Questions for the Week:
Jimmie Hawkins, Director, Office of Public Witness
Also, in the wake of the attack on the capitol on January 6th, has the flag become a symbol of terror?
00:03 – Simon Doong
Hello, and welcome to a matter of faith a presby podcast, the podcast where we respond to your questions and comments on issues of faith, social justice, and church life. Don't be afraid to write in and ask your question. Because if it matters to you, it matters to us. And it just might be a matter of faith.
00:21 – Lee Catoe
Whether it be faith in God, faith and others or faith in yourself. We are brought to you by the Presbyterian peacemaking program and unfound, the interactive journal on Christian social justice for the Presbyterian Church USA. I am your host, Lee Cato, and I'm your host Simon doon. Without further ado, let's dive into today's questions.
00:46 – Simon Doong
Thanks, everyone, for joining us for another episode of a matter of faith. As we are putting this episode out to you. It is going to be the fourth of July pretty soon our nation's lovely Independence Day. Lee, do you have any Independence Day July 4 traditions that, uh, that you like, or maybe don't like that tend to come up around this time of year?
01:11 – Lee Catoe
Yeah. Hey, everybody. And by the time this goes out, the Fourth of July will be almost approaching. So yeah, I, I will say I don't like fireworks, mainly because of my dog. But I do think they're just not very fun just because of the noise. And also some people have PTSD. And that's a thing. So everybody be careful with that and make good choices. But I do love a good hot dog. I love just a nice cold beverage. Maybe with like, I don't have a pool but like a kiddie pool or something I'm actually going to be in DC, not on the Fourth of July, but kind of near it. So that'll be kind of cool. Just to be up there. And because moving up there and yeah, but the Fourth of July is a very complicated holiday, I would say. And this week we are actually so we got we always get questions in but this is special because the person who sent us in this question actually recorded them. So they're going to ask us these questions. And our guest today is Tully. So, Tully, what are your questions?
02:23 – Tully
Hey, Simon and Lee. Thanks for having me on the podcast. My name is Tully Fletcher. And I'm a pastor in the Atlanta area. My question relates to July 4. And to be honest, I always get nervous around this time of year worrying about who will be upset because the church didn't do enough or did too much to celebrate Independence Day. So what role does patriotic music and symbols of the USA like the flag have in our worship? And at what point does praise for America become idolatry?
02:59 – Lee Catoe
Well, Tully, kind of threw us some threw us some curveballs here, Simon, what do you what do you think about these?
03:07 – Simon Doong
Well, I think they're great questions. And thanks again to Tali for sending them in. And we really appreciate having the questioner sending their voice. I think it's great for people to be able to hear so if folks are interested in sending us themselves reading their question, that'd be great. That's great, as well, for future episodes. So to total these questions about patriotic music and, and symbols of America, in our worship spaces. I'm never quite sure where I sort of stand on that. I do think that it can be okay to have patriotic music, in worship, and symbols, patriotic symbols, but we need to have conversations about what having those elements in our worship communicates, both to our congregation members, and to people who might be visiting, and not usually a part of that worship space. So for example, if the flag is always at the front of the sanctuary right next to the cross, what does that mean? We are saying in terms of the flags, importance or value in relation to the cross? If we use patriotic music? Is it possible to do so while also acknowledging the imperfections, flaws and errors, and, frankly, the bad things and complicated history that our country has and has done? And I say that as someone who likes certain patriotic songs, but I also recognize the danger of using them in ways that can promote a sort of blind nationalism? And with regards to the question about what At what point does praise for our nation become idolatry? I think it becomes idolatry. When you believe the country is perfect, or when you hold the country above all else, including the valley indignity of other people and creation. And I think that the praise becomes idolatry, or praise becoming idolatry is different from a general sense of national pride, praise becomes idolatry, when it's it's really closer to a sentiment of sort of nationalistic exceptionalism, so to speak. But what do you think Lee? What do you think about these great questions that that tell is provided for us?
