I remember facing the American flag at the start of the school day, with hand over our heart, pledging allegiance the United States of America. At its best, the pledge of allegiance is meant to rally people from all walks of life toward the American ideal of unity and collective progress. It has, instead, become a heartless recitation of empty words. A forgotten ideal.
How might we go about changing this?
The long road to unity and reconciliation is paved by empathy, love and action. It involves personalizing the plight of our neighbors and moving beyond sympathy and empathy into the dangerous sacrificial spaces of true, heaven-defined love. Love that exists outside our comfort zones and requires the sacrifice of our essence, not just our extras. Love that gives with no expectations, a profit-free endeavor that derails the powerful force of ego that typically drives our actions, perspectives and behaviors. It’s a love that needs no qualification. No condition. No reward. A love that lays down his life, for his friends.
“One nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all,” is collective love in action. And while it is easy to focus on “liberty and justice,” we cannot forget that it’s our allegiance to the ideals of “one nation, under God, indivisible” that provides the conditions for both liberty and justice.
One nation does not describe today's America. We have lost our sense of the collective to the idol of individualism. We often define our nation using individualized, personal lenses. “My America” will be what best suits my individual interests, rather than the interest of the collective whole. This individualism splinters progress toward justice, and threatens equity and equality.
We must change course.
We must revisit and revitalize the catalyzing goal of collective progress over individual progress. We must learn to see the improved conditions of our fellow citizens as if they were our own. We must lament injustice and inequality wherever it peeks its head, even when we stand to benefit from it in significant quantity. We must desire to stamp out and correct systemic handicaps in our society, not simply because we feel guilty – because guilt is a me-focused motivation that only compels us to the point of our own emotional relief – and not simply because those handicaps affect those we love. These are motives born from the very individualism we must root out, and they have little to no lasting effect. No, instead we must be genuinely moved to action by the plight of our fellow citizens because we want nothing less for them than we want for ourselves. Because a fracture in the bone compromises the whole leg. Because we all are better when we all are better.
This will require significant reprogramming. The problem of pride, ego and self-preservation is an ancient problem, going back centuries. Which is why the phrase “Under God” is so vitally important.
We have no hope of unity without the power of God working in and through us. The selfless, sacrificial love we need for a united nation is exemplified best in the story of Jesus Christ, who laid down his life because love demanded He do so. The God of the Bible, through his son Jesus, has exemplified the necessary steps to curing our increasingly divisive society. He has modeled what it looks like to reconcile the oppressor and the oppressed, to break the chains of bitterness and defensiveness, to use the powerful tools of both confession and forgiveness to erase lines of division, tribalism and prejudice.
So to my fellow members of the community of faith, our challenge is clear.
We must repent of the divisive and competitive spirits we have allowed to pervade our churches and we must return to bearing our sacrificial crosses daily – both individually, and collectively in our faith communities – so that we can again resemble the example of our LORD.
We, who have been reconciled to Christ through our confession and God’s forgiveness, must pay forward that same confession and forgiveness in order to multiply true reconciliation all across this great country. We must embrace the charge of scripture to be “ambassadors of reconciliation” who are sent to the world to model unity, collaboration and collective and diverse engagement.
This is true for church communities of all ethnic types and colors. Black churches, white churches and everything in between must exemplify a community unaffected by the racial narratives, social stigmas, and personal preferences that so easily cause division.
One nation that is truly under God will be indivisible.
Division is a choice we make.
We have the power to separate or to come together. We choose to live a life for our own good, or for the mutual good of the collective. We are not victims of our circumstances. Injustice is not a foregone conclusion. We are not in a hopeless situation. Unity and justice are up to us.
We can join the brigade of hate and disgust. We can hide in our homes in passivity, hoping the next act of injustice will not hit our doorsteps. We can take care ourselves and no one else.
Or, we can be a nation of unity and justice. We can be a nation of hope and opportunity, a land without prejudice and bigotry, where racial relationships are reconciled. We can be a nation that fixes systemic over-reaches and practices of inequity and inequality so that every citizen has a clear path to raising a family with character, decency and dignity.
We can be the nation we pledged allegiance to. One nation, who is under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all. It’s time to get to work. Make the decision today. Choose love. Choose unity. And together, we’ll return to being the UNITED States of America!