Rallying to the white flag of surrender: a call to Christians in a day of division
Flags are flying at half-staff in America. Again. This past week, our country was again torn apart with acts of violence. America is existing in a fractured state. During times of grief and anger, it is easier to retreat into our own like-minded and homogenous-looking communities rather than risk reaching across divides. It is more comfortable to assign blame than examine our own hearts.
For those who are Christians, there’s a deep heartbreak and great responsibility. Division and emnity break the heart of God and so, break our hearts as well. God cares about justice and mercy and equity and truth. And while we do not rush to judgement, neither do we cover up injustice. Racism is real and it has plagued humanity for millenia. Here in the United States, racism is complicated by a history of race-based slavery for which some Christians provided justification.
That means that Christians today, of all racial backgrounds, have a heavy burden of responsibility and a mutual call to leadership as peacemakers. We must work together to change unjust systems and alleviate the misery of the oppressed as mutual burden bearers. And we must also die to self – each of us and all of us – submitting our personal preferences and comfort for the good of the Body of Christ and the glory of God.
As flags fly again at half-staff, let’s use the Confederate Flag as a point of conversation.
There’s a reason we put image rich symbols on flags and raise them high – they are rallying points to bring people together for common cause. Sometimes that cause is just and good. Sometimes it is not. When we put an image on a flag, rally to it, march behind it and affix our identity to it, the image becomes symbolic of an idea and an ideology that takes on a life of its own.
Just over a year ago, a young white man entered a church in Charleston, South Carolina and took the lives of nine black men and women. It was an act of deep hate. It was cold-blooded murder. And it was carried out under a particular flag. In the year that has followed the Charleston massacre, some organizations, institutions, and state governments – some quietly and some very publicly – removed that particular flag from places of prominences and put it into museums.
Then, during its annual meeting last month, the largest Protestant denomination in the US, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) adopted a resolution surrendering racist ideas that were formative in the denomination’s identity, but which it now repudiates. The resolution urged “brothers and sisters in Christ to discontinue the display of the Confederate battle flag as a sign of solidarity of the whole body of Christ, including our African American brothers and sisters.”
Some people continue to argue, and it was argued on the floor of the SBC, that the flag represents states rights, “heritage, not hate,” and “southern pride.” But, as James Merritt, a former President of the SBC, stated at the annual meeting, “This is not a matter of political correctness. It is a matter of spiritual conviction and biblical compassion.”
Do you, as an America, have the right under the Constitution of the United States to fly whatever image or symbol you choose? Yes. But as Christians and citizens of an eternal home, is that answer the same? No it is not.
The Christian life is to be lived under the banner of Jesus Christ. We no longer have “rights” in the same way the world thinks about rights. Having been liberated by Christ from the penalty and tyranny of sin, we are now surrendered as slaves to Christ.
There is humility in surrender. As a person or a people wave the white flag of surrender they say to the world “I surrender the idea under which I used to march. I surrender the allegiance I had to the idea for which I fought.” The question of the Christian call, is are we willing to do that?
Whatever else the Confederate flag communicates, there is no escaping the fact that for many people, it certainly communicates division. It is a reminder for African Americans of the Dred Scott Decision of 1857, the Supreme Court ruling saying that persons of African descent, whether they were slaves or free, could not be American citizens. But worse, for Christians, the Confederate flag is a reminder of the perversion of the Bible and theological arguments that claimed people of certain race were not considered full human beings; made in the image of God.
While the flag is only one small piece of the complex issues at stake here, it is still an important one. We cannot hold on to the banner of Christ while also holding on to our own preferences. We cannot claim to be One Body while ignoring the pain of one part of that body.
As Christians, let’s lift high the banner of Christ. Let’s rally to His cause. Follow His voice. Heed His command. He is our liege. And any and all who surrender themselves to Him are our sisters and brothers. Scripture says they will come from every nation and tribe under heaven. Which means that ultimately, our fellow citizens are people of every tribe and color and tongue and our flag is one of surrender to Christ, who triumphs over all.