East See you at the pole an annual event of spiritual dedication, or a prime example of Christian nationalism? If you are planning to attend this gathering before school, please read on.
As a pastor, I used to receive annual emails and flyers in the church mailbox promoting See You at the Pole (SYATP). This annual event at the end of September is apparently designed for Christians to pray for their schools and school systems at the start of each school year. For several years, I participated in these gatherings. I promoted them in the congregations I led and assisted them in praying and supporting students and teachers in my church.
Finally, I stopped because I came to see them for the events of Christian nationalism they are. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that everyone who attends these events has ulterior motives. Most are sincere in their intentions. They don’t see the underlying mentality behind the event. They don’t see the unintended message they’re sending.
Christian nationalism and persecution complex
Suffering from a persecution complex, Christian nationalism puts the Church on the defensive. “They took God out of the schools,” they say as if that were even possible. Then they step back and chant, “Well, they took the prayer out of the schools.” But that’s not correct either. Finally, someone realized that student-led prayer in schools is still allowed. So they decided to organize an event that throws prayer in the face of all unbelievers. “You took prayer out of the schools,” they say, “but we are still here, praying. Just look!”
The best optics
For the organizers of SYATP, the best optics were important. They didn’t want to be seen as provocateurs or troublemakers. So, in typical Christian nationalist style, the organizers allied themselves with the American flag. Here are the benefits of praying at the mast:
- Flags are symbols of justice and freedom that make people’s hearts swell with pride. By combining that heart-swelling emotion that accompanies patriotism, the organizers have guaranteed a spiritually moving event.
- If it has to do with the flag, it must be good! Organizers knew few people would criticize an event that takes place around an American flag. Nothing that happens at the base of the American flag can be anything but right, can it? !
- Christianity is affiliated with patriotism. “We not only pray for schools… We pray for america schools!”
- Argue all you want, but masts are phallic symbols. Dating back to primitive times, religious and political leaders used obelisks and poles to represent male power. Just like the The Washington Monument shows the dominance of American power and virility, the masts erected above the schools show authority. By gathering at the pole, Christians are borrowing and aligning themselves with male dominance and power.
- Flagpoles are always front and center in front of a school. By choosing the flagpole as the gathering place, the organizers of the event knew that the other students arriving at the school had to pass by this religious gathering. Prayer would be something pushed into people’s faces that they couldn’t avoid.
See Me at the pole
The truth is that See You at the Pole was not designed as an event where people pray, but as an event where people are seen praying. If it had been intended as a simple prayer meeting, it could have been held anywhere. People can pray for schools when they are outside of school, such as in a church or anywhere else. If they want to have the meeting in a school, then a classroom or the gymnasium would do. But it is not just a prayer meeting. It is being seen pray.
According to the popular narrative, our secular society persecutes evangelicals. Pagan authorities prevent Christians from freely exercising their religion. So, to combat this, those who pray at the flagpole put themselves in the forefront so that they cannot be ignored or avoided. They claim they are taking over the schools for Jesus and try to demonstrate it by kneeling before the altar of the American flag. It is less a prayer meeting than a publicity stunt designed to rally conservative Christians and impose Christianity in the eyes of all.
Many Christians ask, “Should I attend See You at the Pole?” To use a slogan of conservative Christianity, let us ask, what would Jesus do? If Jesus were in the flesh today, would he attend a SYATP gathering? Jesus was clearly not opposed to corporate prayer. He went to the temple and the synagogue to pray regularly. But he made a distinction between corporate prayer and public prayer.
Corporate or public prayer
Corporate prayer is when all who are there have united for the same purpose and they can lift up their hearts to God together. It can happen anywhere: in a place of worship or anywhere people are gathered. The key is that everyone is united in purpose. Some examples would be when Jesus blessed the food as he fed the 5000or when he prayed before raising Lazarus. Everyone present sought God together.
Public prayer, however, occurs when a person or a group of people pray aloud in a mixed gathering, where not everyone agrees with the prayer. Jesus condemned those who did acts of piety in the eyes of all. Instead, he tells us to do it in private. Go to your inner chamber, he said. It can literally mean a private place in your home. Or, it could be a collective place of worship, like a shrine. Or it could just mean going inside your heart for inner prayer. Either way, Jesus warned against praying in public to be seen by people.
Unfortunately, those who organized the SYATP gatherings don’t seem to listen to Jesus much. They gather under the flag rather than at the foot of the cross. They revere the phallic symbol of the American flag and ally themselves with symbols of political power. With militaristic language, they pray for the day when Christians can “take back our schools for Jesus”. I am convinced that if he were here in the flesh, See You at the Pole is not what Jesus would do.
“You will not replace us”
At this time when evangelicals seem convinced of being persecuted, they are becoming increasingly bold in their public displays of religion. As society gradually becomes more secular, you can expect to see more behaviors like soccer coaches make a show of their prayers, and Christians bringing their religion to the fore in public spaces. Although I have never heard chants of “You will not replace usat pre-school rallies, SYATP definitely smells of that white supremacist chant — under the slight guise of Christian nationalism. Evangelicalism is certainly afraid of being replaced. The September rally before school is a last-ditch effort to prevent this replacement.
Should you attend a date at the pole?
In my article, The idol of Americanness, I address the blurred lines between Christianity and American patriotism. The See You at the Pole rallies are a perfect example of this idolatrous delusion that the United States is (or should be) a Christian nation. Christ in the flesh would have avoided any similar nationalist manifestation in his time. The followers of Jesus would do well to avoid them today.