There are a number of flags being waved these days. On the news and all over social media I have seen various flags being posted and waved – the Confederate battle flag, the gay pride rainbow flag and the American flag. As I have watched this virtual parade of flags I have realized that I have no flag to wave.
I will not wave the Confederate battle flag. Even though I live in a state that was part of the Confederate South (though East Tennessee was pro-Union I would note), I will not wave this flag. I recognize what is good and true in the south and southern culture but for too many of my African-American brothers and sisters this flag is an all-too-painful symbol of oppression and slavery and I cannot abide that. This flag holds none of my identity. I will not wave this flag.
The gay pride rainbow flag? No, I cannot wave this flag either. I recognize that homosexuals also have experienced oppression and pain throughout history and I sadly recognize that Christianity has been warped to legitimate this oppression and hatred but this flag also holds none of my identity. Despite the appeal to diversity, this flag equates for me the tendency to reduce the fullness of the human person to one single component – sexual orientation – and to state that this one component holds primacy and even dominance over all others. I cannot accept this. As a Christian I hold the deepest core identity of a person to not be orientation, gender, race, nationality, or economic class but rather the Imago Dei – the image of God in which every man and woman is made. Although these components are important to a person’s identity and not to be dismissed, no one component should ever eclipse the Imago Dei. Sadly, though, this happens far too often and we forget the full truth of who we are and we get lost. I cannot applaud this when I see it happening. It is, in essence, a form of tyranny. I cannot wave this flag.
The American flag? Sadly, I am beginning to wonder if I can wave this flag and I do not say this lightly. Since my youngest days I have been taught that religious freedom was one of the foundational principles of which this nation was based. Yet, I currently see a secularism developing and being triumphed in our society that makes no room for religious freedom and its expression outside of the privacy of the home. It seems that just as the activities of the bedroom are being celebrated and paraded in the open public square; religion is being told that it must be content with remaining behind the locked doors of one’s home. No, I claim my religion to be just as constitutive to my identity as any other qualifier out there. Therefore, I cannot leave it behind when I walk out the front door each morning – to do so would be to live a schizophrenic life. Does the secularism developing in our society have room for me or will I and my core beliefs be written off as either too antiquated or even bigoted? The answer seems uncertain. Will I be able to authentically wave the American flag or even be allowed to? I am not sure and I say this even as I love this country and what is so good about it.
So, at this point, I have no flag to wave. What I do have though, is the empty tomb of our resurrected Lord and here is where I will remain and here is where I will draw my strength, my inspiration, my resolve, my joy and my decision to love. In a way I am grateful for this recent virtual parade of flags because it has reminded me that as a Christian there never really is any flag that we can ever truly wrap ourselves in – whether that be national, social or ideological. Flags can quickly become idols and idols quickly turn into tyrants. All that the Christian has is the empty tomb and in this is found our freedom which the world can neither comprehend nor contain. The Christian, it has been said, is in the world but not of it.
The good people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston have witnessed this freedom of the Christian to our entire nation.
I will not squander my freedom. I have no flag to wave. All I have is the empty tomb. All we have, as Christians, is the empty tomb but here is found our freedom – a life that has overcome even death itself.
I will remain at the empty tomb.