05:29 – Lee Catoe
Yeah. And as we all know, I'm, I am very, this is one thing that I don't cannot take the middle road on. Because, yeah, I, I've always had an issue with, with flags being like a part of worship. And I mean, even the images you get, like, like you said, Simon, like the cross and then the flag, then you have the minister up there. And and I do think it is, it does kind of, in some ways, equate this country with a Christian belief system and a Christian value system. And in many ways in this country, that really has been those things have mixed in, it's so hard to even distill out what's what anymore, to the point to where Christian values and American values have kind of merged. And the US has kind of been elevated in many ways, that it's this nation that kind of is a Christian nation, but but in our pledge of allegiance, it says one nation under God, and I never really understood how we can elevate this country on the same level as God, when we say we are under God, and for me, and this country has a law separation of church and state, which never really happens, but it is there. And I do wonder that and also this country has not, in many ways been the instigator of Christian values. When we talk about slavery, and all the manifestations of that and racism and white supremacy, those things are not Christian values. I think Christianity has been away with this intermixing of nationalism has used Christianity, perpetuate those narratives through biblical interpretation theologies, and all these kinds of things. And so yeah, I do think it's created more harm than it's created good. It's, it's, it's kind of flighted, and just kind of transformed what American Christianity is. And for me, that is idolatry is this civil religion. And when we say civil religion, it's exactly what I was just talking about how kind of these nationalistic values merge into faith. And it becomes a whole nother thing where you're worshiping the country more than you're worshipping Christ, or God. And, and for me, that has been an issue of a huge kind of problematic issue for me in churches. I mean, when we were growing up, we, we did a pledge of allegiance to the Flag, the American flag, and Bible school, we did the pledge of allegiance to the Christian flag. And Simon, I don't know if you've ever seen the Christian flag before, but it's kind of big down this way. And we did the pledge pledge to the Bible. And so it was all these it was it started very young. And it's still they still do that. And it still starts very young. But this is also a very contentious thing to talk about. It's one of the things that I've gotten a lot of pushback back by in churches, when I've been asked and like the ordination process, because there's something I had written about this, that I don't agree with having flags in the church, and I got to ask that and my ordination process and people didn't like it. They didn't like my answer, because it was pretty simple. No, I don't think they should be in there. So yeah, but it is very complicated, because we have people serving in our churches, or have served this country in the military and in other ways that you don't want to discount the things that they went through or the things that they had to endure. But at all, I also think that sometimes we miss we miss meeting their needs more than glorifying. You know, we it seems like in some cases, we glorify the military, and that service more than meeting the needs of people who have served this country and we can talk about veterans issues, we can talk about all that mental health issues in the military, and we don't talk about that enough. And that, to me, is what it means to be a Christian is look is, is being a priest But knowing the the nuances of this country, but also looking past that and saying, What do you need? And what, what has happened to you and because of war or because of whatever this country is perpetuating, what do you need? To make yourself whole? So yeah, I do think it has, it is very complicated.
10:26 – Simon Doong
Yeah. For me, it has been so problematic that and so idolatrous that the the problem, the problems outweigh the benefit of it. I want to lift up a quote that I think touches on both what you were saying and a little bit what I was talking about earlier. When we get to our resource segment Later, we'll be talking about a policy of the pcusa called honest patriotism. But for the moment, I'm just going to lift a quote from it, for us to think about and for folks to reflect on the phrase honest patriotism popularized and Donald w shrivers 2005 book, honest patriots means loving a country enough to remember its misdeeds. Such misdeeds are usually those times in places where particular groups were denied equal protection under the law, just as the ancient Hebrew prophets stood up to kings and queens. So have Christians understood the prophetic calling to entail a moral freedom to challenge the misuses of power, even within the church, or state themselves, in season and out of season, honest patriotism is thus a check on the exclusivist nationalism that otherwise denies equal respect to other peoples conceals injustices committed by one's own side in any conflict, and makes reconciliation and common action harder to achieve, both in the United States and abroad. I really like that. I think that that, uh, I think that it doesn't say at all, but it says a lot.
12:16 – Lee Catoe
Yeah, and this reminds me, it's like, not everybody who sees the American flag is necessarily going to feel patriotic, because of what this country has done to indigenous people, to black people. Now to brown folk, immigrants, refugees, specifically, when they, when we're talking about immigrants or refugees, there is a global narrative said America is the place to come for opportunity that everybody has a free shot that you can, anybody can make it here. But when you get here, you are hit with a reality. That is not that is not true. And for me, that is what for me, the church has to be the the instigator and the questioner of those things. And the church has to not has to always have a critical eye toward the Empire, or an instance, or nationalistic institution and the church within itself as an institution. And I don't want to not say that, and the church has kind of absorbed these nationalistic ideals in some way. But I do think that when it comes to this holiday, and when we're thinking about America, it does give us a chance, because as this question asked, this, GA July is going to be on a Sunday. And what will ministers talk about? Well, ministers glorify this country, and continue to equate it as like the city on a hill, guiding the world and, you know, Christian morality and all these things, or will it take a step back and say, actually, God is above this, The kingdom of God is above America, as above, it is above whatever globally, and this is what we should be trying to emulate and not equate that this country is the example for that. So I do think that ministers and people and leaders in the church have a great opportunity to really start talking about stuff like this. Because it is it can turn into something that is very harmful. It can turn into something that is not reflective of our fate. And, and yeah, this is a it is a unique challenge. If people are going to be in church, you know, for the July, people are on vacation, but I do think, especially if you're going virtual, and people can watch it later. I wonder about that too. Like what minister could say, or church leaders can start talking about begin the conversation.
