Category Archives: Confederate flag

A Baptismal Proclamation following Charlottesville

Yesterday, at the 10:30 liturgy, we baptized five children, four babies and one toddler. The sacrament of baptism is one of the most powerful liturgies of our church. In the language of the liturgy, we make a powerful declaration of our belief/faith (Credo– “I believe . . . “) in the words of the Apostles’ Creed. Such a declaration of belief of faith is an important public proclamation of our understanding of God and God’s saving message to us. But for me, while the declaration of belief/faith is hugely important, it is the series of questions in the baptismal covenant portion of the liturgy that is most profoundly important to me. In essence, this collection of questions asks us, “If we truly believe this, what will we do to make this real in our lives and in our world?” The questions of the liturgy guide us to consider elements of the Christian life and faith that call us to action or, as I so often say, call us to declare publicly we will live our baptism/faith in the world. Those questions are as follows:

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and
fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the
prayers?

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and , whenever
you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good
News of God in Christ?

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving
your neighbor as yourself?

Will you strive for justice and peace among all
people, and respect the dignity of every human
being?

Notice the action words contained in these questions: continue, persevere, resisting, proclaim, seek, serve, loving, strive, and respect. Our baptismal covenant is not a passive proposition! We are not baptized to sit quietly in our private prayer closet and blissfully ignore the challenges of a broken and sinful world. We are not called into isolated solitude, unconcerned about the challenges and attacks visited upon the least or marginalized among us. We are called, in baptism, to be the Body of Living Christ in the world.

Beyond the action words, these questions of the baptismal covenant call us into the moral and ethical community of the apostles. Baptism calls us to be a living community of grace and love in the world, making the sacrament of our faith, bread and prayers, real and available to all. Baptism calls us to reject evil and confess our failings. Baptism challenges us to evangelism, to make the Gospel, real and palpable in the world. Baptism requires we reach out to all people, standing for justice, peace, and dignity for every human being.

To each of these questions, we respond, “I will with God’s help.”

I will–This is the declaration to action we affirm every time we celebrate a baptism. I will . . .

On Sunday, five young children were welcomed into the Body of Christ. As we presented them, I asked the congregation, on behalf of Christians everywhere, “Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these children in their life in Christ?”. We replied, “We will.”

On Friday and Saturday, in Charlottesville, VA, our nation and our faith was shattered by unfettered evil, wickedness, and malevolence. The organizers of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, the neo-Nazis, the alt-Right, White Nationalists, and other related hate groups, must understand they are completely and totally rejected by the moral and ethical beliefs held by the Body of Christ—the Church. Such rejection must be clear, emphatic, and powerful. In moments like this, the faithful must be unrelenting in their public rejection of such manifestations of hate and evil. The Church has failed this challenge at historic moments in the past. We must not fail in the challenge we face in this present moment.

Five young children baptized on Sunday, with long and full lives before them, should expect us to live the faith we confessed as we presented them for baptism. God heard us when we confessed our belief/faith and responded to each question, “I will.” Each of us affirmed we will “do all in our power to support these children in their life in Christ.”

When my first daughter was born, as I reflected on the broken history into which she was born–of slavery, of the Nazi Holocaust, of the violent rejection by too many of the Civil Rights movement–I committed to never stand passively and allow such evil to progress unchallenged in her world. For each of my daughters, for all the children I have presented for baptism, and for my Lord and my God, I commit to unreserved and active rejection of those who promulgate hate, intolerance, racism, or any form of malignant, vile, and perverted evil.

The Charlottesville event and the rising, unfettered hate-movement reviving in our country is a challenge to the Body of Christ–the Church. Let us with courage, faith, and decisiveness reject the darkness of evil and hate in all its forms. Let us be the light of Christ in the world that overwhelms this present darkness. Let us make our baptismal covenant and our faith real and alive in the world.

Amen.

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Filed under Alt-right, Baptism, Confederate flag, episcopal, Episcopal priest, faithfulness, God's love, Holocaust, Justice, Nazi, racism, terrorism

A memorial to my home state regarding the Confederate flag within a flag

If you have already a strong opinion on the matter of the Mississippi state flag and its Confederate canton, do not read this. After all, if you share my opinion, reading this is unnecessary. If you have a strongly held differing opinion, you will only be aggravated by this and I certainly do not want that. So, if you already know your mind on this matter, please do not read further! If, however, you are still wondering about this complex and vexing problem, I encourage you to read more. In the end, for each of us, this is a deeply personal matter with potentially historic consequences for my home state, Mississippi. I offer this memorial for consideration.

