Providence Today: Americas Symbols

Dr. Peter Lillback:
Here at the National Constitution Center in the big open vestibule that welcomes you, there’s this marvelous display of flags that take you all the way around from a panorama of the Philadelphia skyline to Independence Hall on the far side. And what we have here are the flags that take us from the order in which they come under the constitution’s authority.

Dr. Peter Lillback:
The last of our 50 states is Hawaii, August 21st, 1959, and I always like its flag. So first of all, you notice that it has stripes, red and white, but different than the American flag. It has blue stripes as well. It has red, white and blue stripes, but it doesn’t have stars, instead, in the canton, it has the equivalent of the British Union Jack, which is the British flag. So Hawaii is unique. It’s representing, if you will, the American flag, and it also is bringing some of the British together and it stands out in a unique way with red, white, and blue stripes. The blue suggests the fact of it’s being a beautiful island in the middle of the ocean. And of course, an island nation of Great Britain is one of the reasons that there is a United States.

Dr. Peter Lillback:
We have Alaska with the beautiful picture of the North Star and the Big Dipper, and New Mexico with its beautiful sunshine brightly shining into the territory here, and right next to it, Arizona. They’re just five weeks apart, two states in the Southwest. We could go through many more of these, but let’s go down a little bit farther. I’d like to highlight a couple of them that have special meaning.

Dr. Peter Lillback:
As we look at the flag of Texas, we have a red and white stripe. We have a blue Canton, and we have one big, bright white five pointed star. Texas became a state December 29th, 1845. We call it the Lone Star State and you can see why. Its flag has that lone star, but it reminds us that Texas was a country before it became a state. It had won its independence in a battle that includes that great Battle of the Alamo. And Sam Houston was one of the leaders. And of course, they decided to become part of the United States, and that patriotic spirit and strong love of country has marked the Texas experience right up to this day, quite a remarkable people.

Dr. Peter Lillback:
Florida, you can see, as you look at Florida, it’s a beautiful flag. You can see the ship and the palm tree and the flowers. Florida was named because it was a time when flowers were blossoming in a special holy day of the Roman Catholic explorers. But what is particular for me is you can see it has a big cross on it. It has the cross of St. Andrew. That’s that cross that goes like a big X across. That’s a Christian symbol. And it shows us that there was a Christian founding of Florida, very consciously from the Roman Catholic tradition.

Dr. Peter Lillback:
We’ll actually see that again in another flag, as we keep going forward. We see the flag of Alabama, became a state in 1819, and there again is across the St. Andrews. In this case, it reminds us some of the Scottish connection, many Scottish settlers who helped to settle Alabama. The Christian symbol, the cross is both Protestant and Catholic, and we can see it’s still on the flag.

Dr. Peter Lillback:
I always like to come to the Ohio flag in 1805 because that’s my birth state. And it’s unique because as you look at the Ohio flag, it’s the only one that is not a rectangle. It’s actually a pennant. And so I like to say, Ohioans are a little bit strange. That’s just something that comes right from our flag. But you see a big O right in the middle, standing for Ohio. It has a sun in it. At that time, it was the American Western frontier. Now, it’s just part of middle America because of the whole continent being drawn together from sea to shining sea.

Dr. Peter Lillback:
But you also notice the stars on it, the multiple stars. My understanding is that the vision was the first 13 stars represented the states. And now, more than 13 states were here and Ohio said, “We should have a star.” And so they put a star for every one of the states that were in the union at the time the flag was adopted. So a little bit about my history from Ohio.

Dr. Peter Lillback:
Now, you come a little bit farther and you see another story. Here’s Rhode Island, May 29th, 1790. And if you look carefully at that flag, you’ll recognize it has an anchor and the word hope. What’s interesting about Rhode Island is that it is a little seafaring area, and its history goes back to another great founding father of religious liberty.

Dr. Peter Lillback:
We’ve talked about William Penn from time to time in Providence Today, but William Penn is not the only person who was concerned about freedom of conscience. In fact, a few years before Penn’s experiment, Roger Williams had left Massachusetts because he had developed a more Baptist understanding of the church as opposed to the Puritan more congregational view, and he was not welcomed with his different view.

Dr. Peter Lillback:
And so he went to a place called Plymouth Plantation that will become eventually Rhode Island. Rhode Island is a place where he said, “Here, your freedom of conscience will be protected.” And so yet, even though it was breaking from a religious community, he brought a religious commitment, and we can see it with that symbol of the anchor and hope that comes right out of the book of Hebrews, that we have an anchor that’s set inside the veil that gives us a hope of being eventually with Christ in heaven.

