By Rose Marie Berger 7-02-2015

How will your church mark Independence Day this year?

Consider reading Bree Newsome's "Now Is the Time for True Courage" from the pulpit — perhaps in place of the epistle — because this is what the Acts of the Apostles looks like today.

Acts shifts in content from the gospels, which are about Jesus, to the life and work of the apostles, concerning the church as it is being created and sustained by God.

As my Harper Collins Study Bible (2006) describes the genre, 

"Precisely because it does contain stories about the church, Acts is often referred to as a book of history. That identification, however, overlooks the number of genres within Acts, such as biography, homily, letter, and apology. To think of Acts exclusively as history can also obscure the way in which the author's theological convictions shape the story that unfolds. For these reasons, Acts is best regarded under the general category of theological narrative."  

Yesterday, Bree Newsome, the 30-year-old Christian activist from Charlotte, N.C., who climbed the flag pole to remove the Confederate battle flag in front of the South Carolina state house on June 27, 2015, issued her own "theological narrative." 

Her statement includes the personal history of her family and references the other "Southern heritage" that stars and bars attempts to obscure: chattel slavery of human beings.

It includes autobiography of her work and witness and what has influenced her ("Trayvon Martin, who reminded me of a modern-day Emmett Till").

It includes her homily and testimony ("The night of the Charleston Massacre, I had a crisis of faith") and it is a letter to our nation. After all, she is the daughter of a former dean of the School of Divinity at Howard University.

It concludes with her powerful apology of faith: "All honor and praise to God."  

The apostle Paul recognized that the spirit of Christ could show up anywhere. He went to it. He didn't wait for it to come to him. Bree Newsome enacted a very theologically sound and overtly Christian act of public worship. She and her ekklesia gave careful and prayerful thought to the public ritual and symbol. She acted on the word of God.  

As she shimmied that pole, she said, "You come against me with hatred and oppression and violence."

She called from the top of the flagpole, "I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today!"

As she came down with the flag, she said, "'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?'" (Psalm 27:1).  

If we want our churches to once again become places where young freedom fighters come to be strengthened, trained, and act in the peace of Christ for the spread of the good news of Jesus, then I recommend we start this Sunday — when as a country, we celebrate what it means to live free from fear.  

Read an excerpt from Bree Newsome's statement below:

Now is the time for true courage.  
I realized that now is the time for true courage the morning after the Charleston Massacre shook me to the core of my being. I couldn’t sleep. I sat awake in the dead of night. All the ghosts of the past seemed to be rising.  
Not long ago, I had watched the beginning of Selma, the reenactment of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing and had shuddered at the horrors of history.  
But this was neither a scene from a movie nor was it the past. A white man had just entered a black church and massacred people as they prayed. He had assassinated a civil rights leader. This was not a page in a textbook I was reading nor an inscription on a monument I was visiting.  
This was now.  
This was real.  
This was—this is—still happening. 

Read the whole statement here.

Photo: Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Rose Marie Berger is Senior Associate Editor of Sojourners magazine and a contributor to the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative.

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