First and foremost, I believe the challenge of the Christian community to incorporate reconciliation into the daily experience of our lives is real and a responsibility we cannot avoid (“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself, through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation” 2 Cor. 5.18 or “…leave your gift before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister” Mat. 5.24). Our beliefs do not allow us to park our faith at the door of our churches as we exit on Sunday. Incarnational theology compels us to bring to life in the activities of our daily living the profound challenges of our beliefs. Paul, in Ephesians, calls us to be imitators of God (Eph 5.1). Reconciliation of the broken relationship between God and humanity was God’s choice in Christ. Thus, to imitate God, we must seek reconciliation in broken relationships at every opportunity. But how do we seek reconciliation? Again, Paul is a good instructor. In slightly different circumstances, in the fourteenth chapter of Romans, he is describing a strategy of relationship and reconciliation. If a behavior, attitude, or action we exhibit is causing offense to another and we persist in that behavior, Paul suggests we are not being guided by love (agape).  Even if the action is not wrong or corrupt, Paul suggests if we are strong in faith we should be willing to change. He says, “Let us each stop passing judgment, therefore, on one another and decide instead that none of us will place obstacles in the way of others.” (Romans 14.13) and “So then, let us be always seeking the ways which lead to peace and the ways in which we can support one another.” (Romans 14.19). For me, an action of reconciliation is to be guided by love and a willingness to set aside my own opinions, attitudes, or symbols for the benefit of the greater good in the objective of creating/being a reconciling community.

But what of our Southern heritage? Robert E. Lee is the greatest symbol of our Southern traditions. More than any other, he represents the best qualities of integrity and honor, which we hold dear in the South. I wondered what Lee might say in this matter. It turns out, the day after the surrender at Appomattox, Lee sent a message to Grant, “… (Lee) would devote my whole efforts to pacifying the country and bringing people back to the Union.” Clearly, a message intended to advocate reconciliation. Criticized by fellow Confederate generals for this position, Lee responded, “I need not tell you that true patriotism sometimes requires a man to act exactly contrary at one period to that which he does at another, and the motive which impels him, the desire to do right, is precisely the same.” In the post-war years, Lee’s greatest desire was to do right and to move the whole country forward in the direction of reconciliation and reunion. Not only did he resist efforts to memorialize the Confederacy, his son, who succeeded him as president at Washington College, upheld his father’s desire not to create memorials to the old Confederacy. Even with the name change to Washington and Lee College, Lee’s goal remained to welcome northern and southern students into an educational institution with a clear vision toward the future and not the past. Lee even wanted to expand educational opportunities for former slaves and, interestingly, women. In every way, Lee wanted to move toward reconciliation unfettered by the events of the past. Consequently, I believe if Lee were advising us today, he would encourage us to take bold actions toward reconciliation and the future. He would tell us to remove the Confederate battle flag from the canton of our state flag.

Finally, hatred, violence, and bigotry, in every form, are contrary to our Christian beliefs and should be rejected. Because of the cowardly actions of certain hate organizations and groups, I am compelled to acknowledge the painful impact, as a symbol, the Confederate battle flag upon the African-American community. To the extent this symbol is adopted by groups living and advocating racism, hate, violence, and bigotry, we are compelled to consider dramatic actions to dispel any notion these groups may possess of any popular support of their beliefs, behaviors, or attitudes. To support the removal of the Confederate symbol from the canton of the Mississippi state flag sends clearly a message to such hate groups of the rejection not only of their beliefs but also of the use to which they have put this historic symbol.

I am ready for my home state to move forward toward more creative, non-judgmental, and non-violent opportunities for racial reconciliation. I am ready to embrace M.L. King’s dream, where people are “…not judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” (Aug 28, 1963). I am ready to live out my incarnational beliefs seeking to create an environment of grace and love in which racial reconciliation may be encouraged to flourish. The words of Lee resonate with my hopes for Mississippi’s future, “Let the past be the past and let us move forward and bear no malice.” May we let the past be the past and look forward to a new and hopeful future, seeking reconciliation with all, making history not changing history.

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Filed under Confederate flag, state of mississippi