Category Archives: Politics and Christian Witness

Christian discipleship: Pledging allegiance in America

During my junior year of high school, I couldn’t bring myself to say the Pledge of Allegiance.  I had been following the footnotes on African American history for awhile now as the history unit only addressed slavery and a few key leaders from the Civil Rights Movement.  The end read more like “to be continued” because there was no happily ever after.  African Americans were still fighting for liberty and justice for themselves and oftentimes, by themselves.

Because the Pledge of Allegiance really meant “with liberty and justice for all socially colored white people.”

So, while persons where rebelling against their parents, I had decided to rebel against the American government.  More important than covering up pimples, the integrity of my witness would be compromised if I put my hand over my heart.  At the same time, I was growing closer to God and increasing my personal commitment to the faith.  A year later, I would hear the call of God to preach.  At seventeen years old, I would pledge allegiance to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So, this just didn’t feel right or like the right thing to do as a Christian.  Though the pledge was written by Francis Bellamy, an ordained Baptist minister, I found his words to be hypocritical: “and to the republic for which it stands.”  All power belonging to the people was in direct contradiction with the Scriptures.  While for a different reason, Jehovah’s Witnesses felt the same, believing the flag represented a graven image and was in direct conflict with their faith.  In 1943, the Supreme Court agreed.

It seemed like I was putting my faith in nationalism but America had never believed in me.  Indivisible?  We had always been divided.  Certainly, this was the case in 1892 when it was published.  While Ellis Island became a welcome center for immigrants, the rights of African Americans had only recently been included in the Constitution with the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.  The American flag was no welcome mat, no sign of hospitality for them.

Described as “restive” in an article by the Smithsonian, Bellamy had left the ministry to work for a magazine, Youth’s Companion.  It was during this time that he advocated to make Columbus Day a holiday; today, there is a growing list of states that celebrate Native American Day or Indigenous People Day instead.  Bellamy said that he had written the pledge in response to the Civil War and felt a need for loyalty.  With the recent uproar over Confederate statues and the loyalty of America to some of its citizens being questioned, it seems that the Pledge of Allegiance has not done what he had hoped.

And neither did my principal after the teacher sent me to her office for refusing to stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance.  Before Kaepernick took a knee, I decided to sit down.  When I returned to my classroom, I returned to my seat.  I was allowed to sit down during my junior and senior year.

But, the thought of permission to refuse had not crossed my mind.  I didn’t know that pledging one’s allegiance to the American flag was required for belonging and membership, that it was against some social rule, that I would need a “get of the saying the Pledge of Allegiance pass” before I could return to class.  I didn’t know that America seemingly has a kind of cult following.

And I would not have considered telling this story if not for the one I heard about a sixth grader named Stone Chaney who was physically removed from his seat by his teacher after he refused to pledge allegiance to the American flag.  He’s an eleven year old.  Like me, he had his reasons.  He pledges allegiance to God and family– not a flag.  He had stopped pledging allegiance to the flag in second grade!

More than a pinky swear, this allegiance asks for loyalty.  This is problematic because the United States of America does not have a history of commitment to African Americans.  In fact, America still has a poor record of fidelity to the African American community, its needs and values.  It asks for an inequitable devotion as America does not have the potential to produce, the power to provide or will to pursue liberty and justice for all.  Our legal system is one glaring example of betrayal.

Worse still, it competes with my pledge to Jesus Christ who asks that I take up his cross– not America’s flag– and follow him (Matthew 16.24).  And yes, I still sit down during the Pledge of Allegiance and ironically, it has included a pew.

When the world goes dark

Image result for lighted candle in darkness

14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

|Matthew 5.14-16, NRSV|

“This little light of mine/ I’m gonna’ let it shine/ This little light of mine/ I’m gonna’ let it shine/ This little light of mine/ I’m gonna’ let it shine/ Let it shine/ Let it shine/ Let it shine”

The world seems a valley of shadows, the earth covered with fallen sky.  The debris is swept up by government- approved lie after lie.  Many of us don’t know where to walk or whom to trust as a guide through this difficult terrain, this eerie time.  We sing, “I want Jesus to walk with me” but a cultural minority, he has been stopped by border patrol, the latest victim of “the travel ban.”

Our American government is melting down as politicians bow to the golden donkey and elephant.  It is democracy stripped down.  This emperor has no clothes but no one will tell him.  Instead, we follow blind guides.[i]  To be sure, it is a crisis of credibility.

Pointing fingers while scratching backs, shady figures lead us.  We watch the death of the truth on the six o’clock news.  Right is called wrong.  Real is called “fake news.”  We look on in disbelief as spades are called hearts.

