Monday, June 29, 2015

Bree Newsome's Act of Faithful Obedience

The LORD is my light and my salvation; 
whom shall I fear? 
The LORD is the stronghold of my life; 
of whom shall I be afraid?
When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh— 
my adversaries and foes—
 they shall stumble and fall.
Though an army encamp against me, 
my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me,
 yet I will be confident.
One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after:
 to live in the house of the LORD 
all the days of my life, 
to behold the beauty of the LORD, 
and to inquire in his temple.
For he will hide me in his shelter 
in the day of trouble; 
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; 
he will set me high on a rock.
Psalm 27:1-5

On Saturday morning Bree Newsome, an African American activist and film maker, climbed the flag pole at the South Carolina State Capitol and took down the Confederate flag.

It was a bold act of civil disobedience for which she was promptly and peacefully arrested. She was taken to jail, charged with defacing a monument, and the Confederate flag was raised again. The whole event took just minutes. There were no large crowds, and absent the pictures on social media it would have passed unnoticed.

This morning I saw the video for the first time.

As she takes down the flag you can hear the guards shouting for her to stop and telling her that she will be arrested. She cheerfully assures them that she is prepared to be arrested, and then she shouts to them, “You come against me in hatred and oppression and violence. I come against you in the name of God.”

As she climbs down the pole she recites the 27th Psalm:

The LORD is my light and my salvation; 
whom shall I fear? 
The LORD is the stronghold of my life; 
of whom shall I be afraid?

Finally, as they lead her away in handcuffs you can hear her reciting the 23rd Psalm.

The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures;
He leadeth me beside still waters;
He restoreth my soul . . .

I have a confession. I am not comfortable with civil disobedience. Even when it is completely non-violent and respectful of people and property, it makes me uneasy.

Intellectually, I love it. I am completely at home with Henry David Thoreau’s essay. I celebrate the civil disobedience of Gandhi and King. But my intellectual affirmation is not matched by my emotions.

Of course, civil disobedience is supposed to make us uncomfortable. That is part of the strategy. But I confess it troubles me that I am uncomfortable. 

When I was at Wesleyan I was part of a small group that briefly occupied an office to protest campus recruitment by Dow Chemical, which was making napalm for the war in Vietnam. But that was then, and this is now. 

I am older now and in some ways I am wiser. But I am also more cautious. More respectful of order and authority. And I am not sure that is a good thing. At some point we need to be more committed to the Gospel than we are to being orderly and polite.

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “One act of obedience is better than one hundred sermons.”

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