Bree Newsome’s Acts of Independence

Screen-Shot-2015-06-30-at-11.54.59-AMHow 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.

My Harper Collins Study Bible (2006) describes the book of Acts this way: “The title indicates the shift in content from Luke’s Gospel, which is about Jesus, to Acts, which concerns the life and work of the church as it is brought into being and sustained by God.”

It goes on to describe 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, NC, who climbed the flag pole to remove the Confederate battle flag in front of the South Carolina state house on June 27, 2015, issued such a “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).

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.

Rose Marie Berger, a senior associate editor for Sojourners magazine,  is a Catholic poet and activist in Washington, D.C.

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.

I began my activism by participating in the Moral Monday movement, fighting to restore voting rights in North Carolina after the Supreme Court struck down key protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
I traveled down to Florida where the Dream Defenders were demanding justice for Trayvon Martin, who reminded me of a modern-day Emmett Till.

I marched with the Ohio Students Association as they demanded justice for victims of police brutality.
I watched in horror as black Americans were tear-gassed in their own neighborhoods in Ferguson, MO. “Reminds me of the Klan,” my grandmother said as we watched the news together. As a young black girl in South Carolina, she had witnessed the Klan drag her neighbor from his house and brutally beat him because he was a black physician who had treated a white woman.

I visited with black residents of West Baltimore, MD who, under curfew, had to present work papers to police to enter and exit their own neighborhood. “These are my freedom papers to show the slave catchers,” my friend said with a wry smile.

And now, in the past 6 days, I’ve seen arson attacks against 5 black churches in the South, including in Charlotte, NC where I organize alongside other community members striving to create greater self-sufficiency and political empowerment in low-income neighborhoods. …    Read the whole statement here.

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