A letter to confederate-flag-loving, white, non-racist Christians:
This past week I took my dog to the vet for the first time. It was a traumatic event for both me and for my dog. We were doing fine until it came time for her vaccines. She was taken to another room and surrounded by people she did not know who held her down while attempting to jab her with multiple needles. She flipped out, and I saw a side of her I had never seen. Our always kind, loving pet (the one that our kids jump on and wrestle with daily) turned aggressive and bit the hand of one of the veterinary assistants.
Unfortunately, the vet’s office is not the only place I saw “biting back” this week.
Now let me be clear, I am not about to get into the history of the confederate flag or to discuss the debate of heritage or hate. The truth is that my degrees are in theology and I simply don’t know enough about those things to speak to them. Anyway, plenty has already been written about all of that, and I suspect it is easy enough for you to search for and find whatever narration of history you prefer.
Instead, lets talk about the biting back.
While I don’t know much about the confederate flag, I do know four things with complete certainty: 1) Racism is still present today, 2) people are afraid and hurting because of it, therefore 3) it is something that God cares deeply about, and so 4) if God cares deeply about it then we should too.
Now, I know there are some of you who are reading this and who are already growling and showing me your teeth. I know there are some of you who already want to talk about reverse-racism and ways in which you feel like you have been held back because of your pale skin color.
I get it. I really do. You are tired of people analyzing and magnifying the possibility of racist intent. You don’t think it is fair that in order to try to end racism in this country we have to make policies and put in place rules that seem unbalanced and can favor minorities. You feel some of your power slipping away each and every day. I get it.
But here is the thing… our Christian Story reminds us that the world is made new through sacrifice and that following Jesus into a new and better world often means lowering ourselves, as Christ did, that we might lift others up.
Yes, you have been inconvenienced by others people’s desire to do all they can to destroy racism, but that is not the same as living in fear, being unable to do things that others take for granted. It is not the same thing as only being able to travel on major highways throughout the South because you are too afraid to stop for gas at rural gas stations simply because of the color of your skin.
We pray the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray, but we forget that the one who first prayed it is also the one who emptied himself, became human, and suffered for us to make it happen. “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” He is the one who still calls to his disciples, “Follow Me.”
Somehow we have forgotten that there is a cost to following Jesus. That if we are to be a disciple of Jesus then there is a lot we must give up – yes, even things we like. We have been renewed to live for Christ, and can no longer live simply for ourselves.
This means that we have been called to give up our own history, our own present, and even our own future in order to allow God to help make us, and our world, better for all people and all of creation.
There will be no confederate flags in God’s Kingdom. I am certain of that. So what if you lived into your prayers for a world that would reflect God’s Kingdom by sacrificing a flag you love and, for the sake of a person in rural NC who doesn’t know where he can safely stop for gas, replace it with a symbol of peace that clearly says, “all people are welcome here.” Instead of holding so tightly to our own history, especially one that so clearly scares a significant population of people, what if we followed Jesus into a future that is open for all people.
I know that it is hard not to bite back when you feel surrounded and threatened, but the hands we bite may be God’s own hands helping to cure our world from the diseases that are still a threat to us today.
So if you are a confederate-flag-loving, white, non-racist Christian who knows that there is a cost to discipleship, I want to challenge you with a difficult task. Consider making a special offering to the Lord this Sunday. When the offering plate is passed around at your local church, consider giving more than just your money. Bring with you that flag you love, and as an offering of peace and reconciliation and love for all God’s people, I challenge you to place it in the plate. Trade it in for a hope in a future where no one will have to live life in fear, where we can all live together on earth, just as it is in heaven.
Rev. Kevin C. Miller