I Pledge Allegiance

Poor People's CampaignDelivered at the Introduction Meeting of the Poor People’s Campaign at First Christian Church in Fort Smith AR, May 6, 2018

I

In America, I as an individual,have certain inalienable rights. As an individual citizen of this country, I have freedom. And with that freedom, I have a great responsibility. I have a voice. I have a vote, and I have the responsibility to make this country the very best that it can be. And that includes keeping our water safe, our air clean and our land pure.

Pledge allegiance

Our allegiance does not mean blindly accepting our faults, never questioning our past, and never second-guessing how current policies will affect our future. Allegiance means faithfully doing our part to “mend thine every flaw.”

It means being loyal, law-abiding citizens committed to our civic duty of voting in elections. However, it also means voicing opposition to laws that need to be changed and to elected officials who need be corrected. Civil allegiance sometimes means civil disobedience.

Like a faithful marriage, pledging allegiance means being loyal to our country in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, never giving up, never becoming complacent, never running away. It means perpetually praying for it, continually correcting it, forever fighting for it.

To the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands

The flag is not a mere sign for our country. It is the profound symbol of our country. Signs are limited as signs only give information. Signs do not have the power to stand for something. Only symbols can do that. Whereas signs invoke intellectual responses from the brain, symbols elicit visceral emotions from the heart and gut. This is the reason seeing the Confederate Battle Flag flying on the back of motorcycles this weekend turned my stomach. The flag is not a mere historical marker, label, design or brand but a powerful symbol that stands for something. Flags have the power to move us, stir us, and guide us.

One nation

Our flag stands for one nation. Although heritage and culture are important aspects of life in different parts of our country, they are never more important than the unity of our country. Abraham Lincoln and Jesus spoke truth when they said: “a house divided against its self cannot stand.”

We need to come together not as liberal or conservative, republican or democrat but simply as Americans who believe we can do better and be better.

Under God

Not under God because we are down here and God is up there. Not under God because we want some sort of theocracy like the belief of ISIS and other Islamic extremists. And not under God because we believe we were established to be a Christian nation like the beliefs of Christian extremists.

Rather, we pledge our allegiance to country under, after, second to, our allegiance to the law of God.

As people of faith, this is why our allegiance is not blind. The Commander-in-Chief is not our chief commander. The Supreme Court is not our supreme being. Our allegiance is first pledged to something that is bigger than our nation, even larger than our world.

It is an allegiance that informs our vote, rallies our civic duties, admonishes our obedience to civil law, and yet, sometimes calls us to civil disobedience. For the Christian, it is the God revealed through the words and works of Jesus who becomes our civil conscience. We believe the law of God revealed through Christ supersedes every human law.

Immediately following words from the Apostle Paul regarding good citizenship and obeying the law, we read that every one of God’s laws is summed up in just one law: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said it this way: “On this hang all of the laws of the prophets “…that you love your neighbor as yourself.”

And just in case some are still confused to what “love” is, Paul defines love by saying: “Love does no harm to a neighbor.”

Jesus said, “There is no law greater.” It is as if Christ is saying, “If you don’t get anything else from Holy Scripture, you need to get this: ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’” Yet, as evidenced by the amount of hatred, racism and violence that is in our nation today, much of it propagated in the name of God, this supreme law is widely ignored, disobeyed or rejected all together.

I believe it is when we first pledge our allegiance to this supreme law, that we have the opportunity to be a great nation. For when we love our neighbors as ourselves, when in everything we do to others as we would have them do to us, it quickly becomes “self-evident that all people are created equal with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Indivisible

When we pledge allegiance to the supreme law of God, when we pledge to love our neighbors as ourselves, we promise to work together under God to build bridges to overcome the gaps and barriers that we have created that divide us: racial, sexual, ethnic, political, economic, educational and religious. We pledge to come together, side by side, hand in hand, for the equality of all people and the inalienable rights of all people.

This does not mean that we are to never disagree with the beliefs or lifestyles of others. We can certainly love our neighbor while disagreeing with our neighbor. It is not hating our neighbor when we disagree with the flag that our neighbor flies; however, when we infringe on their life, their liberty, and their pursuit of happiness by supporting public policies or actions that treat them as second-class citizens, that do harm to our neighbor, that keep the poor poor while keeping the rich richer, it is certainly not loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. As our 44thPresident said in the eulogy of Rev. Clementa Pinckney: “…justice grows out of recognition of ourselves in each other. [Our] liberty depends on [our neighbors] being free, too.”

With liberty and justice for all.

