I haven’t ever been really patriotic. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the 2000’s. I remember 9/11, the Iraq War, the 2008 housing crash, and the list goes on. I loved watching satirical pundits like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert point out the hypocrisy in America. It hasn’t gotten a lot better since.
However, it wasn’t until 2015 when I started feeling uncomfortable with the patriotic wing of American Christianity. I found it strange that we could pledge allegiance to a country. Don’t we align only to God as seen through Jesus? How then can we split ourselves? Jesus talks about trying to serve two masters – you’ll hate one and love the other (Matt. 6:24).
When I left the church were I was working and living (not the easiest time), my wife and I went searching for a new church. We stumbled into a large church in a warehouse and were struck by the stage lined with American flags. It was the Fourth of July weekend and the church was celebrating. We ran out as soon as the service was over – only to be stopped and asked “why don’t you want to see souls saved?”
A Murky Past
I don’t have to tell you the history of America. There are some highlights, but as we offer more seats at the table to the marginalized, we hear the whole truth. “What, to the Slave, Is the Fouth of July” has become a fashionable trend on the holiday for White Liberal Christians (I unfortunately fall into that category more than I’d like to). While some of the country is recognizing the checkered past, many are either working against or just ignoring these new voices.
One of the things I enjoy about the work I do and the field I study is that I get to look at everything. Seriously – everything. I purposefully look for voices outside my tradition and that go against my held beliefs. I like to look at the world as a buffet – I have access to as many possible ideas as I can and choose what works best in each scenario. Situational ethics (look at Fletcher’s Situational Ethics) is where I find myself when making decisions every day.
What this means is that there are very few black and white dogmas in life. The problem is that, as we as a society grow and come to realize new things, we must look to the past in judgement. We can’t say “Slavery wasn’t a big deal because they didn’t know any better” or “It was a different time when women couldn’t vote” and have that be the final say. It is our responsibility to call these things as wrong.
The Paradox of Progressivism
There is so much that we take for granted that was radical at the time. It was radical to call for abolition (it’s a factor of the creation of the Southern Baptist Convention). Women having a life outside their husband was (and can still be) a radical idea. In America, taking a teaching of Jesus like caring for the widow and orphan leads to partisan gridlock.
The paradox of progressive ideology is that it requires those who hold progressive beliefs to be found in history as intolerant. Lincoln has been seen as a liberator, yet his motives were not purely to emancipate enslaved Africans. One of my American hero’s, FDR, made a lot of great moves forward in establishing a safety net for the poor and disenfranchised. However, he had an ongoing affair while still married.
As someone who strives to be progressive, I constantly come face first with my intolerance. Cognitive behavioral tools are a wonderful way to assess a certain prejudice or reaction and learn in the moment. My hope is that in twenty years my son will look at me as someone with some unenlightened views, but is still trying to grow. I don’t want to be stuck “back in my day…”
Celebrate the Fourth of July! Have that barbecue, drink a few beers, and try not to blow your hand off with those fireworks. I would have been a much more grumpy, pessimistic person only a few years ago. Now, I think there is a better way to acknowledge what America really is. So enjoy your day off of work. Spend time with your family and friends. But remember – we have a lot of ground to cover. America is still a teenager in the scope of world countries. Let’s continue to push forward, ensuring that the truths we hold self evident become a physical reality for all. Use this Fourth of July as a dedication to enter into working for justice for all.