God creates humans to enter into the service of others. The necessity of an individual to demonstrate compassion reveals potency in the one who engages. A helper represents a coming aid, support, and answer to a call of distress. The helper represents a person who is able to offer relief when the one in distress is unable act. The helper immediately represents a woman who God artfully crafts to become the one who aids the man in the tasks of serving as God's vice regents in creation. We are made to participate in service to one another. We are made to run and function as a support system to an individual or group whose vocalize distress.
We are made for so many beautiful, powerful, and creative acts. Yet our reality demonstrates that there is much ugliness, alienation, and destruction. If we would be honest, much of the distress we observe in our world occurs by the imagination of our minds and the activity of our hands. Our original purpose to participate in the service of others descends into thoughts, behaviors, and actions which harm others. It is no wonder we are so quick to stereotype and alienate those who are dissimilar. We unfortunately spend much time questioning God and his ability to prevent harm, not realizing the greatest perpetuator of evil looks back at each of us in the mirror every morning as we brush our teeth.
In my opinion we are at a place right now in the South were many citizens feel as if they are in a sort of exile. Last Sunday, Central Arkansans exercised their First Amendment right to parade and wave high the Confederate Battle flag. This flag, traditionally carried by General Robert E. Lee during the Civil War has become the commonly recognized symbol of the South. Many have commented this symbol represents a pride in Southern heritage, honoring ancestors who fought in the Civil War, and flies as a battle cry for states rights against federal encroachment.
As a former combat arms officer who protected a fundamental American right of free speech, I support these men and women in their ability to express and wave this flag. Freedom of speech and expression makes our country significantly unique. Freedom of speech separates our country from other countries which tend toward tyranny. At the same time, this flag carries a heritage that reminds me and my family that at one time we were considered property and inferior.
The Confederate flag in all of its iterations from 1861-1865 represented a confederacy of states which proposed an entirely new constitution for a new nation. Alexander H. Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy gave a speech on March 21, 1861 entitled "Corner Stone" stated of this new constitution, "The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization." Alexander Stephens proceeds to expressly state the present form of the United States Constitution "rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the "storm came and the wind blew." "
This is a critical part of the heritage all iterations of the flag flew over. If I may drive this point home and then explain why many feel a level of exile. The Vice President of the Confederate nation stated, "Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition." Here is the reasoning for the sense of exile and alienation felt by many African Americans who observed the waving of the Confederate Battle flag last Sunday. The flag of a defeated nation whose foundation rested on the dehumanization of a people group proudly billows in the winds of the 21st Century.
This sense of exile has been compounded by what many African American Christians perceive as a lack of silence or vigorous rejection of the symbol by more Caucasian American Christians. I have spoken to many African American Christians who have wondered why the level of outcry against the demonstration of the flag has not equaled the outcry of the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage. Are we to assume in this instance Southern heritage and nostalgia transcends the grief, hurt, and feelings of exile which we carry around? I would have assumed differently about Conway and Central Arkansas. I would have assumed differently about a region which boasts in its population of Christian adherents.
The Christian Gospel communicates a message in which God enters into the suffering of humanity. We vocalized our inability to remedy our suffering and God demonstrates his power by becoming like humanity to triumph over mankind's greatest need so humans would flourish as intended. Regardless of your ethnic background, Christians have been put together to rejoice with one another and suffer with one another. I want to equally rejoice with you. But now, I am asking my brothers and sisters to lay down their Southern heritage and hear the vocalized hurt of your African American Christians. Enter into our suffering so that we can powerfully experience the presence of God.
Entering into the suffering of another powerfully communicates that exile has come to an end. Compassion is a transformative act in which persons who may have never interacted previously, experience powerful moments of listening, understanding, and cooperation. I encourage you to act compassionately this week. Take a long moment to listen to someone who affirms the Confederate flag. Take a long moment to listen to someone who grieves overs its demonstration. Hopefully in the end we will see what God made us to be; compassionate people.
It is not enough.
It is not enough that you defend states’ rights, flag symbolism, or the founding of the nation.
It is not enough that you honor veterans, celebrate independence, and stand with Israel or Palestine.
It is not enough that you protect the earth, rescue animals, pursue marriage equality, or seek a financial system in which everyone pays their fair share.
But we are supposed to…
House the homeless,
House the fatherless,
Feed the hungry,
Clothe the naked,
Welcome the alien,
Visit the sick,
Be friends to the imprisoned,
Embrace the dying,
And announce to the oppressed and victimized, freedom.
It would be enough to do these things because in their faces…
You will meet me.
I am enough.