to Darwin's pet theory."
Hough's original pledge read as follows:
“”I pledge allegiance to my flag, and to the Saviour for whose kingdom it stands; one brotherhood, uniting all mankind in service and love.
Over time others created alternative versions of Hough's original pledge, all of which are modeled after the U.S. flag pledge, including:
Competition, criticism and adoption
Overton's flag did not become popular until the Second World War. During the First World War, the "Christian Conquest Flag," created by S.M. Johnson in 1901 and adopted by the International Sunday school convention in 1902, became popular among some American Christians. Johnson's Christian flag included a blue background with a white canton in the upper left corner containing a red cross. On the blue field is written, "By this sign conquer" (Latin: "In hoc signo vinces") whose meaning Christ supposedly explained to Constantine I in a dream around the 4th century CE.
In an editorial for Christian Century in 1982, Lutheran religious scholar Martin E. Marty claimed to have traced the roots of the flag to the First Crusade, “from the good old days when Christians initiated the ‘kill a commie for Christ’ mentality.” (Never mind that there were no commies before the 1800s.)
“”It happens that one day Godfrey of Bouillon, crusader par excellence, was laying siege to Jerusalem. Muslims, infidels and other secular humanists were holding the fortress from within. Night fell, and with it came boredom. For the heck of it, Godfrey’s men fought off boredom by spiking their soup (made with bouillon cubes – now you’re had two origins traced on one column!). The resultant brew left a chaos of waiting lines, with consequent brawls outside the latrines of the Holy Sepulcher. So Godfrey went to his Betsy of the Rose and asked her to sacrifice her bed sheets. To the white sheet she affixed a blue square torn from his noble undershirt, and to that a Crusader’s Cross torn from an infidel-bloodied banner. Voila! (or Heil!, depending upon which crusader you interviewed): the Christian flag. - Martin Marty
In recent years a decorated veteran of the U.S. war in Afghanistan risked ongoing threats and a minor case of vehicular violence at the hands of Christian militia in order to remove Overton’s flag and a cross from a veterans’ memorial in King, North Carolina. In Alabama, a police chief is erecting a tall pole on church property next to city hall in protest of a complaint about, and subsequent removal of, the flag from city property. And a U.S. Air Force museum is allegedly promoting some dubious historical information in connection with the display of the flag in Alabama.
- See the Wikipedia article on Christian Flag. — which documents the "traditional" Christian narrative about the flag.
- Flags of the World website - which includes a short history and some photos of "Christian Conquest Flag" buttons and postcards from the early 20th century.
- The Christian Flag - a short philo-historical vexillology that reintroduces Americans to S.M. Johnson’s forgotten “Christian conquest flag,” puts forth a bold new historical conjecture about Charles C. Overton's “Christian flag,” shares a few still relevant philosophical conjectures about the human crisis that we continue to face today, and explains why the author has always been skeptical of political and religious catechisms - especially those requiring pledges or loyalty oaths which come wrapped in flags or wearing hoods and capes while carrying lit torches.
- The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 16 JAN 1898, Page 16.
- The Columbia Breeze, 10 MAR 1898
- Detroit Free Press, 1925.
- Chicago Tribune, 1902.
- Arizona Republic, 1982
- Wilhelm Kühner, The Christian Flag: Its muddy history and ongoing relevance to us all (2018)