My husband put up our flag for the Fourth of July and came back into the house singing the Star Spangled Banner. His song irritated me and I was surprised to realize how ambivalent I feel about the national anthem and about this flag waving to me from my front yard.
Maybe it’s our checkered past.
I stood on the portico of our County Courthouse this weekend and took my turn reading aloud the Declaration of Independence. It fell to me to read the paragraph complaining about the ways King George “excited domestic insurrections amoungst us, and endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontier the merciless Indian Savages…” Never mind the fact that Europeans mercilessly slaughtered and displaced the Native Peoples as we took over the New World. Never mind the merciless savagery inherent in every war – even our war for independence.
It was timely that I had read Mark Charles’ blog just that morning, Reflections from the Hogan: The Dilemma of the Fourth of July. A wise, bold Native American blogger, Charles calls us to remember our shared history with all its complexity. Even as we proclaim that “all men are created equal,” we must also acknowledge how many years it has taken this nation to grow toward the understanding that “all” means all.
Maybe it’s our blind practice of national religion.
Although I go to church most Sundays, I doubt I will ever again be in church on a July 4 weekend. As a minister, I am deeply troubled by the way much of American Christianity has been co-opted by a civil religion. In sanctuaries across the nation, sacred symbols stand side by side with the American flag – an honorable political symbol, but completely out of place among worshipers whose allegiance to community is supposed to transcend any national boundaries.
As a minster who served local congregations for almost twenty years, I got into all sorts of trouble for expressing my opinion that appropriate worship should never include veneration of a flag or a nation. An evangelical pastor colleague tells of finding a threatening note tucked into his hymnal after voicing his views within his church. David Henson blogged about this issue just last week: Is Patriotism a Christian Value? he pondered. Henson suggests that appropriate patriotic celebrations within a Christian context should “honor all those dissenting voices (often inspired by Christian faith) over the centuries that have dragged the nation closer to embodying its stated values of equality and justice…”
I will be happy to recite the pledge and sing our anthem at the fireworks show this Fourth of July; that’s an excellent and appropriate venue. But I will “preach” to anyone who will listen how crucial it is for religious people to keep church and state separate. And now that I’m not serving a local congregation, I doubt I will ever again be in church on a July 4 weekend.
Maybe it’s our checkered present.
Yes, America (finally) turned from our original sin of slavery, but I grieve the ways we continue to allow the underlying sin of racism to skew our society. White supremacy is still very much a thing all across America. Some people live out that value with brazen, dangerous animosity: a horrific massacre in a sanctuary, Black churches torched, people of color targeted by undisciplined police and then incarcerated disproportionately by an often unjust justice system. Other people live out their belief in white privilege more politely. “Benevolent racism” I call it – feeling (and often expressing) discomfort and disdain whenever some people speak different languages, practice different religions or celebrate different holidays.
So I understand why I am ambivalent about my patriotism. Much of America is a mixed bag and many Americans are blind to that truth. But my good husband reminded me that the ideal is indeed beautiful. Our national anthem sings of the spirit of resilience among our people. Our national flag signals the unity inherent within the diversity of our people. America is a dream, a hope, an aspiration. Maybe not a dream come true – not yet. Maybe not ever. But it’s still worth believing in. And it’s absolutely worth working for.
I guess my challenge to myself is to get over my funky ambivalence and get to work. I will march with my NAACP friends in our local parade and then keep partnering together for our community. I will write letters to my local newspaper and to my elected officials. I will vote. I will do what I can to help my little piece of America live up to its ideals and grow into its dream. I will do what I can to “drag this nation closer to embodying its stated values of equality and justice…” I will do what I can; that’s all any of us can do.
Charlotte Vaughan Coyle lives in Paris TX and blogs about the Intersections of Faith and Culture. Here she is (in the floppy straw hat) joining her friends to do what they can in Paris’ Fourth of July parade.
Flag Meme credits
Meme: David R. Henson
Text: Frederick Buechner
Original Photo: Frankileon