A few years ago I went to hear Union Theological Seminary Professor Cornell West give a lecture at the Young Democratic Socialists of America’s Winter Convention (I know what you are probably thinking “they have enough young Socialists that they need to break their conventions into seasonal gatherings?”). For those who have never seen an interview with Cornell West I suggest you give him a quick YouTube watch. He is funny, compassionate, smart, and even if you disagree with his politics he will make you think.
I first heard Brother West (as he so often is called) being interviewed by Sean Hannity. This was during my early days as a “Young Republican.” I remember being shocked to hear such openly “Socialistic” arguments coming from someone with a PhD (Again, I was pretty young and didn’t know much about nothin!). His argument, that “George W. Bush was a Constantine type Christian” thus someone that would use Christianity to mask his plans for political power, really shocked me at the time.
What endeared me to him, and I guess really challenged my notion of what it means to be a Christian, occurred when I started to notice how he referred to everyone as “Brother” or “Sister.” I grew up in Church and feel very at ease referring to people as “Brother Dave” or “Sister Jean.” As a kid I learned early that by invoking “Brother” or “Sister” before a persons name indicates that they are “one of us” and we can know they are a “believing Christian.” So when I heard him use “Brother” when describing people like Karl Rove and Vice President Dick Cheney, I was taken aback.
The use of those signifiers also represents a certain element of “affection” and “Christian Love.” I always appreciated, especially as I got older, that calling someone in Church your Brother or Sister really helped establish a sense of solidarity. It made me feel like these people were more than just my friendly neighbors in Church. So to hear Cornel West use that when describing his “enemies” made me really think.
By the time I went to hear Cornel West speak I had done a complete change in politics and thinking. I was still a Christian (I will always remember the day I went to see Cornel West speak because the previous night I learned that I received a full scholarship to attend seminary- I ultimately didn’t go but that story can be saved for another blog), but my convictions and outlook on the world went through a radical shift. I no longer believed that “Jesus promoted Capitalism” or that “Christians should support war.” I felt more of a conviction to act out Christ’s mission to what he described as the “least of these.”
But hearing Dr. West speak and hearing him repeatedly refer to Conservatives as “Brother” and “Sister” again brought me back to why I was originally intrigued by his message and delivery. As the talk came to an end Dr. West asked if anyone in the audience had questions. There were many of the usual questions on policy, predictions for upcoming elections; however, one person asked him “why does he choose to call people that we as Socialists consider evil as “Brother and “Sister”?” His response is something I think about almost everyday. He told the crowd “I call everyone, regardless of race, religion, politics, or ideology Brother and Sister because we all come from God and we are all in this together. I believe in redemption and hope. So I believe that people I disagree with, and who are enacting policies that hurt the poor, my “brother” because I have hope that one day this will change.”
Dr. West answer is something that I try to live out in my home, office, and even here on my blog. It’s also why I have struggled with feelings of patriotism. As a Christian I always felt that my biggest sense of identity came from my faith. I always felt like “sure I’m an American and that’s great. But if I was born anywhere else that would be okay too because I would still be a Christian.” Christianity, and not my identity as a student, Democratic Socialist, PhD Student, or even Father and Husband, has been the foundation for how I view myself in this world.
I really started to feel this more and more as I considered issues of war, death, and violence. I started really to reflect on passages from Scripture like Acts 10:34. In this Passage we read “Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism.” I started to question the increasing pride for our actions in Iraq and Afghanistan that so many of my friends in Church were supporting and at times referring to as “the will of God.” I started to ask myself “if we all derive from God than why should differences separate us? Why should death on the battlefield of one person, who is from the same human family as myself, receive more of my feelings of sorrow and grief than another?” I would ask myself “why is killing okay at all”?
These are heady questions that philosophers, scholars, and theologians have wrestled with for years. They don’t have easy answers. The scriptures, however, offer the answer that I feel is most complete. As Peter said, God does not show favoritism. God loves us all equally. God is also the Father of us all. I can be mad at my earthly brothers and sisters but I can never hate them. On this 4thof July I will continue to do my best to love all my earthly brothers and sisters in the same manner that God does. I will pray that Christ gives me power to “show no favoritism.”