Lowering the Confederate & Raising the Rainbow: Jesus, the Other, & Reconciliation

Justin Davis

     I was raised in a Southern, Christian, white, middle-class, rural, heteronormative family. Growing up, I was surrounded with imagery of Southern pride and instilled with stories of Biblical literalism. To be honest, I’ve never really had a deep sense of Southern pride, although I’ve gradually learned to embrace this facet of my identity (although, just ask emo, know-it-all, middle school me and he would give you some sharp words regarding Southern culture). My views have evolved and been shaped in reaction to the setting in which I grew up. I wasn’t exposed to a lot of diversity as a kid, and the exposure that I did have was shed in a negative light. So, taking all of this into consideration, what right do I have to write about things such as these?

     Honestly, I didn’t think that I would be able to write about this. There are already many articles and blogs from various viewpoints that expound and explain the intricacies of these issues. Also, with the propagation of dedicated websites and articles on social media, every sort of opinion has been thrown out there (whether they are informed or not). God knows that the Internet doesn’t need another opinion piece. But here I am, writing this article, because I can’t sit back and be silent any more. I’ve recognized that being silent has become a privilege not offered to many of my friends and family.

     For example, because I am white, I don’t have to be afraid of potentially being shot to death at a routine traffic stop. Because I am a male, I don’t have to call a friend or family member as I’m walking to my car at night, fearing that if I don’t, then no one will know if I am assaulted. Because I am straight/cis gendered, I don’t have to take it personally when someone calls me a fag or beats me up in the locker room because they think that I’m different (which has happened many times before, but that’s a story for another day). Because I am an average citizen in America, I don’t have to worry about where my next meal will come from. Given all of these privileges, I feel like I must do something. Even if it’s as small as writing a small piece on my understanding of current events, I must at least try to reach out and do something. So even with all of the articles that have already been written, I simply write as a singular voice amidst a cacophony of crowded noises. Furthermore, I’m not here to place a moral status on homosexual relationships. My view is very nuanced, it would take up way too much space here (although I will write about it soon), and it’s not really the point of what I’m getting at here.

     For me, all I can say is that, for once, I can say that I am proud to be an American today. It doesn’t happen often, as a large number of us in the Millennial generation have dreamed of living in a different, perhaps more progressive nation. But today, we as a nation have recognized that all humans should have equal rights under the law. As Christians, it is not our duty to procure laws to ensure that Americans behave as you think Christians should. In fact, it isn’t even your job to convict other people (especially people of other beliefs) of their sins. That’s the job of the Holy Spirit. You can’t be God, so stop acting like it. Instead, it is your job to love other people and make disciples of all nations. It is indeed our job to speak truth, but to do it in love and humility. 

     From a Christian standpoint, we are all made in the image of God (Imago Dei). No matter our fallen sin nature, we are still made in His holy and righteous image, and declared to be good in His eyes. In order to have a serious view of sin, one must also have a very high view of the original, created nature of humankind. We cannot understand the pervasiveness of sin unless we see the true goodness of God’s creation. Each of us are made unique in his likeness, and we should treat each other accordingly.

     That’s why it’s incredibly frustrating to see how some of my brothers and sisters in Christ react to these events. While some hardcore conservatives have defended the Confederate flag, even GOP leaders have supported the call for its removal. We’ve recognized that the flag has been used as a symbol of racism and oppression, and we’ve finally decided to retire the use of such a token (even though no flag is free from blood…except maybe Finland. What have the Fins ever done?).

But when it comes to the national legalization of gay marriages in the US, some Christians have cried “persecution!” Let me be clear on this: You. Are. Not. Being. Persecuted. The Supreme Court did not sit around and ask themselves, “How can we make the plight of the American Christian unbearable in our society. Oh, let’s go ahead and legalize gay marriage. That’ll show those bigoted Christians!”

     No. That didn’t happen. Merely five out of the nine justices recognized that the freedom to be with whom you want to be with (and receive the benefits therein) is a right of all citizens. Also, as a Christian, this is also important to realize: no one is taking away your freedom. As a heterosexual couple, you still have all of the same rights that you used to. The procurement of others’ freedom does not mean the limitation of yours. The government is not directly forcing any clergy to perform same-sex marriages, as the separation of church and state runs both ways. No one is forcing you to marry anyone else, regardless of sexual orientation.

     Now I’m not naïve enough to believe that this decision won’t affect everyone, regardless of sexual orientation. No one lives in a cultural vacuum; no man is an unaffected island. This decision will have real and tangible implications for American society. For those who have pushed this issue aside, sitting in silence because it doesn’t affect you, that’s no longer a possibility. And that’s good news. This gives us all an opportunity to engage with those who are different than us. It’s not our responsibility to make American citizens conform to the outward behavior of a particular religious ideology. It’s our responsibility to respond to cultural changes with love and open hands. 

     Taking down the Confederate flag and legalizing gay marriage, however, will not upheave the root of the problem. Doing these things will not bring an end to racism, oppression, and hurt among these groups. It will not cure the centuries of damage that these groups have endured, often (and unfortunately) in the name of religion. In reality, it's a problem of objectifying and demonizing the Other. We see something that we don’t like in society (or ourselves) and then we proceed to project these negative qualities upon a scapegoat. Then, they become the root for all the problems. Whether it’s the “liberal, homosexual agenda” or the “bigoted conservatives,” the Jews or the Muslims, the poor or the rich, we are all guilty of blaming our own problems on others. The procurement of laws will do nothing to stop bigotry and hatred. It starts in the human heart.

     As Christians, we should look to Jesus for the measure of all things. And when I look at Jesus, I see that he reconciled all people to himself. He reconciled, redeemed, and brought outsiders close to Him. He removed all shame and fear. He allowed Himself to be killed for the sake of the Other. Like him, we need to be reconcilers and mediators. We need to consider the needs of others before the needs of ourselves. I don’t care if the Confederate flag is a symbol of Southern pride and rebelliousness for you; for someone else, it means oppression and enslavement. Should we not sacrifice our petty desires as a sign that we are ready to reconcile? We need the Other. We learn about ourselves from the Other. We should stand with the other, and realize that they may not be so different than we are. God made us all with differences, and we need those differences to reflect his mercy, grace, and glory.

     So, whether you are black, white, gay, straight, transgender, cis gender, asexual, or whatever else you may label yourself as, we are all human, made in God’s radiant image. And if you also identify as Christian, then you are a sibling of mine. Let’s stop treating people as problems to be solved, and instead as people who deserve love and acceptance just as much as anyone else. The LGBT community still has a long way to go. Marriage equality, while a milestone, is not the magical storybook ending for true equality. This gives us all, Christians and non-Christians alike, ample opportunities to show love and grace to those who are a part of this movement. Yes, we must speak truth, but realize that God is the one who saves, not you.

So to the gay Christian,

     the black Christian,

     the Christian who I speak  out against,

     the Christian who is struggling with their faith

     and the one who’s confident in his/her Savior

     and everyone in between:

     we're a family, 

     so let's start acting like it.

 

Will it be easy? No.

Will it be awkward? Sure.

Will it be dysfunctional? Probably. But what family isn’t a bit dysfunctional?

Will it be worth it?

Most definitely. 

May we go forward in love, truth, acceptance, and understanding of all, no matter what flag we fly under.

Image credits: Takimag.com article "Is Christianity Homophobic"