Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Church of the Brethren

I was born in 1961, and I grew up in a small, conservative town in rural Indiana. First thing in the morning in every classroom in our school, everyone would stand up and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

That is, almost everyone. At the time -- I'm an atheist now -- my family's religion, the Church of the Brethren, part of an offshot of Lutheranism known as Pietism, said that we weren't supposed to carry guns, not even if we were drafted into the military. The Bible says that Jesus told his followers to turn the other cheek. In the Church of the Brethren, we interpreted this as an instruction to be strictly pacifistic. And we weren't supposed to swear on a Bible, not even if we were witnesses in court.

And our denomination also said that we weren't supposed to sing the Star-Spangled Banner or recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Nor were we supposed to rise to our feet while others did so. So every day at school, first thing in the morning, everybody else in my classroom rose to their feet and recited the Pledge of Allegiance, while I stayed seated and said nothing. At sporting events, almost everyone sang the national anthem, but those who attended our church stayed seated and didn't sing. If we had to testify in court, we didn't swear to tell the truth, and we didn't touch the Bible. We simply promised to tell the truth.

The thing is, I don't remember anyone ever giving me a hard time about any of this. Sometimes people were curious and asked me why I did this or that differently, and we talked about. But I never got into an argument with anyone about: I expalined how we did things in our church, and that was fine with them. No one ever called me a son of a bitch over it. No one ever stood outside of our little white-painted church carrying picket signs. No one ever called us un-American. We weren't jailed for contempt of court because we behaved differently in court. In the earliest days of the US, people of our denomination sometimes got into trouble for being conscientious objectors to military service, but by the early 19th century, that got straightened out too: we had explained the reasons for our behavior to the United States, and the United States has accepted those reasons ever since, and instead of joining the military, young men from our church would work in military hospitals or do construction work in postwar areas which needed to be rebuilt.

People listened to the reasons for our behavior and accepted them. And conversely, we never accused others of being wicked or un-Christian, because they had different beliefs and did a few things differently than we did. Because when you get right down to cases, very few people are as bigoted, unreasonable or downright dense as our current President.

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