Pressure to conform is multi-layered and strong. Jesus clearly says in the Sermon on the Mount “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and wealth (Matt 6:24).” And yet, serving two masters is precisely what we western Christians are asked to do…daily. How’s that going for you?
Here are just a couple ways I’ve recently been asked to compromise my faith in Jesus: Shopping as “therapy” rather than necessity; celebrating the genocidal Christopher Columbus as national hero; celebrating the “heroes” who are fighting for us in Afghanistan and Iraq; singing the national anthem at a professional sporting event; living for family rather than God; separating salvation from ethics; supporting politicians and voting under threat of not being “patriotic.” On facebook, friends who promote their own breeds of phobia (directed at immigrants, Muslims, the GLBT community, etc…) regularly challenge me to compromise my trust in the life and message of Jesus. Jesus is my Lord and Savior, and his call is total and comprehensive. It is the call to be a citizen of his kingdom, to offer my allegiance only to God, and ascribe worth to Christ through worship, words, and lifestyle.
However, more insidious stories abound of pressure to conform our faith to the Story of America. Here are two striking examples. The offices of several Peace and Non-violent groups in Chicago and the Twin Cities were recently raided by the FBI. As it was 2000 years ago, making peace, building community, reconciliation and the tactics of non-violence remain a fearful concept to those in power and to those who benefit from the military industrial systems of our day. No one questions your right to be both Christian and a citizen. But advocate for peace? Live non-violently and call nations to do the same? That’s when demands are placed on us to Remember America instead of Remembering Jesus.
This second story happened last week in Mississippi. Refusing to say the pledge of allegiance in Judge Littlejohn’s courtroom when prompted, attorney Danny Lampley was held in contempt of court and placed in a holding cell for 5 hours. This is the imperial conformity machine at its height. Never mind the Supreme Court upholding our right to not say the pledge. This judge using his court as a bully pulpit to spread the gospel of patriotism is an affront to our faith. His call is clear: “Be like us, support our cause, pledge your allegiance to this kingdom, remember this story of America and not that story of Jesus.” But please remember, Jesus call is equally clear, “Enter through the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it (Matt 7:13).”
To clarify, Danny Lampley may or may not have refused to pledge allegiance based on his belief that Jesus is the center of his life (my own personal reasons). What I find so appalling is the symbolic act of social conformity demanded by the Littlejohns of the world, be they judges, radio talk-show hosts, pastors, politicians or friendly neighbors. Likewise, whether their tactics be pledges, purses or patriotism, the pressure to conform (and therefore compromise commitment to Jesus) is pervasive and complex.
In order to thrive as passionate Anabaptist Christians, we need our own counter-communities, alternative rituals, and most importantly –stories. We must commit to live by The Story and values of God, not America or anyone else. This is a radical lifestyle of making peace, intimate community, breaking down walls, accepting the stranger among us, working for justice, focusing on others and not ourselves, and confronting those who demand conformity. “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven (Matt 7:21).”
Remember Jesus. Not just as Savior, but as Lord of life and King of kingdoms. For starters, try embracing this alternative ritual of pledging allegiance to Jesus Christ and not to the US flag:
I pledge allegiance to Jesus Christ,
And to God’s kingdom for which he died,
One Spirit-led people the world over, indivisible,
With love and justice for all.
Pledge of Allegiance ©2004 J. Nelson Kraybill and June Alliman Yoder Used by permission.
You can read what Rebecca Voran’s college professor has to say about the Danny Lampley case at: http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2010/10/empire.html
To read more on the FBI raid of Peace groups, follow this link: http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/fbi_raids_and_the_criminalization_of_dissent_20100928/