A few days ago, my family stopped to eat in a small town in Alabama before we arrived home from vacation. It was a lot like the towns I grew up in in southern Oklahoma, and a few minutes after we began to eat, the church crowd rushed in. I noticed that we began to stand out a little more, that it was clear we were traveling through. I began to notice my own body with my medicine bags hanging around my neck, and I could feel the tension rising. A few minutes later, a woman standing behind us began sharing about her recent trip to the “third world country” of Tanzania. There were many layers to these comments, but the attitude felt unfortunately familiar.
We began to watch the restaurant fill up more and more, and I felt the distinction between the church as we want to see it and the church as it is. When we left, we returned to the car and I remembered that we had an LGBTQ equality sticker in the front seat that we’d forgotten to put on our car months ago. So I slowly peeled the sticker off and put it on the back windshield, right next to another one that says, “And also with y’all,” a southern version of the “Peace be with you” blessing.
I thought about how my faith used to be and what it looks like now as I embrace my life as a Native American Christian. I can’t say that I loved Jesus less when I was younger, but I can say that my view of the world, of the diversity of Christianity, and of the bigness of God, have changed.
In many conversations I’ve had with my friends who are people of color, it’s clear the church has set itself up in America to mostly benefit a certain kind of person. The white American church is a Western version of the gospel that often manifests as a top-down model that benefits the wealthy. And the more that I learn about my own Native American identity tied to the church, the more I see that truth throughout our nation’s history.
Still, I am pro-Jesus and I am pro-America.
I long for this country to face the truth of its origins, to lament those truths, to make a way forward, especially in the church, for people of color to have a voice and a mark on the way churches are operated, on the way the gospel is viewed through a cultural lens.
Being pro-Jesus does not mean we have to be anti-America, but it does mean we have to address the things in American culture that warp the truth of who Jesus is. If claiming Jesus means holding up our cross in one hand and the American flag — or the confederate flag — in the other, we are not living the gospel.
I am against the version of white American Christianity we’ve created that discriminates against the poor, people with disabilities, and people of color, one that abuses the earth and elevates consumerism and corporations, and that upholds patriarchy in place of giving a voice to its women.
If we ignore the injustices done in the name of God in the history of America — slavery of Africans and genocide of native people, for example — we have lost a piece of the true church, the piece that calls for us to be honest and to reconcile ourselves back to the wholeness of God, a wholeness that accepts and calls all people worthy of the love of Christ. So I am for a version of America that laments these things, that finds a way forward in welcoming the outsiders and making it a priority to give women and people of color a voice.
I am for an American church that follows the ways of Jesus outside the norms of a constantly busy consumer culture based on convenience.
I am for an American church that sees the world as the imprint of God and not solely a large mission field.
If there is anything the world needs to see of us today, it is that we are making right what we’ve made wrong, and the only way to do that is to begin again with Jesus, with the ways of true forgiveness and repentance.
I am pro-Jesus and pro-America because I believe that what lies in our “greatness” is not that we are great, but that there is a long vision God holds for the world to be a benevolent and holy place. That kind of greatness is not based on power or control. It is not based on abuse of those who are lower or other. It is based on the love of Christ, on sacrifice based off of that love.
So, in following Jesus of Nazareth, we step outside of who we’ve become and we find who we are called to be — in the life of a man who spent every day with the ones the world thought would destroy its greatness.
The truth of Jesus is what we follow — a future America based on shalom and grace.
That is the America I am for, the America we are working toward every day.