A Rwandan, the Episcopal church, and my attitude toward America.

It’s fairly typical of a socially progressive, non-violent passive, young Christian liberal seminarian to be cynical of the United States. There is war and drones, the system that drives people into lives lived behind prison walls because it makes a profit, and a structure to our society that drives those on the margins further out. 

I knew that depending on which seminary I went to, my stance on this issue would change. More progressive seminaries are more likely to lean toward Christian anarchism, to which I’m not opposed; more conservative ones tend to stay away from the issue, settling nicely in the separation of church and state. 

Coming into seminary, I was fairly disenchanted with my country. I saw those on the “God and Country” side who claimed that if you didn’t support the military  you denied the sacrifice on the cross; attitudes like that drove me to being unable to believe in God at all. As I came to realize that it was simply their God (or their understanding of God) that I didn’t believe in, I began to understand that someone’s opinion of God shouldn’t dictate my belief or unbelief. Christ makes some pretty overt moves toward pacifist, non-violent dealings with the government, and to ignore those in blind nationalism is disturbing. 

My seminary is fairly conservative, as far as seminaries go. Most of the facility are democrats, though some are still in the closet about it, and for West Texas in the ‘reddest’ county in the state, that’s pretty liberal. This creates a fairly balanced outlook on the state of our country. 

A few months ago, a Rwandan friend told me the story of surviving genocide, becoming a child solider, and eventually becoming a Ugandan track star. In a separate class, he was pitching the idea to the class for his term paper on how, the imageo Dei, the fact that we are created in the image of God, requires us (and better yet, allows us) to treat each other with love and respect, thus creating a platform for human rights.  As he was wrapping up, the professor noted that his claim has more clout because he’s not a privileged American who has never truly struggled deeply with what human rights mean, like the rest of the class. My friend went on to talk about how grateful he is to the United States, and how in his opinion, is the most gracious, kind nation. 

In the Episcopal church that I attend, like most Episcopal churches, there is an American flag at the front, next to the Episcopal flag. This usually, and still honestly does, give me the creeps. Yesterday, I asked the priest why there was a flag: is it because the Episcopal church has it’s roots in the beginning of the United States? is it because they value what American stands for and does? He answered aptly when he said that one of the things we are most grateful for is that our nation gives freedom of religion; without that, we wouldn’t exist, nor would all the other faiths. We are grateful to God for the gift of this country, and for the religious unity that our religious freedom allows. It is not, he said, the focus; it’s not more important the Eucharist we share together, nor is it a statement on how our allegiance to the nation, because as Christians our allegiance lies in God alone. 

Never did I think that a Rwandan and a West Texas priest would help cure my cynicism toward our nation, but that’s where I am. It’s a much healthier balance, and while I’m sure it will shift again and again, I am grateful for what this nation stands for, even if I don’t always agree with how they get there. 

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