Yesterday morning it was my great honor to witness a ceremony that has played itself out over the last couple hundred years. Almost 700 persons; different ages, different ethnicities, different nationalities, different cultures, different religious beliefs, different genders, and different orientations all stood at the Plano Convention Center to take the oath of citizenship in the United States of America. It was an extremely proud moment for all. I was there to support a friend of mine who immigrated from Nigeria to here. This person has known oppression and persecution in their home country because of their orientation. They have been ostracized and shunned by family members. They had little hope and a bleak future in their home country. They made their way to these shores with little to nothing. They came from a distant land seeking to be a part of what many of us take for granted every day. Their dream was realized yesterday morning as they stood and made their oath of allegiance.
It was a very special moment for my friend, and for me. As they recited the words, I thought of all they gave up to get to this moment in time. I thought about the hardships they’ve endured and the struggles they have overcome. In my mind, as I heard the words of the oath, I thought this is a place to be proud of. For our nation to live up to its ideals and its promise of this land being a place where all enjoy liberty and justice. No matter your skin color, no matter your race, no matter your country of origin, no matter who you love, and no matter your circumstance, this place accepts you and you pledge your support.
For those who are unfamiliar with the Oath of Allegiance, this is what it says:
“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen;
…that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic;
…that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same;
…that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law;
…that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law;
…that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and
…that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”
This idea of acceptance and equality is hard-fought and hard-won for many. There are those who would attack this ideal for those they dislike or take issue with. It is a tenuous idea at best, always needing to be guarded and defended.
As my friend took their oath of allegiance, my mind wandered to another oath many of us have taken as well. Maybe you were a child or infant, too young to answer for yourselves and your parents and sponsors answered for you. When we become a Christian through baptism, we are asked some pretty serious questions…
“Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?
Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?
Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?”
Some pretty grand ideals in this oath too, wouldn’t you say? When we look at how churches and parishioners live out this oath, we might find the reality is less than the ideal. Same as in our nation, the ideal many times is grander than the reality.
Even though we don’t seem to always live up to our expressed ideals and the oaths we pledge, they are worth more than anything else in all creation. Why? Because they remind us of what we hold dear, they call our attention to just how far short we fall, and how far we have yet to go.
Living into our oaths as a citizen, or as a person of faith, is our great challenge. I believe the nation we live in has the potential to be a shining city set on a hill that lives out its promises. I believe the Jesus I follow and pledge my faith to, continues to call me from where I’ve stumbled and fallen, urging me to make another step forward. Calling me beyond any notion of citizenship in this nation, to be a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.
We are striving to be a nation that supports each other in a common goal of freedom, liberty, justice, and equality for all. We are also members of a faith community which espouses and lives out a desire to love ALL persons in the way God has loved us. That love will urge us to reject evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.
As my friend has now become a citizen, I am so proud of their accomplishment and their desire to be a part of our national fabric. They attend and support their church. They give their time and treasure to further the message of Jesus. More than their citizenship, I’m proud of their dedication to following their faith in Jesus Christ.
May God continue to encourage our living out our oath to loving all persons as we have been loved.
Your fellow traveler on the Way,