I don’t remember when I learned the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag. I guess it was sometime before I learned to read or write, probably when I first entered school.
I grew up reciting the pledge at school assemblies, cub scouts, vacation Bible school and on many other occasions. We all said it in unison, hands over our hearts our eyes focused on the stars and stripes.
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands; one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
When I first learned those words, there were 48 stars on the flag. By the time I entered high school, there were 50.
When I first recited the pledge I didn’t know the word “indivisible” or how to pronounce it. Like many children, I thought it was an “invisible” nation. At church, I learned that our nation was “under God.” This was reinforced by the inscriptions on our currency that declared, “In God we trust.”
I was proud to live in a country that provided “liberty and justice for all.” It wasn’t until later that I realized that promise wasn’t true for everyone. I attended Robert E. Lee Elementary School my first six years of school in a small Texas town.
When we recited the Pledge of Allegiance, the Confederate general was staring down at us from his picture on the wall. He looked proud astride his horse Traveler. But there was a sadness in his eyes. There were no black students in our school, nor did any attend the other elementary schools named for Texas heroes: Jim Bowie, William B. Travis and James Fannin.
All the black students attended Lincoln Elementary School on the East side of town where black families lived. I didn’t know any of them. There were many liberties, I learned, that my black contemporaries didn’t enjoy: drinking fountains, swimming pools, restroom facilities, colleges and universities, and employment opportunities.
I lived through the civil rights movement and, as a young pastor, worked to integrate our churches and overcome prejudice. But we continued to fall short of our national pledge.
The killing of George Floyd has catapulted our nation to a new threshold. We pray that recent events will lead to a better day when the reality of our world might reflect our Pledge of Allegiance: “liberty and justice for all.”
Seeking justice and equality is at the center of God’s heart. David writes, “The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love” (Psalms 33:5). Isaiah says, “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow” (Isaiah 1:17).
“Thus has the Lord of hosts said, ‘Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another’” (Zechariah 7:9-10).