People of color can’t get a break these days. When their rights aren’t being eliminated, they are harassed by white neighbors. There has been a rash of whites reporting people of color to the police for doing things any person would do — studying in a university lounge, barbecuing in the back yard, selling water, doing their job as a fire inspector. These types of incidents are being reported continually around the country.
People in power like to use the phrase “the American people.” Too often they are referring only to those on the winning side of an election. The winners’ actions often ignore the needs of the other side. It appears that “the American people” only include the majority, while political losers’ needs are ignored.
Speaking to the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation on the government’s zero-tolerance immigration policy, Attorney General Jeff Sessions chastised people who want justice. He said, “That’s why we, the American people, are sick and tired. They want borders in their lives, but not yours and not the American people’s lives.”
Who are “the American people”? According to earthly citizenship, most who will read these words are Americans. We have access to all the rights and privileges guaranteed by the Constitution. However, those in power are finding ways to deny the rights or stymie the efforts of people seeking to exercise these rights.
Whether we are American or any other nationality, those who follow Jesus are citizens, first and foremost, of another nation — the realm of God. That nation proclaims we are all God’s children, and we belong together.
I recently saw an ad from the website perspectives.org with a black man blindfolded by a bandana in the form of the American flag. It boldly proclaimed, “See what you’re missing.” The image attempts to have us see the other side of issues. But attitudes and responses often are the result of policies that assure separation. When life-and-death issues are at stake, seeing both sides of an issue is often not an option.
Yes, the American people are sick and tired. Americans who have suffered the pangs of injustice are sick and tired. Of being harassed and maligned. Of being the targets of violence. Of being told they don’t belong. Of not being treated as human.
Writing in Sojourners, Jamar A. Boyd II asks, “If we, Christians in this land, are to be advocates for justice and equality, then when will the ‘Christ’ in us rise up and speak and act on behalf of the greater good for all?”
I see many Christians letting the Christ in us rise up against inhumane actions. But not enough. All Christians need to let Christ rise in them.
The U.S. pledge of allegiance says we are one nation under God. If that is so, then we understand that God despises the oppression of any of God’s people. We pray that God’s desires will be done on Earth, as they are in heaven. Can we live together in heaven if we can’t on Earth? If the current attitude of “you don’t belong here!” prevails, the answer is no.
In the United States, a symbol of belonging is to pledge allegiance to the flag. For Christians, pledging to do what is just in the eyes of God — and then actually doing it — is paramount.
I pledge to stand with those who many people think don’t belong. I hope you too will pledge to stand with them against hate. Let everyone know that everyone belongs.
John Powell, of Ypsilanti, Mich., has worked as a pastor, preacher and teacher in Mennonite churches and institutions.