Christians Should Definitely Submit…but when and to whom?

When my brothers and I used to wrestle with various characters and backstories, my favorite was to not only be a heel but a submission specialist. Getting one of the little dudes to give up was rewarding and often hysterical. Before your mind goes to armbars or chokeouts, I’m talking more like using The Claw.

Last month Billy Graham’s son Franklin dropped a “listen up” on Facebook that motivated some of my friends to write an open letter asking Graham to smell the systemic racism coffee that is now burning. The gist of his message wasn’t new stuff. Obey cops. God put leaders above you so you need to…wait. He was quoting Hebrews 13:17 in which the writer refers to discipleship in the church not to Roman soldiers. Uh oh.

He might have better used Romans 13 or 1 Peter 2 that actually reference submission to the state. Unfortunately for many Bible quoters, these passages most often get used to increase state sympathy and engender trust for a system that happens benefits the person doing the quoting. In the past nearly 20 years as a radicalized follower of Jesus, I have never had one of these passages thrown in my face by a person of color. When I spent a month in Iraq, none of the Iraqi Christians (there were a million at the time) brought it up to me. For Paul and Peter, who were on their trajectory [in and out of jail] on the way to martyrdom clearly had a sense that Rome was not Christ’s Shalom or the Kingdom of Heaven.

For those interested in the Bibletalk, you can’t really get Romans 13 apart from 12 and 14 (why do we make chapters of a letter seem separate anyway?) and get what Paul is driving at – transformed people with a radical sense of Jesus as the one we are actually bowing to. Peter, speaking to living in a pagan society in Asia Minor, brings home the point that Jesus will shepherd us through suffering – increasing social status and political freedom is not big enough. The state, including the one that is persecuting the people to whom he writes is not so good and is not our mission to simply fix. Peter perhaps even wrote under either the rule of Domitian or Pliny the Younger who either claimed divinity or made being a Christian punishable. Peter hardly expected them to follow all the laws or obey these masters like they demanded – having a presence of The Way meant playing a different game. The caesars were also called the Son of God and Savior of the World. Peter & Paul, along with their friends regularly made the seditiously political act of appropriately appropriating terms like these to describe Jesus Christ and the entirety of His Kingdom. This is not exactly submission, obedience, or honor of the emperor in the way that Franklin Graham’s ilk of police state collaborators would seem to mean.

As angry and discouraged as I was to hear about Officer Slager killing Walter Scott this week, I received a sense of hope because the Feidin Santana‘s video surfaced. I was even more hopeful when I read that the cops had a different story cooking before they knew about the video as it sheds light on dark places. Maybe there is a similar reason why police won’t release surveillance footage of Brandon Tate Brown’s killing (or say who killed him), even though the police already found themselves to have acted appropriately. The Lawncrest neighbors just up the road disagreed. As we marched last Saturday to mark the martyrdom of MLK, we still insist that BLACK LIVES MATTER to God and to us but historically and currently not to this state. We want justice for the family of Brandon. We want a $15 minimum wage.

Submitting to police when you are unlikely to get shot for less than a good reason might seem normal. Let me reframe in another time and place. You probably wouldn’t tell Christian Iraqis to submit to the Saddam Hussein era which could mean carrying out inhuman orders or allowing family members to randomly be disappeared, abused, or killed – right? That era is usually on the “bad guys” list for Christians – and basically Christians understand that you shouldn’t listen to bad guy states like Nazi Germany, Khmer Rouge, etc – only good guy states like the US. I’m calling into question the goodness of the US – illustrated by just this moment of state violence against our Black brothers and sisters.

I’m also trying to swim into the deep end of what submission means. First Christ’s followers submit to God and one another, and then figure out what it means to submit to the state. I think we should show respect and care for those caught up in the system and stand up against the injustice it perpetrates. Submitting isn’t just giving up like in WWF wrestling. The New Testament is littered with disciples submitting all over the place and somehow changing the world.

Three signs of soft solidarity at the dawn of the last Columbus Day

Just in time for Monday’s federal holiday, Seattle decided to celebrate something else, joining Minneapolis at big US cities to get this right by re-naming the holiday “Coast Salish Day” and Indigenous People’s Day, respectively. Are we more surprised by cities making this move or that more haven’t yet? How is this still a thing?

After all, aside from the catastrophic results of contact for 10’s of millions of natives, didn’t Colon basically start a trend of “discovering” things for white people? If you need another funny video to keep you engaged – check out College Humor’s take on “Columbusing.”

If you are moved to make steps towards healing our land and people, you might be moving toward solidarity. Particularly for white liberals – especially Evangelical Christians – solidarity is becoming more normative, at least in theory. It takes a lot of work to move solidarity from your heart or head and allow God to use it for transformation. It’s cheaper and easier to have a “soft solidarity,” one that makes you feel good/aware/informed but doesn’t transform yet. I offer three warning signs of soft solidarity, and some suggestions for how to allow the Spirit to beef it up to a solidarity that both parties experience.

When solidarity doesn’t lead to connection, it’s probably soft. When we pray at the Circle of Hope sunday Meetings, we are trying to help people make connections and follow up. Prayer is a powerful tool to connect with God, one another, and people far away as well as change hearts. Praying for Pakistani victims of drone warfare is good. Telling the story about the prayer, learning, and even trying to find Pakistani people in your neighborhood or online to make a relationship with is even better.

When solidarity doesn’t lead you to uncomfortable situations among people who don’t get it yet, it’s probably too soft. As a non-native of this land as well as not having African ancestors within the past few 1,000 years, learning from my native and black friends, teachers, musicians, and authors has been healing for me. It’s a privilege for me to be able to talk about race, land rights, colonialism, or restitution with my friends of color. It’s a responsibility to continue these conversations with white people who haven’t listened to non-white voices yet. For those of us who “cross over,” we have to do more than represent the exotic or be a proxy for oppressed voices. We don’t need to build bridges, we need to help put people in direct contact and show them how the bridge doesn’t even exist – we are way closer to a connection than they might think.

When solidarity is an accessory to your narcissism, it’s definitely too soft. For progressives, particularly millennials, you have been conditioned to do this already, so un-learning is going to take some work. Buying a keffiyeh doesn’t make you down with the Palestinian cause. Waxing intellectual, playing authentic delta blues on guitar, blasting Immortal Technique, or borrowing cultural elements from other peoples does not do anything for anyone else – unless it’s part of something bigger.

If you are still wondering about whether changing the name makes a difference – of the holiday or the football team, consider these thoughtful anecdotes from native activists. You may feel more sympathy for the Italian Americans who may feel slighted that Columbus is getting bumped, for Columbus himself as a hero and great Christian, or for the system itself for not being able to be just or accommodating to everyone.

In the video you see Migizi Pensoneau of The 1491s wearing the infamous Caucasians t-shirt, mocking the Cleveland Indians logo -designed by Brian Kirby but made famous by DJ NDN of A Tribe Called Red. Migizi wrote a heartfelt piece going behind the scenes of the Daily Show shoot for the Missoula Independent here. I think this should be the last Columbus Day anyone celebrates because the holiday reinforces & celebrates lies and myths that support a system of genocidal thievery against my friends & relatives. Changing the name is a step towards making connections that need to be made. I sense Jesus moving us into SOLIDarity, where mutual connection, care, and support transforms everyone involved and faces off with the Powers That Be. The more connections you make, the more sense it will make that your friends & relatives rub off some cultural elements/values/hopes on you.