It is the 26th of September 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1897.
To the extent that stories could go viral in 1897, the story of the Greenbriar Ghost of West Virginia was told wide and far. It was the story of a man whose wife was found dead a few weeks after their marriage. The cause of death was stated as “complications from pregnancy,” and the wife was buried. However, the mother of the deceased thought something was up. She prayed continually for guidance. Or maybe it was not prayer? Perhaps it was divination because she said the ghost of her daughter came to her at night and, over four nights, explained how the murder occurred to such a damning extent that the case was re-opened and the husband was tried and found guilty. Of course, they had to use circumstantial and physical evidence. You might remember from a past almanac episode that since the Salem Witch trials, spectral evidence, that is, ghost evidence, was not allowed in American courts.
1897 was the year that saw the debut of the Boston Marathon. It is the oldest marathon in the world. Boston businessmen, inspired by the marathon at the first Olympics the previous year in Greece, decided to bring one back home. The Boston Marathon, in this first year, was a 24.5-mile race, based on the mythic story of the Athenian who ran from Marathon to Athens with news of a decisive victory. The current length, however, is 26.2 miles. This distance was set when the Olympic marathon was held at the London Olympics. The queen wanted the race to start at Windsor Castle and end in front of the royal box at the Olympic stadium.
The Olympics were one upshot of the growing nationalism that many would attribute to the coming World War. In the late nineteenth century, new nations were forming, or growing, and the seas were teeming with ships bearing the flags representing the souls onboard. And near the apogee of the flag craze, the Christian church was determined to get into the game. On this, the 26th of September of this year, 1897, the Christian flag was first conceived and designed by Charles C. Overton.
Overton was a superintendent of Sunday schools in Brooklyn, and when a planned speaker failed to show up for a rally day, he was pressed into giving an impromptu speech. Seeing an American flag nearby, he began to riff on what a Christian flag might look like. He described the red, white, and blue flag with a cross in the upper left canton in his speech. By 1907 these flags were being produced by the Methodist Young People’s Missionary Movement. The flag, as you might suspect, has been controversial. The Methodists used it, but the United Methodists don’t. Many Lutheran churches in America flew the Christian and American flags during the World Wars to show their allegiance to the United States. Still, today some Lutheran churches refuse to fly any flags in sanctuaries. Official U.S. Flag code requires that if the American flag is flying near any other flag, it must have the place of prominence. Controversy arose over the need to place the Christian flag above the American flag. In states that only permit national, state, and local flags, flying the Christian flag has led to controversy. But the flag code is unenforceable, and so no fines have ever been levied.
As with the American flag, there is also a pledge of allegiance to the Christian flag. It varies amongst denominations. While the flag was meant to symbolize all Christians worldwide, it is predominantly used in Protestant American churches. The Christian flag, perhaps a relic of the turn of the last century, was conceived during an impromptu speech in Brooklyn on this, the 26th of September, in 1897.
The reading for today is a quote from the 2nd-century theologian, Origen.
“To those who ask us whence we have come or whom we have for a leader, we say that we have come in accordance with the counsels of Jesus to cut down our warlike and arrogant swords of argument into ploughshares, and we convert into sickles the spears we formerly used in fighting. For we no longer take ‘sword against a nation,’ nor do we learn ‘any more to make war,’ having become sons of peace for the sake of Jesus, who is our leader, instead of following the ancestral customs in which we were strangers to the covenants.”
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 26th of September 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man who pledges allegiance to only the finest of roasts, Christopher Gillespie, at Gillespie.coffee. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. Remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.