Want to Be in the New Parade? Have the Right Beliefs

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Fernandina Beach is a parade-loving town! There will be a new parade in town on June 29, a Christian Heritage parade. As a Christian, I wondered what it was about. I looked closely at the registration to participate in the parade. Participants are asked to sign a Statement of Shared Faith and Convictions in addition to the usual liabilities waiver.

The Convictions list drew my attention. This list may be foundational for those organizing the parade, but it is hardly standard for most Christian groups. Some of the statements are confusing, and the purpose for their inclusion is not clear. For instance, I couldn’t agree more with the parts of number five that say “all humans bear the image of God and are loved by the Almighty.” But “share a common ancestor”? What is that about and what relevance does it have to being in a parade?

Here is the list so you can review for yourself:

STATEMENT OF SHARED CONVICTIONS

  • Jesus Christ is Lord, and is the only way to salvation and eternal life with God.
  • The Bible is the inerrant word of God.
  • God created the institution of marriage to be between a man and a woman for life.
  • Gender is not a social construct but rather a biological and spiritual reality assigned by God at conception.
  • All humans share a common ancestor, bear the image of God, and are loved by the Almighty.
  • Life begins at conception and is worthy of protection.
  • The United States of America was founded by individuals who shared a Christian consensus.
  • God’s richest blessing is reserved for that nation that seeks to honor the Lordship of Christ and govern according to scriptural principles.

(This list is from the registration form for the Christian Heritage parade June 29, 2024 in Fernandina Beach, Florida.)

One of the biggest changes in church and society since my ordination in 1978 is the melding of a brand of Christianity with a description of what it means to be a patriotic citizen. My years of ministry were marked by working cooperatively within large ecumenical organizations and for social justice. Churches worked in interfaith partnerships especially after the events of September 11, 2001. But starting about 50 years ago and escalating since is a reinterpretation of the history of our country’s founding, the intent of the initial shapers of our founding documents and the criteria for being a faithful Christian.

For instance, on the website USA Heritage, under the section labeled “government,” one reads the following:

“God's word directs the Christian believer to represent Him in every area of life including all levels of government. When Christians fail to influence society with their Judeo-Christian values, others fill the vacuum with their humanistic, anti-God values. Insufficient Christian involvement in the political process during the past 50 years has left most of our government offices and institutions in the hands of amoral or immoral leaders. We must no longer tolerate the movement to reduce America to a secular, humanistic state.” I quote this website because the parade organizers identify themselves as the Nassau County Committee for Christian Heritage.

I have a very different understanding of our country’s founding and founders. Heather Cox Richardson has a doctorate from Harvard and is a professor of history at Boston College and the writer of a frequent blog “Letters from an American” for which extensive research is done. In her post for June 9, she wrote:

“The liberalism on which the United States was founded in the late 1700s came from the notion—radical at the time—that individuals have rights and that the government generally must not intrude on those rights. This idea was central to the thinking of the Founders who wrote the Declaration of Independence, who put into the form of a mathematical constant—“we hold these truths to be self-evident”—the idea that “all men are created equal” and that they have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” as well as the right to live under a government of their own choosing. It is no accident that those arguing for a return to a system without a strong administrative state are eager to impose their religion on the American majority, who have rejected their principles and policies. Americans support abortion rights, women’s rights, LBGTQ+ rights, minority rights: the equal rights articulated in the Declaration of Independence." (Highlight mine.)

James Madison, the key thinker behind the Constitution, explained why a democracy cannot be based on religion. In 1773, he had begun to question whether established religion, which was common in the Colonies, was good for society. In that year, he was instrumental in putting Section 16 into the Virginia Declaration of Rights on which our own Bill of Rights would be based. It reads: “That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each other.”

Am I opposed to the upcoming parade? I am not. The parade organizers followed the town protocol for holding such an event. And, as Madison stated, I believe it is important to practice forbearance, love and charity toward each other.

However, I question, as I have the freedom to do, whether it is in the best interest of our community to have participation criteria that exclude so many members of our community. No other parade does that. Disagreement is not ungodly, but makes for healthy dialogue and mutual respect. If Christians who do not share those convictions are denied participation in this event that celebrates “Christian heritage,” what is the point? How does this event demonstrate forbearance, love and charity?

The conviction number eight is doubly confounding. The love of God for all as demonstrated in the life of Jesus of Nazareth knows no national boundaries and does not play favorites. Conviction number eight reeks of the theology of a “prosperity gospel.” Who decides what “scriptural principles” we are governed by bears scrutiny.

I don’t know who chose the Statement of Convictions, how it was put together or the intent of those who make signing it a litmus test for parade eligibility. Maybe some clarity here is in order.

The God I serve does not play favorites and welcomes me, a sinner, like the rest of us.