Dr. Peter Lillback:
So great spiritual meaning. Roger Williams was a minister. So the two great sources of religious Liberty in America are ministers: a Quaker minister, William Penn in Philadelphia, Roger Williams, a Reformed Baptist pastor up in what we’d say is something like New England.

Dr. Peter Lillback:
As you take a look at the panorama of state flags and the territories, they all represents the Constitution of the United States in the order in which they were admitted to the union or as a territory, but prominently displayed as the great red, white, and blue, the American banner.

Dr. Peter Lillback:
The red, white, and blue represents, if you will, the union of all the states and the original colonies. We can see it, as we look at it, that it has the red and white stripes representing the 13 original colonies. And then we have in the canton the 55 pointed stars on the field of blue representing each of the states.

Dr. Peter Lillback:
Now, as we look at that, we see a great deal of history. It’s interesting. Symbols have a historical story that you will not fully know unless you do some research. First of all, the vertical red and white stripes actually are probably best connected with the Sons of Liberty back in Boston in the year of 1765. We find vertical red and white stripes still on the American flag of the US Coast Guard. They keep them vertical just like this.

Dr. Peter Lillback:
You should know that when a flag is hung in this form, the long way down, the canton should be up in the upper left corner. That is the proper place of how it should be. Further, that there was an idea that each time a new state would be added, they would add a new stripe to the flag.

Dr. Peter Lillback:
And so when we think about our national anthem, Francis Scott Key’s great story of The Star-Spangled Banner, the flag that was flying over Fort McHenry, the banner that was still there by the twilight, and then also at the dawn’s gleam, it was a 15-stripe flag.

Dr. Peter Lillback:
They realized, though, if you kept adding another stripe for each state, pretty soon, they would blend together and you’d lose the ability to recognize the flag as the banner of the America. It would just become a washed color. And so they said, “We will limit it to just the original 13.”

Dr. Peter Lillback:
Now, another thing we need to remember is that the colors were consciously selected. When the Great Seal of the United States was selected in the original Continental Congress, it tells us that the seal with the escutcheon or the shield on the front that you can actually see in the back of a dollar bill, that has that shield with the blue at the top and the red and white stripes, that shows those colors, even though you only see them in green on the back of a dollar, they identify the colors. Remember what they stand for? Red, hardiness and valor, white, purity and innocence, blue, perseverance, vigilance, and justice.

Dr. Peter Lillback:
When we look at the great American flag, do we remember the moral values our founder said that the whole heralded tradition called on people to replicate and represent in their lives? How hardy and how courageous are we as Americans today? How pure, how innocent are we as American citizens today? As people who love our country, how much are we committed to persevering through the good as well as the bad times? Are we willing to seek justice to do what is right for our neighbors?

Dr. Peter Lillback:
As Martin Luther king quoted from the Old Testament prophet Amos, “Let justice roll down like mighty rivers and then vigilance, vigilance, eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” These very values, when we see our flag, are what make America possible. They bring us together.

Dr. Peter Lillback:
The ancient Christian theologian St. Augustine said, “Every nation needs a symbol.” The symbol is what brings people in unity. The church has its symbols. We know of the cross. We know of the broken bread. We know of the cup of wine. We know about the waters of baptism. Those symbols bring us together. In spite of our many differences, we identify our unity. Every state needs a symbol. Every government needs a symbol. And this is the symbol of America. How tragic it is when people who are blessed with the liberties and blessings of this flag choose to despise it and burn it, choose to disgrace it, tear it down and put up another country’s flag in its place on American soil. That is not only a disrespect of those who defend it today, but those who’ve given their life blood that we might have our freedom.

Dr. Peter Lillback:
The Providence Forum exists not to say that America’s perfect, not to say that we’ve never made any mistakes, but to say there’s never been a country with such high lofty values, who’s done so much to try to preserve them. America’s had more power than any country in the history of the world and has done less to abuse its power through military might than any country with power. It is seeking to preserve those rights for the least to the greatest. That’s what makes America a unique nation in spite of our limitations.

Dr. Peter Lillback:
And so we want to encourage you to get our faith and freedom guide and learn how faith has shaped America. Go online and get our Faith & Freedom app, and you’ll learn a great deal about the freedoms that are a blessing of America. Make sure you see providenceforum.org and learn more about some of our literature, like how other minorities were protected in America, not just the little state of Delaware, but the Jewish people that found freedom here. In fact, every one of us are protected by the freedoms of this country. No wonder we should be proud of the great gift of America and the providence of God that has made it possible. And this is Providence Today.

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