But, no one is winning when our republic is rigged.  And who is keeping track of what we have lost?  Decency.  Integrity.  Solidarity.

This is not about an election.  The Church should not focus on four- year cycles but the times, “working while it is day because night is coming.”[ii]  Called to cultivate authentic community, we are quickly becoming a nation of strangers.  Citizen against citizen, Democrat versus Republican, our faith has become partisan.

Residents are up in arms and in the streets.  Protest after protest, they are beating their chests and the concrete.  America is turning against itself.  All pretense is gone and our divisions are obvious with Russia attempting to come between us.  It is the end of the world as we knew it or as we hoped it could be—at least for now.  So, what next?

The world won’t wait for heaven; they need the kingdom of God on earth.  But, the Church has imitated the world’s ways, slowed down the pace of prophetic vision to keep up with fads and trends.  Meeting them where they are, we stayed a little too long on the broad path. Do we even know how to get back to the narrow gate?[iii]

Wanting not only to be in the world but on top of it, we made business deals instead of disciples.  We have bigger buildings and smaller hearts, more money and fewer hopes for the communities we’ve been called to serve.  So, we move out of them.

The city on a hill is a gated community.  Our segregated churches enforce our own travel ban.  So, what can the kettle say to the pot?  The world knows the answer and can call our hand at any time.  The world’s got the Church’s tongue because what the world giveth, the world taketh away.

We sold our communion table for a seat at the king’s table.  We have larger closets filled with fancy clothes for expanding waistbands to show for it.  Old banquet tickets and business cards stuffed in drawers.  We traded our light for leverage on the social stage.  So, what will we do when the world goes dark?

“This little light of mine/ I’m gonna’ let it shine/ This little light of mine/ I’m gonna’ let it shine/ This little light of mine/ I’m gonna’ let it shine/ Let it shine/ Let it shine/ Let it shine”

_______________________

End notes

[i] Matthew 15.14

[ii] John 9.4

[iii] Cf. Matthew 7.13-14

“Where ever the facts lead us”

“We are going to follow the facts wherever they lead us.”  Then, why is the investigation taking so long?  It is a short trip from the podium to the White House.  Or is it because as soon as they are off and running in one direction, Mr. Trump’s tweets throw them off the scent?

Some rebuff, “All politicians lie” but when did our acceptance of intentional deception become expected, normative even?  Is this on the job description of our public servants: “Candidate must be able to lie”?

Then, perhaps, we don’t need politicians running our government.  Persons thought a businessman with no government experience was what America needed.  Next time, we might consider putting prophets on the ballot.  We could use an Isaiah or Jeremiah right now.

Because I wouldn’t want my doctor to lie to me.  Instead, I expect an accurate report of my health and if ill, an appropriate treatment plan.  I don’t want a police officer to lie to me.  “Was I speeding or not?”  I wouldn’t expect my pastor to lie to me concerning Christ’s sacrifice and the cost of the discipleship.  “Well, the world was in quotes so God may not have loved you.”

And why is that we cover for people in power?  Why do we make excuses for persons who are expected to uphold a standard, represent our best interests and lead all American people?  But, show no mercy to those of lower estate?  They are the real liars, we surmise.  I suppose that I am expected to believe that Mr. Trump is a novice.

It is so interesting to see how we can expect American citizens to tell the truth in a court of law or risk perjury but the President of the United States can lie and persons who do not believe him are deemed unpatriotic.  I am so tired of the double standard.  Only in America is there a difference between a white- collar liar and a blue collar one.   More than above the law, this is beyond my ability to comprehend.  Where do you think we are going if we continue down this road?  Wherever it is, there is no amount of walking back his comments that will return America to some mythical state of innocence.

I had grown tired of the expression, “Speak truth to power” but it makes sense now.  Because the President does not seem to possess it.  These are not your usual run of the mill lies.  More than campaign promises that get caught up in bureaucratic tape, these are outright lies with the intention to mislead and to misinform the American public.

And to be sure, there are no big and little lies, no Democratic and Republican lies.  If this administration has done nothing else, it has reminded many of us of what happens when truth becomes relative, when we think that truth is related to us, a dependent of our political party or cultural ideology.

I’m no genius but Albert Einstein was and he said this about truth: “Whoever is careless with truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”  So, if you feel the need to lie about the size of your inauguration’s crowd size, when the picture is worth a few thousand people, what else will you lie about?  Because #truthmatters.

When Time recently asked on its cover, “Is Truth Dead?”, I knew that we had turned a corner.  With the celebration of Christ’s resurrection still fresh, the question carries even more meaning for me.  How does truth die and who buries it?  Will it rise again and will there be persons there to witness it?

