A North Carolina pastor is urging people of faith across the nation to raise a Christian flag above the American flag to demonstrate that God, and not the U.S. government, is the ultimate authority.
According to a report from WBTV in Charlotte, North Carolina, pastor Rit Varriale first installed a prominent flag pole outside Elizabeth Baptist Church last week, placing the Christian flag at the top and the American flag below it.
"Our typical flag etiquette is to have the American flag above the Christian flag. But when you stop and think about it, it should be our commitment to God first, then our commitment to country," he told WBTV.
"We should be flying the Christian flag above the American flag as a demonstration that Christians will respect and obey the federal government up to the point that the government asks something that is inconsistent with what God has called His people to do," Pastor Varriale told the Baptist Press, explaining that he got the idea from another church in Shelby, Focus Missionary Baptist Church, who raised the Christian flag several months ago.
Varriale said the growing number of lawsuits against Christian businesses in light of the legalization of gay marriage should cause Christians to ask, "Where did we start going wrong, and how did we come to this place?"
"In large part we started going wrong when we stopped standing up for things that are inherently part of the Christian life, like prayer," the pastor said. "The admonition from the government to stop praying in the public school system was packaged under the notion of rights -- the rights of the individual." The minority didn't want to pray and felt they should not be asked to pray in a government institution, Varriale said. However, the public school is not only a government institution, he said, but a place that serves the people of the community. "Any institution should be able to reflect the values of the people who live there," he said.
"Now, stepping back and looking at the issue of prayer in school from a biblical perspective, the church made an incredible mistake by listening to and appeasing the government and refusing to pray with our children," he warned.
"Now we are reaping what we have sown by not standing up for the things we believe in."
Because of this, Varriale has launched the God Before Government website, through which other pastors are encouraged to join the movement.
There, he writes, "If there was ever a time when people need to stand up for traditional values and beliefs, it is now...This new approach to flag etiquette symbolizes that our service and commitment to God is greater than our service and commitment to government - especially a government that coerces us to violate our commitments to God."
He explained that he hopes churches will "start flying the flags in such a manner that it is clear we will serve God before government. If your church is willing to join ours, please take a picture of the flag pole at your church, post it on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter using the hashtag #GodBeforeGovernment, and join the conversation about religious freedom and the role of government in modern society."
On the site, he emphasizes that silence is "no longer an option."
"If the church doesn't stand up and articulate that we serve God first, we are setting ourselves up for failure, because the very next step for government coercion will be the pulpit," he explained.
He recalled a prayer offered to the North Carolina General Assembly, in which he said, "The sad truth about the church is that it often takes the path of ease, when instead it should take the path of resistance, responsibility and reform. ... The American church, like the German church of the 1930s and 1940s, is free of persecution because it has done little that is worthy of persecution."
While some have criticized the move as "unpatriotic" and "disrespectful," Pastor Varriale says placing the Christian flag above the United States flag simply demonstrates how the church chooses to prioritize.
"I'm a former army ranger and an officer from the 82nd Airborne Division. That's all I need to say when it comes to being committed to our country," he said.