We pledge to work for freedom and fairness not just for our educated, rich neighbor who can afford the best attorneys, and not just for our advantaged, abled-bodied and able-minded straight, white, Christian, English-speaking neighbors. We pledge ourselves to stand for liberty and justice for all. And according to the Abrahamic faiths, “all” especially includes foreigners, minorities, the poor, the differently-abled, all those who have been pushed to the margins.

All even includes people of every nation. For our love and our mission to stand for liberty and justice have no borders.

In response to a call to include the rights of the LGBTQ community as civil rights, one of my friends raised the following question on Facebook, and to avoid being obscene, I am going to paraphrase: “They only represent 2% of the population. Why do they matter?”

This was not just one lone, ugly, hateful voice, but one that was representative of the sentiment of many.

“They only make up 2% of the population. Why do they matter?”

For the Christian who pledges his or her allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all: LGBTQ+ lives matter; Black lives matter; Poor People’s lives matter, because according to everything for which this flag stands under the supreme law of the God of love, all lives will never matter, until all finally means all.

Holy Week

Emma

It happened 2,000 years ago, and it happens today.

Someone experiences suffering.

They love their neighbors as they love themselves.

They have a dream that love can change the world.

They heal. They teach. They unite. They march.

They speak truth to power.

They inspire.

But they also disturb.

Pushback comes.

Betrayal. Denial. Lies. Mocking. Humiliation. Degradation. Dehumanization.

Some of it comes in the name of God.

The good news is that Easter is coming.

Hope is rising.

And love will win.

God Has Not Left Our Schools

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It has been a difficult week to be on social media. I can usually agree to disagree with most of the posts, comments and replies from my friends. I can read statements that I even find offensive and privately SMH.

However, sometimes things are said that demand a public response, especially from a minister. Like, blaming the school shootings on God’s absence from public schools today.

I have read it almost everyday this week. Something like: “We don’t have a gun problem. Our problem is that we have taken God out of our schools.”

This is when the truth must be told. God has never left our schools.  And, any inference that God has left our schools calls for a response.

In fact, a theological argument could be made that God is more present in schools today than God was present in schools prior to the 1970’s when schools were segregated by the evil of racism.

That public schools strive for equality and equity like no other time in our nation’s history is evidence that God has not left our schools.

That gifted college graduates continue to sacrificially turn down higher paying careers to teach our children in public schools is evidence that God has not left our schools.

That schools are for children, our most vulnerable citizens, those Jesus said belonged to the Kingdom of God, is proof that God will never leave our schools.

And out of Parkland, Florida, we have seen even more proof.

That an entire nation has come together to grieve with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is an undeniable verification that God has not left our schools.

That teachers were willing to lay down their lives to protect their students is an indisputable sign that God has not left our schools.

That children are courageously marching in state capitals and in Washington DC to articulately speak truth to power is an irrefutable testimony that God has not left our schools.

That the efforts of these children are being demeaned, that they are being persecuted for righteousness’ sake, is a certain confirmation that God has not left our schools.

That God is right now, in our midst, taking this tragedy and resurrecting it, that God is working in our world to transform the evil of this mass shooting into something good, is an absolute verification that God has not left our schools.

Prophetic Persecution

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Roy Moore recently defended himself with the words of Jesus: “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).

What must be said is that the prophets were not persecuted for displaying the Ten Commandments on government property.

The prophets were not persecuted for supporting state-sanctioned prayer in school.

The prophets were not persecuted for advocating for the governmental control of the bodies of women.

The prophets were not persecuted for protecting the rights of every citizen to own assault weapons.

The prophets were not persecuted for protecting the religious freedom of bigots to discriminate against minorities.

The prophets were not persecuted for stirring up fear and hatred of the foreigner in their midst.

The prophets were not persecuted for supporting legislation that blessed the rich and sent the poor away empty.

The prophets were not persecuted for fighting for the liberty and justice of the privileged.

No, what must be said is that the prophets were persecuted for supporting the moral values that has always made America great.

The prophets were persecuted for pointing out how any proposed legislation might break the greatest commandment to love our neighbors and may cause some of our neighbors harm, especially our poor neighbors.

The prophets were persected for standing up for justice for our most vulnerable citizens, such as the right of every child having equal access to an equitable and quality education.

The prophets were persecuted for elevating the status of women and protecting their freedoms and well-being.

The prophets were persecuted for promoting healing, health and peace for all people, especially for those living in poverty.

The prophets were persecuted for defending the rights and freedoms of those marginalized by the state and extreme religion.

The prophets were persecuted for always welcoming and accepting the stranger in their midst.

The prophets were persecuted for blessing the poor and sending the rich away empty.

The prophets were persecuted for fighting for the liberty and justice of all.

So, although Roy More may feel like he is being persecuted right now, he is not being persected like the prophets before us.