15:06 – Simon Doong
Yeah, and I just want to put an additional note out there for everyone that the Fourth of July is not only Independence Day, it is also not only a Sunday. But in the pcusa calendar, it also happens to be immigration Sunday. So I think that this is a great opportunity for churches and congregations to have a conversation, have some discussion, both from the pulpit, and within the congregation about these issues.
15:38 – Lee Catoe
I just think it's a funny coincidence that immigration Sunday is on the same day as the Fourth of July, Independence Day this year. So take that what you will, folks, but let's use this as an opportunity to get to know each other and ourselves better. And also think about the history of this country, and where we would like it to go. And we were and this country was a country of immigrants, and its founding. Now what those immigrants did. That's another story that we should also be talking about as well. And I do think Yeah, how do you how do you take all those intersectional thinking, and really began to just talk about it in the, in your churches, and it needs to be more than just a sermon, like we're gonna highlight on his patriotism, that's a great place to start. But it needs to, yeah, there needs to be more, because this is so and like, it's so ingrained in the American church, and it's gonna take a long time to kind of distill it out.
16:57 – Lee Catoe
So Tully, who is asking all the questions today has sent us in our third question, and Tully, we’ll let you ask the question.
17:09 - Tully
And I guess I also have a follow up question if you're willing to take it. In the wake of the January 6, attack on the Capitol, has the American flag become a symbol of terror?
17:22 – Lee Catoe
And so to respond to Tully's question, we have invited the Reverend Jimmy Hawkins from the Office of Public witness in Washington, DC. That's a part of the Christian church USA, and we have welcomed and invited him onto the podcast. So welcome, Jimmie, to the podcast.
17:41 - Jimmie Hawkins
Hi. Glad to be here.
17:43 - Lee Catoe
So yeah, we invite you to respond to Tully’s question about flag.
17:47 – Jimmie Hawkins
So this question is a very interesting question about whether the flag has become, you know, an instrument of terrorism after the insurrection and I think a lot of it depends on who you ask, I think in the, in certain racial ethnic communities, for example, in the African American community, there's always been this ambivalence about the flag. Um, you know, I passed it for 25 years, and I know many of the mill military veterans that are pastored, and a lot of affinity for the flag, you know, they've felt very positive towards it. And I don't know, necessarily know whether their feelings would have been changed, blaming the flag as an instrument of terror during the insurrection, I think in the Native American community, there has been a lot of ambivalence about the flag, you know, being an African American, I've been at ballgames where I've seen half the crowd doing the pledge of allegiance, African Americans stand and some of them don't stand ready to put their hands over their hearts. I don't think this sense of strong loyalty towards the flag has ever been a strong element. So I don't know whether January the sixth was a strong negative factor as far as the way they view the flag. I think that ambivalence has always been there, especially Personally, I remember during the 70s, when the busing riots occurred in Boston, and there's a picture they want a poster of one white man holding another African African American who's been stabbed by someone with a flag, you know, that has really stuck with me. So the flag has never necessarily stood for liberty and justice loyalty. Now in the presence of the flag on that day, I think, has caught a lot of people's attention. And it really has raised some questions about you know, how can these people salute the flag bring a flag to this act of terrorism? We're in a basically desecrating the flag, but there are dishonouring the flag, I think it's an important conversation, not just based on January 6, but the church, people faith, how do we view the American flag especially in relationship with the church and our faith? We know that Christian nationalism where we have this merging between faith and politics and in order to be a good American, you have to be a Christian, nor to be a good Christian. You have to be an American. We've got to disengage ourselves from that merging, because awesome was the is the cross and even that has been desecrated, you know, on that day where individuals bringing across to this right so I don't know necessarily if that day in particular, um heightened people's sense negative feelings toward the flag, but I do think it can be an opportunity for us to talk about what role does the flag play in the life of people of faith? What role does the flag play in the life of Americans? Do we want to honor the flag by honoring the piece of cloth or honor that which it represents, which is to truly be a nation where in all people feel represented, feel loved, where racism and then in exploitation are no more were people who are intolerant of people because of their sexual identity, they should have the protection of the flag behind them, and not necessarily those who are intolerant in violently aggressive.
20:56 – Simon Doong
Jimmy, I, I really love what you mentioned there, it touches on something that Lee and I discussed in response to some of Italy's earlier questions about the role of flat of the flag and patriotic music and worship. And this question about idealization of, of it particular symbol of a country or for one's country itself? And I really appreciate that you talked about is it about the flag? Or is it about the values? And if it's about the values? How do those values? How do we reconcile those with what we also believe as people of faith? And then what does that mean for us when we do think about the flag, and we see it being used in an act of what many have called, and as you have said, an act of domestic terror?
