Rit Varriale thought raising the Christian flag above the American flag at Elizabeth Baptist Church on July 5 would get the attention of people in Shelby and the surrounding North Carolina mountains. He did not expect the explosive attention that catapulted the event and the discussion of religious freedom into the national limelight.
The Biblical Recorder first published the story about the church’s flag raising service in the July 4 edition. Pastor Rit Varriale led the church to install their first-ever flagpole and hoist the Christian flag above the American flag.
Three Charlotte area television stations ran stories prior to the event. One invited Varriale and another pastor to appear in a live interview format. Baptist Press picked up the story on July 6, as did many newspapers across the country. Before the flag raising was 24 hours old, the story hit the viral meter on the Internet. Varriale was interviewed by Elisabeth Hasselbeck live on the “Fox and Friends” television show July 7.
For more than a day the story ranked number one on Facebook. A spokesman for Baptist Press said it was the most frequently read story on the Baptist Press website for more than two weeks.
“It’s been surprising to see how fast the conversation took off,” Varriale said. He believes this speaks to the importance of religious rights.
“It says that a lot of people want to talk about this very issue. It’s an issue that we as ministers have to be prepared to address for years to come as we fight for our religious rights.”
Public response has been very favorable, according to Varriale. Approximately 75 percent of those who offered their comments by emails, Facebook and phone messages were favorable. Most of those who opposed the action thought the church was unpatriotic.
“We continue to put forward our patriotism and our love for our country,” he said. “To me it’s a sad indictment when we’ve come to the place as a nation where you say that if you put God first, then family, then country, that somehow your patriotism comes into question.”
Questioning patriotism in this way “shows how much of an advance secularism has made,” Varriale added. “We are very proud to be Americans. We’re proud of our nation and our history, but we’re also concerned about where we are [as a nation]. We really believe the solution to turning this nation back around is the church.”
He asks churches to remember that they serve God first, and churches must live that commitment beyond the walls of the church facilities.
That will be the beginning of changing the direction of the nation, he said.
“When you look at the way the left portrays people who believe in God and country – it’s almost as if you’re backwards if you believe in God,” Varriale said.
“That’s the narrative the left has tried to create. We are for God and country, in that order. That’s what it means to be a person who understands the historic values of America.”
The popularity of the story “speaks to the fact that Christians are begging to have this conversation. I think they are also looking for us as leaders in the church to lead,” he added.
Varriale does not want the flag to be the issue.
Flying the Christian flag above the American flag is only an illustration of the priorities that churches must demonstrate in the present anti-Christian, cultural environment, he said. The greater battle is with the courts in the United States.
“Our battle is not with the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] agenda,” he said. “Our battle is not with Freedom from Religion or Americans United for Separation of Church and State organizations. Our battle is with the courts.
“In the near future we have to start addressing how the church can lead in a peaceful resistance to the courts – standing up peacefully to the coercion of the courts, because ultimately that is where our battle is. The Christian baker is not afraid to stand up against an LGBT couple – the Christian baker is afraid of the courts. Likewise a principal that would like to lead a prayer in school does not have in the back of his mind the atheist family that will be upset about the prayer. What’s really in his mind is the U.S. court system. And the list goes on and on.”
Varriale said the Supreme Court marriage ruling is a classic example. “They forced the majority of Americans to accept [same-sex marriage]. This is not something the majority of Americans wanted.”
The struggle to regain religious freedoms will be a “community-by-community process – getting communities to stand together,” he concluded. “It’s going to have to start with small towns and move out from there. Communities need to stand together.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Follow the movement at GodBeforeGovernment.org and Facebook.com/godbeforegovernment.)