My family roots are buried deeply in west Tennessee, in the farming land between Huntingdon and McKenzie. My grandfather was a sharecropper, raising cattle, cotton, and anything else that would sell on the town square. The farm life was tough back then, and it was for that reason my dad got out as soon as the Air Force would take him.
Fast forward 30 or so years, and several air bases later, and my family settled in Mississippi. Columbus, specifically, where my parents had spent much of their time in the military. It was a place of familiarity, friendships, and faith, so it seemed a natural place to return to start a new life, a new career. When we moved back, I was in the middle of fifth grade, and the house we moved into was a short bike-ride to Sale Elementary.
I love Mississippi
While I’m not a Mississippian by birth, I consider myself raised there. And, everything about the South, and Mississippi specifically, is who I am. Yes, I add a few vowels to every syllable, and I’m conservative, well=mannered, and respectful of others. I hunt and fish and consider my dog an important part of the family. I love the smell of plowed dirt, split wood, and a barn. There’s no doubt in my mind that I’m Mississippi through and through. And, I’m proud of it.
I love Mississippi, and that’s why I want to see the official state flag replaced with something that more accurately reflects who we are.
It’s time to move on
As a Christian, and a pastor, I feel strongly that it’s time to move on – and away – from a symbol that so clearly implies something we are not. We cannot preach one thing on Sunday, and live another on every other day of the week. Allowing the flag to remain as a symbol of our state, whether passively or actively, says that we condone what it stands for. Or, rather, what it stood for.
I recently read an article by Mississippi College history professor, Otis W. Pickett, in the state’s flagship newspaper, The Clarion-Ledger. You can read the full article here, but Pickett makes his point when he says, “As a Christian, I am called to love my brothers and sisters more than myself and my preferences. I am called to lay down my life for my brothers and sisters. I am called to lay down any unnecessary offense that would cause division and strife in the church.” He goes on to say, “There is no value in celebrating an image that so deeply hurts my African-American brothers and sisters. I am gladly willing to lay it down so that we can be reconciled to one another in Christ.”
I agree with Pickett. If there is to be reconciliation, if we are to show Christ-like love, if we are to share the gospel, then Mississippi needs to remove the flag, a symbol of offense. Even more, Mississippians who are Christians need to lead the way. Here are four things we, as Christians, need to remember as we look at this issue.
- We are made in the image of God. All of us. Because of that, we are to respond to others as God’s created and loved ones. Race, creed, and ethnicity are not conditions of our love. We are all created in the image of God.
- A multitude…from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages stand before the throne and before the Lamb. This, from Revelation 7, tells us that everyone – not just people who look like you – will be worshipping in heaven. This gives us a principle that should be the foundation of the relationships we have with others here on earth.
- The gospel is for everyone. If we, as Christians, are to share the gospel with our neighbor, consideration must be given to our daily relationship with those around us. Sharing the gospel with someone is an expression of love, and love can’t be expressed if we endorse a symbol of hate.
- Actions and words reveal our faith. If we are followers of Christ, our actions and words will result from our love for Him and for others. Darkness can’t exist where there is light.
I’m sure you remember the song, “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” It’s one most of us learned in church – at Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, or Sunbeams preschool choir. Much theology is packed into this simple song, and we would do well to revisit it.
Jesus loves the little children.
All the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white,
They are precious in his sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.