It is MLK Day but, shockingly, I’ve just seen a neighbor who lives one street over from us strutting around the neighborhood wearing a Confederate flag sweatshirt.
No fig leaf of “honor our Confederate history” can cover such a naked, defiant and intentional display of racism.
Sadly, she is not alone in our small town. Others fly Confederate flags 365/24/7 in their front yards or paste decals to their cars or homes. In addition, several businesses display Rebel flags on their storefronts, again 365/24/7.
Of course, my neighbor would not be alone in any area or region of the United States. However, perhaps no region is more infected with racist toxin than the South. If you live within the boundaries of Old Dixie, latent or blatant racism is all around you. If it is not in your home, then it is just over the fence, infecting all irrespective of whether they acknowledge it.
I speak these things as a 65-year-old white male who was raised by a hardcore racist and who has lived all his years in the south. My father was one who regularly spewed racial venom. For example, he openly cheered King’s assassination. When I moved out of the house to cast out on my own, it soon became clear that his kind was well-represented in southern culture.
One thing, though, sets our neighbor apart from others—she and her husband display Christian decals, bumper stickers and symbols on their home and cars.
I know, I know. We all sin and fall short. True enough. And, embarrassingly, I still periodically see latent racism in me—and wonder how much I don’t see.
But I still cannot understand how someone claiming to follow Jesus of Nazareth can wrap their body in a flag that has steeped like tea for hundreds of years in a toxic brew of human domination, discrimination, segregation, intimidation, beating, torture, and murder.
The Bible clearly points to a path that calls us to overcome our racial, ethnic and gender prejudices—and does so in part using the homely example of the clothes we wear.
For example, in Galatians 3:26-27, St. Paul writes of the essential equality of all people who have clothed themselves, not in a symbol of hatred, but in Christ, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek. . . slave or free. . . male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” [emphasis added]
In Colossians 3:10-14, he pairs this concept of being clothed in Christ with the inner attitudes that should accompany it:
“[you] have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all! As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another. . . forgive each other. Above all, clothe yourselves with love. . .”
A final irony of this woman’s public display of divisiveness (and, I must admit of my anger and desire to strike back) is that were Martin Luther King, Jr. to see her wrapped in that flag, he would strive to love her.
Perhaps nothing is more underappreciated about King than his ethic not only of non-violence but of agape love, the kind of love which Jesus calls for his disciples to have.
In the heat of his Civil Rights campaign, he once wrote:
“Nonviolent resistance … avoids not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent, but he also refuses to hate him. At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love. The nonviolent resister would contend. . . [that] the oppressed people of the world must not succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter or indulging in hate campaigns. To retaliate in kind would do nothing but intensify the existence of hate in the universe. . . [S]omeone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can only be done by projecting the ethic of love. . .”
King not only spoke those words but also lived them in the face not only of flags, but also of bombs, dogs, nightsticks, and jail.
As my neighbor and too many other show, his fight goes on.