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Remember When Rich Mullins Said Hanging an American Flag in Church Was ‘Offensive?’

Remember When Rich Mullins Said Hanging an American Flag in Church Was ‘Offensive?’

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Rich Mullins was in the Contemporary Christian Music scene, but he was never really of it. Despite timeless CCM hits like “Hold Me Jesus,” “If I Stand” and, of course, “Awesome God,” the late singer/songwriter held the industry at arm’s length and the feeling appeared occasionally mutual. He left Nashville after a brief foray in the beating heart of the Christian music scene, declaring that he “was not going to be your typical run-of-the-mill, Pollyanna, goody-two shoes Christian musician.”

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“I became so boring trying to be bad that I gave up the pursuit,” he later recalled. He was too good a musician to ignore and adored by influential friends like CCM mainstay Amy Grant, so his songs continued to get airplay even as Mullins expressed more and more discomfort with the industry, like his belief that modern worship was “shallow, mindless, stupid, and perfectly harmless, at best.” He later moved to a Navajo Reservation in New Mexico, saying he “just got tired of a White, Evangelical, middle class perspective on God, and I thought I would have more luck finding Christ among the Pagan Navajos.”

Mullins was often dropping statements like this, at a time when Christian Music was even more cautious than it is today. In 1996, he gave an interview to The Phantom Tollbooth, in which he unloaded with even less of a filter than usual, giving unguarded thoughts about the status of the nation, his views on the pro-life movement and his disgust with the prosperity gospel. That interview, which recently resurfaced on Twitter, is a reminder of what a bold, provocative voice he could be.

See, I think a lot of my songs are really political. I think nobody gets it, but it’s hard for me to divide up my politics and my religious convictions. There’s something offensive to me about having an American flag in a church building. When the CIA pretended to be missionaries and caused trouble in Chile so that all missionaries were kicked out, I think that makes the United States the enemy of the kingdom of God. I think a government that requires 18-year-old boys to register for the draft is anti-life.

See, all the pro-lifers, they only think life is sacred if you are a fetus. I agree that life is sacred to fetuses, but I also think it’s sacred to 18-year-olds. Where were you people when Nixon was in the White House? When Lyndon Johnson was escalating the war? Not that I necessarily think that everybody has to be a pacifist; I don’t. But it does seem funny to me that so many people who are anti-abortion are pro-capital punishment. So many people who are anti-capital punishment are pro-abortion.

Bear in mind, this was 1996. American flags were an even more common sight in churches than they are now, and a lot of those churches were singing “Awesome God” on Sunday mornings. Much to his chagrin. “I really struggle with American Christianity,” he continued. “I’m not really sure that people with our cultural disabilities are capable of having souls, or being saved.” The Tollbooth asked him to clarify “cultural disabilities.”

We could call it that. People who grow up in a culture that worships pleasure, leisure, and affluence. I think that’s where the Church is doubly damned when they use Jesus as a vehicle for achieving all of that. Like, if you give a tithe, He’ll make you rich. Why? Are you hacking Him off or something? If you give a tithe, you get rid of ten percent of the root of all evil. You should be giving ninety percent. Cause God can handle money better than we can.

Mullins passed away in a car accident in 1997. He left behind a remarkable catalog of honest, beautiful reflections on God. You can read the whole interview here.

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