Lesson 9: Foreign Invasion

rumored antifa event in GettyburgHundreds of heavily armed men and women invaded Gettysburg, my hometown, on July 4. They occupied sacred land and patrolled battlefield roads seeking the enemy. When asked why they came, they readily claimed to be patriots who were preserving our heritage.

In fact, they were responding to a social media post supposedly from ANTIFA that reported the left-wing group would celebrate Independence Day by burning flags and desecrating confederate monuments. The same thing happened a few years back. Both times the activists denied there was such a planned gathering; both times none of them showed up. However, that did not deter the large number of right-wing groups and individuals who came to protect us.

This was somewhat humorous the first time. The participants looked silly running around looking for a pretend enemy. To top that off, there was an almost comical casualty. A man got tangled in the large confederate flag he was carrying and accidentally discharged his gun, wounding himself in the foot.

This time was much more troubling. The invaders found visitors they chose to regard as the enemy. One was a local white Methodist minister wearing a Black Lives Matter tee shirt who was apparently looking for a grave in the national cemetery. Another was an articulate black college professor trying to present accurate history at various monuments. Both were surrounded by about 50 armed men shouting threats.

Recordings and reports make clear racism played a role in these two confrontations. The invaders who often came far distances assailed the greatly outnumbered citizens with “Go back to Africa,” “Did you ever pick cotton?”, “Forget slavery!”, “White lives matter,” “Confederate lives matter,” and “Nigger.” Many carried American flags but confederate and Klu Klux Klan ones were also prevalent.

It was also more troubling this time when the invasion brought out mean-spirited divisions in our local community. Newspaper articles, social media posts, letters to the editor, and politicians’ statements argued bitterly whether the invaders were welcome or not.

Obviously, there are a number of explanations that might explain the difference between the two incidents. One plausible explanation blames the public narrative fostered by Donald Trump that bases patriotism on resisting an imaginary enemy with force. Our narratives are extremely important, because they form our identities and lead to overt actions.

You can trace this in the changing narrative consciously used to explain the meaning of our battlefield and cemetery. The first was expressed in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address that claimed the land was consecrated by the lives sacrificed on it to preserve a government based on the equality of all men. Freedom in this narrative is defined as the opportunity to vote for a government that respects the rights of all.

Eventually the government changed that narrative to foster the unity of the nation. Our battlefield was declared sacred ground because brother killed brother on it to support a cause for which they each were willing to give their lives. The land became a shrine to the reconciliation that followed. Although this narrative lifts up the cherished vision of the peaceable kingdom, it subtly drops the anti-slavery and equalitarian features of the first. Freedom becomes the right to fight for a cause regardless of merit.

The recent confrontations on our local battlefield demonstrate the conflict of these two narratives taking place in our present society. In one, freedom is defined by values that recognize the equality of every person, and in the other, as the right of individuals to do anything they like.

Sadly, this conflict of narrative runs deep enough to be reflected in our church bodies. Many now define freedom of religion as the right to discriminate against certain people and groups. They speak of the need to fight for this freedom of religion, because an imaginary, powerful enemy is out to close the doors of all churches. I hear more and more friends, including some who participate in these online lessons, claim they no longer call themselves Christians because of this supposedly Christian narrative.

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  1. Kerry says:

    Thank you, Fritz.

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