Symbols of Heritage

In these parts, it’s not uncommon to see a prominently displayed southern flag just about everywhere – from people’s clothing, to the decals on their trucks. I was thinking about how the Southern Baptists recently took up the question about whether or not to affirm the symbol of Southern pride and heritage or the symbol of slavery and one of the darkest chapters in Southern history.

Now me, I don’t have that strong of an affiliation with it. I grew up in one of those states that was removed from the conflict. I then lived in a northern state and moved to a southern one – if only barely. My family history tells me that on one side of my family – the question divided two brothers, one fought for the north, the other the south. On the other side, they were neutral until some members of the family were imprisoned and upon being traded back he rallied everyone to sign up for the north and fight against the south; or so the story goes – the evidence is a little difficult to come by. We didn’t really have a big plantation or a stake in the economic prosperity that slavery provided it’s masters at the expense of the slaves.

The way I see it, it’s the cross to bear of pro-heritage folk to always have the anti-slavery being the dark side of the same symbol. The south without slavery wouldn’t have gone to war, wouldn’t have tried to separate itself into a whole other country, and wouldn’t have been symbolized by it’s own flag. You can’t have one without the other. So you’ll have little choice but to say: “I’m not racist but I affirm my Southern heritage” every single time you hold up the banner, you bear that cross. If you want to affirm your southern heritage without having a racist dark-side, you’d have to choose another symbol. But what else is there that unites southern heritage?

Notice that Northerners, Midwesterners, and Westerners don’t have such a flag of their heritage to rally behind. There’s nothing symbolic about where they’re from that ties in so many different states over such vast regions. I’ll let proponents of the southern flag explain to me why it’s necessary when none of the other regions seem to need one.

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Our Greatest Commandments

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “This is my sincerely held belief: ‘Fear the Lord your God with everything you have, honor and respect Him in everything, and obey all of the laws, from the least to the greatest.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Do not sin. Abstain from sin. Denounce all wickedness. Avoid the influence or appearance of corruption. Do not approve of the lawlessness of others, for surely I say, whatever you approve of, you too are guilty of it. Do not allow sin to be present where you can see it, hear it, smell it, taste it, or touch it.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

The Pharisees answered: “Well said teacher! We knew you were one of us all along!”

Some days it feels as if Christianity had been re-written by elements that misunderstand the central message of Jesus’ ministry, that down-play his emphasis on love and compassion, and sound like they side more with the groups that challenged Jesus. When I look at some of the Christians who are making a stand, I just don’t get their logic. It’s as if they’re stringing together passages of the Bible that don’t really connect to form a coherent theology and calling it a sincerely held belief.

Some of what we can do is pretty clearly written in Scripture, but for the most part we have principles that guide our overall actions – not specific commandments to obey or disobey. Romans 14, for example, says that believers can have strong faith that allows them to eat anything or to consider a day more sacred than others, while other believers can have weak faith that keeps them from eating meat that was sacrificed to idols or considers each day alike – whichever the case may be, they ought to accept one another without passing judgment or looking down on the other who doesn’t agree with them. Now we could accept it as written, that there’s such a thing as a vegetarian Christian and a carnivorous Christian and that both ought to have access to the sorts of foods they like to eat at our pot-lucks. Or we can accept the principle that whatever we might disagree with, dancing, music, alcoholic beverages that whichever side we fall on it’s not inherently sinful or ‘lesser’ than the more righteous alternative and certainly does not give us any right to treat anybody who doesn’t agree with us disrespectfully.

As much as I’ve searched my Bible, I’ve never found a clearly written commandment that allows people to refuse to sign marriage licences, sell flowers, or bake cakes for certain types of marriages. So that must mean that there’s some sort of overall principle that can be misconstrued to allow people to do that. The problem is – I can’t tell which one that is. Sometimes people point to particular passages in Romans as a ‘clobber passage’ as if the Bible were a club one could use to beat people into repentance. The problem is that in the case of Romans (and likely most of the others) it’s a portion of the whole, part of a defense that clearly states that all sins are equal  as written elsewhere – ‘he who does not keep one part of it might as well be guilty of breaking all of it’ (James 2:10.)

What bothers me most about this is that Christians have created a theology that excludes, denies, disrespects, and worst of all destroys the faith of people who would have believed in Jesus were it not for his followers actions and hateful attitudes. I know, most people will point to the immoral brother in 1 Corinthians and say that it’s necessary for the church to take a strong stance against sin. What they really mean though is they want to take strong stance against one kind of sin – not all sins. Christians aren’t known for pushing for banking reform to take strong stance against corruption and money lending practices that lead to poverty. Christians aren’t known for taking a strong stance against obesity or having solved the hunger crisis of our nation let alone the world. Christians aren’t known for taking any strong stance against any other kinds of sins.

Oftentimes, the similarities between the righteous thinking of the Christians and the legalistic thinking of the Pharisees are astounding and even nearly identical. Like it or not, the ‘yeast of the Pharisees’ the hypocrisy that we were warned would be a problem has become a big problem. But so many can’t stand the idea that they have more in common with Jesus’ chief religious foes than the chief of their religion that they refuse to hear it. They refuse to see it all around them. They might not see it, but the world sees it day in and day out. The world sees it when Christians who preach love for their brothers and sisters also say some of the most vile and hurtful things about others. The world sees it when Christians spend more on their church buildings and less to feed the hungry or provide clothes. They world sees it when we act as if the greatest commandment is to take a strong stand against the sin of others and forget that the greatest commandment is to love God and to love your neighbor. Who’s our neighbor? Everyone.