Francis Bellamy, the author of the original pledge that became, with modifications, the official U.S. Pledge of Allegiance, was a Baptist minister’s son from upstate New York.

Educated in public schools, he distinguished himself in oratory at the University of Rochester before following his father to the pulpit, preaching at churches in New York and Boston,

According to a Smithsonian Magazine article:

“He was restive in the ministry and, in 1891, accepted a job from one of his Boston congregants, Daniel S. Ford, principal owner and editor of The Youth’s Companion, a family magazine with half a million subscribers.

“Assigned to the magazine’s promotions department, the 37-year-old Bellamy set to work arranging a patriotic program for schools around the country to coincide with opening ceremonies for the Columbian Exposition in October 1892, the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World.”

Bellamy’s original pledge first appeared in a September 1892 edition of The Youth’s Companion, and he intended it for use in any country. In its original form it read: “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

The decades following its publication saw several changes made to Bellamy’s pledge.

In 1923, “my Flag” became “the Flag of the United States of America,” and in 1942 it was adopted by Congress into the U.S. Flag Code.

In 1954, in response to the Communist threat of the times, as well as the encouragement of President Eisenhower and other groups, Congress added the words “under God,” creating the 31-word pledge we say today.

Today it reads: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Since the 1954 revision, there have been lawsuits filed against the inclusion of the phrase “under God,” resulting in considerable impassioned debate about the meaning of the phrase.

Perhaps the Revised Common Lectionary readings that will be used by many U.S. Christian churches in worship on July 3 this year can give us some insight into its meaning.

2 Kings 5: 1-14: In this text, the prophet Elisha heals Naman, a Syrian military commander. We are instructed that the God whom we confess to be under is at work for the well-being of all, not just the nation we belong to the, the political party we participate in or the religion we adhere to.

Psalm 30: This ancient hymn celebrates the truth that God’s favor outlasts God’s anger. To be “under God” is to be led, inevitably, to joy.

Isaiah 66:10-14: The prophet portrays God as Mother who comforts her children. To be “under God” is more about being shaped by compassion than it is about being brought into submission by harsh commands.

Psalm 66:1-9: The psalmist declares that it is the whole earth which worships its Creator. It is all of us, not just a loud few of us, who are “under God.”

Galatians 6:1-6, 7-16:  Paul’s letter to the Galatians is often described as a treatise of spiritual freedom. In these verses, he reminds us that, “under God,” we are all free and that how we use our freedom has profound consequence.

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20: Jesus appoints 70 of his followers to represent him, to go out and do his work. They are to carry no purse, no bag and no sandals. They are not to bribe or coerce, or even try to bribe or coerce, anyone to walk in the way of Jesus. To be one nation “under God” is not an identity which is compelled but rather a way of being which is freely chosen.

Big picture: In the vision of the scriptures, to be “under God” is to hear a call to community much more than it is to make a claim of conquest.

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