The Meat of the Matter: Musings on the Flag Especially Addressed to My Fellow Southern Family and Friends

I promise I won’t be blogging every day – that would be crazy.  And exhausting.  But just to try this out for fun, here’s something I wrote last week and posted on Facebook.  We’ll see what happens next.

For me, it’s all about the meat.

Today (Thursday, July 9), the South Carolina House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to remove the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the State Capitol. Tomorrow at 10 a.m. EDT, with surviving family members of the slain at Mother Emanuel AME Church present, the flag will be lowered for the final time from the pole where it was lowered earlier by Bree Newsome as an act of civil disobedience.  The colors will be fittingly retired to a museum where they will be laid to rest, even though the controversy around it may linger for awhile.
Today, I am particularly proud to be a Southerner, and I am particularly proud of my fellow Southerners in the South Carolina legislature who are doing the right thing. It is not all that needs to be done. This single act cannot ease the abiding grief, ache, and loss of the left behind beloved of the martyrs killed for their colorful faith who were gathered in that basement Bible study when the killer stole into their midst. But it is an act of compassion, rooted in a desire to be part of a new and better day for the South, and for all Americans. And as a person of faith from south of the Mason-Dixon line whose ancestor accompanied Marse Robert all the way to the end of the road of rebellion, I am grateful for each small step on a different road of reconciliation.

I suspect some friends and family might be appalled or saddened, or even wondering if I have betrayed the best of my history and heritage. But for me, it’s all about the meat.

Like many Southerners, in addition to my history and heritage as someone hailing from this particularly precious part of God’s creation, I also am a person of faith who pledges allegiance first and foremost to the Lord of all creation, whose face I have seen in Jesus of Nazareth. While I will always be a child of the South, I am also first and foremost a beloved child of God and citizen of the Realm of God, what some theologians these days call the Kindom of God. In my baptism into Christ, I accepted the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice and oppression, and promised first and foremost to serve Christ as my Lord in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations and races (The United Methodist Book of Worship, 1992). And there’s where the meat comes in.

In the New Testament communities formed by the apostle Paul, at least two wrote to him asking advice about whether it was kosher for Christians to eat meat sacrificed to idols. Even for a Southerner familiar with the beauty and wonder of hyperbole (especially when it comes to jokes, tall tales and fish stories) connecting Corinth and Rome to Charleston might seem a stretch; but stay with me.

The burning questions for those first Christians were 1) if I eat meat that has been sacrificed to a pagan idol, am I being disloyal to Christ, or at the very least serving and honoring two masters? and 2) if I believe these idols are false and non-existent, can I eat the meat conscience-free, despite another believer’s beliefs and misgivings about the practice? When in doubt, those early Christians thought it was wise to seek advice of a wiser soul and so they wrote to Paul, their elder brother in the faith. His counsel can be found in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8.

Paul freely confesses that he has no problem eating such meat; like his “more mature” siblings in the faith he knows the idols supposedly honored by the sacrifice that brought the brisket to the table don’t exist at all; they are illusory, and so there’s no harm in benefiting from the food’s nutritional value. In fact, when it comes to eating meat, you’re free to do as you please.

But Paul also knows his perspective is not shared by all, and his view might be a hindering stumbling block to his “weaker” kinfolk in Christ. And so he advises his correspondents to let liberty be trumped by love. All things are permitted, Paul writes; but not all things are helpful. And so he makes a commitment never to do anything that will cause another to stumble.  If that tasty morsel puts another’s faith and discipleship at risk, he won’t do it.  It’s as pure and simple as that.

Whatever we Southern white folks think is the meaning behind the flag, there is no doubt that it is a stumbling block to our black neighbors and kinfolk. Of course technically we are still free to fly it wherever we want on our private property – in our front yard, on the back of our pick-up truck, on our flexing muscles beneath our tattoo. In Christ we are indeed offered freedom.

But that freedom is always bracketed by the higher law of faith: love for our neighbor.  We Southerners can get antsy when someone tries to tell us what to do or we feel like our honor is at risk; but for those of us who have been marked first and foremost by the cross of Christ and not the St. Andrew’s cross on the Stars and Bars, humility and compassion for others are also noble virtues.  They are not to be taken lightly but lived fully as an act of love for our kinfolk and a sign of loyalty to the One who showed us the measure of true and abiding freedom by kneeling and washing his followers’ feet.  After all, the most free person is the one who doesn’t have to have his way but can make way for another to flourish and prosper.

So the meat of the issue for me is this: if that flag is is getting in the way of moving to a new and better day; if it’s a stumbling block to my Southern sisters and brothers for whom it is a symbol of terror, oppression and  even 1960s resistance to the Civil Rights journey toward Dr. King’s beloved community; then it’s time to furl and lower it forever – not simply from a flagpole in South Carolina, but from our hearts and lives so we can move toward a new future for all where we can all meet as sisters and brothers under the banner of love.

 

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