I dreamed last night about a T-Shirt/Bumper Sticker that said “Full Citizenship for African-Americans!”. I woke up this morning to my friend Cat Chapin-Bishop’s posting of a video where a Black man discuss being pulled over by the police as a time when he feared his life is in danger. After this summer’s events, it seems to me that from the experience of African-Americans, they might believe that they don’t have full citizenship in America. By “full citizenship” I mean the right to use our roads without fear of the government (yes, police are the government). If memory serves me right, I also mean the right to live where you want, instead of being steered to areas in certain zip codes. In the present, I also mean the right to go into a store and not be looked at suspiciously, or the right to vote without having to prove you live in a town you’ve lived in for eighty years. Further, the right to be assumed to “belong here”, wherever one may roam in the U.S. is part of what I would call “full citizenship” in the United States.
It occurs to me that women don’t have full citizenship, either, by the way, but the same principles apply — the right to become Leader of our country, the right to the same pay for doing the same job, the right to not expect the glass ceiling, the right to be considered for all types of job if you can do them, the right to make decisions about your own person — these rights are part of full citizenship, as well.
The poor don’t enjoy the same rights and privileges that others do either — they are kept out of the gated communities of the rich, kept from the benefits of medicines, kept from all kinds of things which your average person can afford, and — if a person dares to show their class via language or etiquette, they are often discriminated against.
None of this means that others have full citizenship in the U.S., either — every group and individual is probably kept from reaching their full potential in some way or another by government or the society it supposedly represents.
Oddly, many of the people that speak of Freedom with a capital “F” seem to be against other people having the basics of freedom — the right to be left alone unless you’re doing something wrong, the right to go where you want, the right to be who you are without punishment or scorn or ridicule, the right to work and eat, the right to vote, the right to control your own destiny and your own body. If those people who rail against losing their freedoms actually had to deal with their basic rights infringed upon, we’d never hear the end of it — with good reason. So the idea that it’s not okay to complain when your basic rights as a Citizen are being kept from you is absurd, but there are always those who say “complaining shows that you are weak (and therefore undeserving)”. The people with the most rights often claim their Christianity as the reason they deserve to be free. They say things like “we founded this country and don’t you forget it!”. They say things like “we came to this country to exercise our religion. Don’t take that away from us or pretend it isn’t that way”. They are right for doing so. Their facts are correct (if you don’t consider Native Americans, who belong to their own sovereign nations.)
But here’s where it gets messed up: The rights of citizens here in the U.S. are supposed to be based on the rights that God will/does give people in the “Kingdom of God” (or the Realm or Reign of God if you’re into inclusive language). The point of establishing cities in the New World was to establish cities that Christians could and should live in. “The kind of cities that Christians should live in” were the ones they envisioned in heaven. As Jesus says in the Lord’s Prayer, “on earth as it is in heaven”. But in the Realm of God, everyone is supposed to be given Full Citizenship — the poor, the widow, the orphan, the sojourner and stranger in our midst, as well as those nice people in the Temple who do the will of God. The law in heaven is supposed to be something like “love one another as I have loved you”, once you cross into the pearly gates, however you get there.
That kind of Full Citizenship is the kind we should be giving people in America as well. If you think it is “this way” in heaven, then that is the standard we are to use here on earth in a democracy as envisioned by our Founding Fathers. Granted, of course, that their interpretation of scripture might be different than ours — the principle is the same. This is why Martin Luther King, Jr had any vision of what the country should be in the mid 1900’s that included former slaves that many of the Founding Fathers couldn’t even imagine. The idea that we have lost ground, or that there is unfinished work to do toward King’s dream is proof that we are not the Christian country we claim to be and used to strive to be.
This works on two different levels: The personal/spiritual and the legal/practical. We ought to think about each other as Full Citizen’s in God’s Kingdom/Realm so that we don’t assume that the guy with the hoodie is a criminal or the man walking down the street doesn’t belong there or that a woman doesn’t want control over her own body. This is us, as individuals, responding to other individuals as full citizens, in the way that God would want us to. This is the area of our hearts and minds that should show forth from The City on The Hill or the unhidden lampstand. What’s the point in being a beacon if you don’t want to call people your way? This is something to consider in the immigration situation we currently face in the Southwest and other places. If we are doing things right, people should want to come to our Kingdom of God on Earth and we shouldn’t keep them away or dim our lights.
Legally and in the world outside of our hearts, our country, founded as “like the Kingdom of God in earth” should reflect those same values that we’re supposed to have in our hearts. If we claim to have integrity as a nation, then our outsides should reflect our insides, and our insides should be better than they are. Spiritual laws like “everyone’s important and everyone’s opinion matters” should have their equivalent in practical laws like “everyone gets to vote”. “Everyone is loved by God” should be enforced as “No one shall make someone else not live up to their potential as human being”. If God makes food for all to eat, then our laws should say that “everyone should get what they need”. If we’re making laws that say “some people are allowed to be de-valued”, then we are not doing our law-making right. If God offers mercy, then our laws should do the same. If God “loved us when we were yet sinners”, our laws should say that we do the same, even if we only suspect our neighbors might be up to no good.
This is the kind of Full Citizenship that African-Americans deserve, and Celtic-Americans deserve and Polish-Americans deserve and Mexican-Americans deserve. This is the kind of Full Citizenship that Male Americans and Female Americans and everything in between deserve. Fat Americans and Thin Americans, Short Americans and Tall Americans deserve this, as do both the mentally ill and the mentally capable, the physically ill and the physically capable. This is the vision that Christianity gives to this country.
I am sure that other religions offer similar visions of The Way Things Should Be but, as a Christian, I can only speak authentically about my faith and my understanding of history. I suspect people of Islam or Judaism or Buddhism come here believing in Full Citizenship in America should look their best world-view as well — “the land where the streets are paved with gold”, or “nirvana” or “the place where justice and peace prevail”, etc.
In any case, I believe that our view of “what the world can be if God lives with us” should be the same as our vision of “what our laws say we are to be” and “what our minds should see when we look at our fellow citizens”. If our laws said “do to others as you would have them do to you”, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in. We should do what we can to make it that way.