COLORA - Marcia Thompson Eldreth sees in the United States a Christian nation, inspired by Scripture and dedicated to propositions conveyed in biblical prophesy. She asks: Why not a U.S. national Christian flag?
"Our nation was based on Judeo-Christian principles," Eldreth said. "Blessed is the country whose God is Lord."
She was sitting in her Cecil County kitchen here the other day, sharing the story of how she came to design and arrange for manufacturing and selling a national Christian flag that since last year has gained national attention on The 700 Club, a religious news magazine television show hosted by, among others, the Rev. Pat Robertson. The taped segment is scheduled to appear on the program for a second time Tuesday, Flag Day.
Eldreth figures this year's show will again inspire a rush of orders for the flag, which shows an American bald eagle in flight, holding in its beak a quote from the New Testament, in its talons a bloody crucifix.
The flag idea "first came to my ears from the pulpit," said Eldreth, referring to Pleasant View Baptist Church in Port Deposit, where she is one of 950 active members, and where one morning in spring 2003, the Rev. Harold M. Phillips encouraged his congregation to declare proudly its Christian devotion, to perhaps even wave a flag.
A flag. A Christian flag. The notion struck Eldreth, not least because she has done quite a bit of painting and drawing over the years. She said she thought to herself: "Well, that's got your name on it, Marcia."
She has made 2,500 of the banners, but is not sure how many she has sold.
She figures on setting up a makeshift call center in the living room and kitchen, just as she did last Flag Day. What a day that was.
Phones were ringing steadily on six lines, Eldreth said, when a thunderstorm rolled in over the house.
"I turned on the prayer and worship music because it started to feel like a spiritual attack," Eldreth said. She recalled stepping to the front door in time to see lightning strike a utility pole across the road: "I saw a ball of blue fire come off that telephone pole."
The bolt knocked out the phones until the next morning. Eldreth understood it as a sign.
"I took it as spiritual warfare," Eldreth said. "I grinned when the fire come off the pole." She said she thought, "Thanks for the affirmation, Satan."
Raised in a Methodist home in Harford County, Eldreth, 55, has practiced evangelical Christianity since 1996. A mother of four and grandmother of six, Eldreth declined to expand on the reasons she turned so avidly to religion. She said that in her way of living before 1996, "I made myself sick" and "I was totally out of God's way."
When thinking about her vision for a new flag, Eldreth said she knew about the international Christian flag that was created, as the story goes, in a Coney Island chapel in New York in 1897. That simple design is a white banner with a red cross on a dark blue canton in the upper left corner.
Nothing so generic would do in this case. Eldreth wanted a distinctly American flag. She consulted her Bible, and voices on high.
"I was having a conversation with the Lord, although I was here in my kitchen. I was saying, 'This is your flag, Lord, what do you want on it?'"
The answer, she said, came when she saw in her head a picture of "an eagle carrying a cross."
She did not complete the project until some weeks later, when she said she was inspired to pack her art supplies one Sunday morning and drive 300 miles to The Founders Inn. The hotel stands on the grounds of the Christian Broadcasting Network in Virginia Beach, Va., producer of The 700 Club.
The next morning, she said, she noticed that the inscription above the door on the CBN building quotes Matthew 24:14, a call for global evangelism: "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come."
That sent her back to her room in a burst of inspiration that burned until the wee hours of the next morning. The flag sketch was done in colored pencil on a flag-sized sheet of heavy watercolor paper.
In her rendition, the eagle soars in a sky-blue field encircled by a band of red, representing the blood of Christ, encircled by another band of blue representing Christ's bruises. Flying on a ribbon in the eagle's beak is a quote from Matthew 24: "Take heed that no man deceive you." A blue border tracing the rectangle of the flag is salted with 50 stars, representing, Eldreth said, "American Christians in each of the 50 states."
Eldreth is untroubled by the notion of combining American and Christian symbols this way, as she quickly answers yes when asked whether the American purpose in the world is a specifically Christian project. Short of curbing freedom of religion, the U.S. government should not shy from declaring its service to scriptural ends, Eldreth said.
A few of those around the country who bought flags after seeing The 700 Club would seem to agree.
"I believe this country can only be great if God is behind us, and he is," said Gary Folk, who displays his national Christian flag on a pole in front of his home in Cloverdale, Calif. "That's why we are a superpower."
Bobby Ables, of Stephenville, Texas, displays his national Christian flag on a living room wall, next to the Stars and Stripes. He said, "I don't get in politics too much," but as he sees it, the flag suitably mixes God and country: "That's what we are, a patriotic, Christian country."
Phillips, the man who inspired Eldreth's flag, considers the project successful.
"I think her flag is a great flag," he said. "I think it will catch on. It may take a few years."
Eldreth said she has sold flags in Hawaii and Alaska, Florida, Georgia and right down the road in Maryland. In preparation for Flag Day, she has ordered five new temporary phone lines and called for volunteers among fellow church members to help take calls.
The flags come in three sizes, selling for $69 for the gold-trimmed 3-foot-by-5-foot model to $6 for the postcard-sized version that fits on a car antenna. There are also T-shirts, at $12 apiece.
Eldreth would have her customers fly the national Christian flag alongside or below the Star and Stripes, suggesting a foundation of the country, not a substitute for the traditional symbol. For all the blessings Americans have received, she said, "It's time for America to bless God."