A Thought for July 4th

By Bill Mefford

I remember back when the United States illegally invaded Iraq in March of 2003. I had just started my doctoral studies at Asbury Seminary where the overwhelming majority of students and faculty supported the rush to war that ended up being a horrific mistake resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands. Though there were protests against the war across the country, especially on college campuses, Asbury was largely silent until seminary administrators decided to take down a big US flag that hung in the cafeteria.

Despite the fact that just outside the cafeteria, in the middle of campus, a US flag is hoisted everyday, and despite the fact that a large number of seminary students at the time were not citizens of the United States, people went ballistic that the US flag in the cafeteria was taken down. There was widespread outrage and debate. I, of course, was all in favor of taking down the flag in the cafeteria and I suggested that we should have flown the flag in the middle of campus at half-mast to protest the enormous loss of life happening because of the arrogant foreign and economic policies driving our actions.

As outrage over taking down the flag in the cafeteria spread the president of the seminary at the time made a statement that I found shocking. In his statement explaining why the flag was brought down he stated that Asbury remains “absolutely committed to the US troops” and their mission in Iraq.

I was stunned by this and the huge implications such a statement carries. Absolute commitment is an extreme statement for it conveys more than just loyalty to one’s country of origin, to me it meant that we could not question that loyalty or allegiance. Indeed, there were very few of us on campus who publicly questioned the war and my car had peace bumper stickers ripped off several times and signs in our yard taken down. Absolute means there are no exceptions.

I was not prepared then, nor am I prepared now to submit to absolute obedience to this country. I didn’t when George W. Bush was president and was invading countries and sanctioning torture. I didn’t when Barack Obama was president and was addicted to detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants at a clip never seen before by a president. And I sure as hell have no intention of submitting without exceptions to a man who has shown zero regard or respect for the human rights of anyone who down not kiss his enormous ass.

There is, in truth, only one reason why I cannot show “absolute commitment” to the United States or the flag or the troops or anything attached to national patriotism: it is because my life belongs only to Jesus. Jesus saved me and made me his own. He has grafted me to into the Body of Christ and has filled me with the Holy Spirit to witness and to serve others, particularly those who are most vulnerable. I have only one Kingdom I am loyal to without exceptions and that Kingdom belongs to God and God has told me that that Kingdom belongs to the poor.

So yes, I will probably cook out on July 4th and will venture into crowded Washington DC to watch some pretty amazing fireworks. But I refuse to view this country as exceptional above all others or rewrite history to wash away the enormous injustices this country has committed against so vulnerable groups and countries. I will thank God for the United States on her birthday just as I will thank God for Kenya, India, Belgium, the Philippines, Canada, Mexico, etc.

I will remember that one day all nations will stream to the mountain of the Lord for their disputes to be settled by God’s wise mercy and justice. All nations will then beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, making that which was meant to kill, instruments to give to the common good. All people will be welcomed in this new global reality, all people will be loved and valued, and no one will learn how to make war anymore.

And every person, no matter how deserved or undeserved they are (for we are all undeserved aren't we?) will each sit under our own fig tree. Now, that’s a revolution I can believe in and hope for.

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