“Where ever the facts lead us…”  If I had a dollar for every time I have heard this during the young Trump administration, the amount wouldn’t be worth much.  Because there is nothing valuable about being lied to.  Because what is a fact today when there are ‘alternate facts’?

Counselor to the President of the United States, Kellyanne Conway and White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer are master weavers at this point.   The spinning of tales and half- truths is making me dizzy.  I need to sit down and perhaps, sit this one out.  Can someone come and get me in four years?  Because I don’t expect the resurrection of truth in America any time soon.

Put your money away.  I am not placing any bets on his impeachment.  And why should I?  I have watched commentators, politicians and regular folks explain away reprehensible behavior.  I would pick up my lip but the bar that has been lowered to accommodate Trump is on it.  There is nothing honorable or noble about standing behind a lie.

Besides, I am investigation- weary.  These fact- finding missions don’t come with breaks.  The air of suspicion is unhealthy if inhaled over a long period of time and paranoia goes well with conspiracy theories.

To be sure, Trump’s administration is not the first and will not be the last to be guilty of lying.  Attempting to be all things to all people, politicians make campaign promises they can’t keep all the time.  But, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to get a straight answer from this administration, a sure sign that something crooked is at work.

And with the accusations of fake news media reporting now a part of our social psyche, the good news of Jesus Christ becomes more essential to my mental health and well- being.  The truth of Christ’s life and ministry was reported by persons from diverse backgrounds, locations and socioeconomic statuses.  Still, there were persons who called the work of Christ fake news and warned his believers not to teach in his name.  So, in some ways, my faith has prepared me for this.  In short, don’t follow Trump’s tweets but the paper trail of Jesus; the former will get you nowhere.

America First and the last time we heard it

Image result for dr. seuss america first cartoonAmerica first.  For some, this slogan sounds like we are getting our priorities together.  We need to focus on our economy and give jobs to real Americans– as if the persons who are employed at these businesses are not real people with real needs.   Still, we need to take from them in order give it to us.  Because “this land is my land.”

This is the language of privilege and American exceptionalism, the belief that America is inherently different from other nations and that this difference is divinized in our favor.  “We are the chosen ones and we can take what we want.  It belongs to us– even if you have it.  Stop working and give the job to me.”

There is a segment of the American population who feels that Donald Trump is going to pay attention to them, that he is putting the needs of their communities and families first.  “And it’s about time that we start to focus on us.”  We need to stop helping immigrants, refugees and other persons in vulnerable spaces.  They need to work for citizenship; they have to prove themselves if they want to come here, if they are to be counted as members of our society.

Get to the back of the line.  America first.

Hand it over.  America first.

Get out.  America first.

For Christians, the problem with this slogan is that it is not Christ- like.  Jesus teaches as recorded in the gospel of Matthew: “Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give this last the same as I give you.  Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?  Or are you envious because I am generous?  So the last will be first, and the first will be last” (20.14-16).  And it is not a new campaign.

One of more than 400, Dr. Seuss’ (or Theodor Geisel) political cartoon above is dated 1941.  It was created during the time of Hitler’s reign.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.

Christ did not come so that we could push and shove people out of the way, so that we could save the best for ourselves, so that we could hoard the land.  Christ came to save the world in the name of Love– not for our nationalistic enterprises.  And you would think that we would know this by now.

His words were first and will outlast these.  It’s not America first; it’s God first.  Any other expression is out of order but I am certain that this won’t be last time that we hear it.

Additional Reading

Jennie Rothenberg Gritz, The Atlantic, “When Dr. Seuss took on Adolf Hitler“, January 15, 2013.

After Emmanuel AME Church Murders: No Confederate Flags

477933854-hundreds-of-people-protest-against-the-confederate-flag.jpg.CROP.promovar-mediumlarge-1Yesterday, South Carolina governor Nikki Haley did not hide behind the Confederate flag but said it has “no place” on statehouse grounds.  Charleston, South Carolina is being connected to Birmingham, Alabama of 1963.  The nine lives lost while gathering for prayer and Bible study are connected to the deaths of four little girls who came to attend Sunday school at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.  And while persons are discussing why 21 year old confessed shooter Dylann Roof came and political verbal shoving matches continue, another connection is being made to the Confederate flag and its tie to American slavery.

Some say that its meaning is complicated while others argue that it is clear cut.  The Confederate States of America, as they would come to be known, seceded from the Union shortly after Abraham Lincoln’s was elected president.  As we all know, he would go on to abolish the enslavement and forced employment of African Americans.  We’ve had hundreds of years dissect and discuss this subject.  Whether it is the original flag or not, the original meaning remains intact.  If it offends some, it offends all.  Consequently, I agree with those who call for its removal, which now includes Governor Nikki Haley. Take down the flag.