21:40 – Jimmie Hawkins
Yeah, I think people have gotten really confused. They think that simply because they're saluting the flag or saying the pledge of allegiance, that they're being faithful patriots, what this country stands for, and it is about the values, it's about who we are as a nation, and not just playing this little game, saying that we're the greatest nation in the world, or we represent democracy, when there are so many different elements within this land, that don't represent democracy, where people being disenfranchised today, where they're voted in vote is being taken away. And people are talking about they're protecting the vote by eliminating the vote. And so I do think we've got to accept these challenges to look inward. Who are we as a nation, on what do we truly represent. And especially, we've got to hold our politicians more accountable for the words that come out of their mouths for the nonsense that they're projecting, and for their refusal to do their job, do your job is all we want you to do. And so by representing the best of who we are to be, when we elect a president, that person should be a shining example to our children of truth and honesty, of integrity, of having the ability to stand and represent something other than yourself. And so I do think that we as a nation, we can go either way, we can either deal with the issues before us, or we can live a life of denial, and pretend that everything is all right, this is who we are. But self examination is vital in the life of a democracy. And that means that we own up to our deficiencies, shortfalls, but it also means that we affirm those things that are good to who we are as a people. And so I think that's our struggle. America has always struggled with Who are we as opposed to who we say we are. And we've really haven't come to a sense of, of candid conversation or listening to different perspectives of of learning from each other. And just real quick, I was watching you know, the tragedy in Florida and in Dade County and I was watching the representatives of the of the city come up and they were speaking to the public about you know, their progress and for each speaker who came up half of them knew Spanish That's awesome. That's what America is. You know, you're speaking to everyone who was listening has to Augusto, a huge Hispanic population in the city and county and then we're very sensitive to that and that was not a negative thing that was a positive thing and so they their self awareness that we are not only English speakers here we also our Spanish speakers here.
24:14 – Lee Catoe
Yeah, and that's great. And thank you for joining us Jimmy on the podcast anytime you want to come back just let us know. And Tali, wherever you are out there. We hope those these responses to your question help and this episode is actually going to be July the fourth themed episode so this episode will be on that same week and kind of fall in the same timeline. And so we hope you look at you know the flag a little bit differently. We hope you experienced the fourth a little bit differently as you celebrate and to think a little deeper about what it means to be an American and what it means to when you're saluting the flag or how Get on your truck, or all you do is and that's all you do. We hope you do a little bit more to instill some values that are life giving and not death dealing. So yeah, so Happy Fourth, I'll just say that in a different way, I think. But Jimmy, thank you for being a part of this. And and yeah, hope to have you again. Thanks for having me. I look forward to it. So this week, going on with a theme of the Fourth of July, and we think this is a great resource to introduce to your congregations. This has been available for a while. This is Presbyterian policy. And it's a great way to kind of begin these conversations with your congregations or with groups that you want to get together just to have conversations about what we were discussing when it comes to the for the nationalism and the flag and all these kinds of things. So yeah, Simon's gonna talk a little bit about honest patriotism, which is the Presbyterian policy.
26:11 – Simon Doong
Yeah. So honest. Patriotism is a policy that was adopted by the 220/3, General Assembly in 2018. And it came about thanks to the wonderful work of the Advisory Committee on social witness policy. So we're very, very thankful and grateful to those folks for helping to put this together. Honest, patriotism is a resource that reminds us of our commitments, as people of faith to active civic engagement, responsible citizenship, and prophetic witness. And it talks about some threats to the vital freedoms that are outlined in the first and 14th amendments to the US Constitution that have arisen due to changes in communications, media and politics, particularly public dishonesty by elected officials and new sources and shamanistic nationalism, or the superiority or dominance of one's own group or people. And so the first and 14th amendments are talk talk about freedom of speech and access to accurate information, uncontrolled by the US government, corporations or other governments, and also discuss the importance of full access to the right to vote. And so that's what's under threat by these changes and Communications and Media and politics. The policy calls for measures of public accountability for truthfulness in the public square, and it calls Presbyterians to participate in politics and in civic life. And one of my favorite things that it does is that it also outlines the way the church should model the transparency, accountability and truthfulness that we expect from our elected leaders, and our public and elected institutions. The policy also includes two additional resolutions, a Christian Declaration on autocracy, and a resolution against racist nationalism. So we really encourage folks to check it out on his patriotism. It's really useful, it's really insightful. And even though it was released, let's say three years ago, it's amazing how relevant all of this all the information in it rings true and I think unfortunately, will ring true and stay relevant for quite a while into the future. So we'll have the link to honest patriotism in the show notes for folks to check out.
28:46 – Simon Doong & Lee Catoe
This has been the matter of faith podcast brought to you by the Presbyterian peacemaking program in unbound. If you would like to submit a question for discussion, you can do so at faith podcast at Pc usa.org. We look forward to hearing from you see you next time. See you next time, y'all.
29:22 – Simon Doong
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29:31 – Lee Catoe
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