July 5, 2020
Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. ~ Amos 5:24
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. ~ Pledge of Allegiance, U.S.A.
The first years of my life I grew up in Grandview, Washington, a place known for their abundance of apples, grapes, and cherries. I went to Harriet Thompson Elementary School where the word “family” carried a lot of weight. Every morning we would stand up as a family, place our right hand over our hearts and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I loved this morning ritual.
Much like saying the Lord’s Prayer or the Apostle’s Creed in church, I never really thought much about what the pledge meant, I just said it. What, if anything, does the Pledge of Allegiance mean to us? Does it inform our way of life? I have always been intrigued by the end of the pledge, “Liberty and justice for all.” Who is “all” in our churches and in our country?
For me, the pledge’s last words echo Amos’ prophetic words, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Justice like love will persevere. In Luke’s Gospel Jesus proclaims that he has come “to bring good news to the poor, release to captives, sight to the blind, LIBERTY to those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the year of jubilee.” (Luke 4:18-19). The Kin-dom of God is a place where “all” have a place at the table.
Liberty and justice for all? Liberty to those who are oppressed?
In the first grade I never thought much about Sammy Gonzalez and Reuben Fuentes who quietly stood during the Pledge of Allegiance but never said the words because they only spoke Spanish. What did liberty and justice for all mean to them and to their families who worked in the fruit orchards of our little town?
John Dear writes that there are so many areas of injustice it is hard to know where to begin. “Racism, sexism, poverty, and oppression flourish around the world. We cannot personally solve every injustice, but we can’t just sit back and allow injustice to continue.” Dear says there are many ways to practice love in action: get to know our neighbors, build relationships and community, prayer vigils, boycotts, and lobbying efforts. As we live into our Faith and into our Pledge of Allegiance let us not forget the value of genuinely loving and knowing our neighbors. This changes the world one relationship at a time.
When the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, he shared his vision of liberty and justice for all. “I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, other-centered people can build up.”
At a Town Hall Meeting on dismantling racism this past week hosted by the United Methodist Church, the moderator asked a series of relevant questions. What does it mean for us to celebrate the 4th of July when we have not realized justice for Breonna? How can we sing about the “Land of the Free” when we can still hear George Floyd crying for his mama? Are we telling the story of our nation’s history from the perspective of the lion or the lamb? How has a culture of white supremacy and settler colonialism distorted our understanding of our shared past? What are the truths we need to learn and the lies we need to unlearn about our United States’ history?
The panelists at the United Methodist Town Hall meeting all said we (the United States) have a history of pride and advancement; and, we have a history of tremendous pain and shame. We need to learn “all” our history and grow, learn, and heal from it. We can deny our problematic history and cave into culture, or as people of faith we can embrace the liberating Gospel of Jesus Christ.
May we help bring “liberty to those who are oppressed.”
May we move in the Spirit of God’s Peace.
May there be liberty and justice for all.
May “justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
May all mean all.
Blessings and peace,