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This is a letter John wrote to his father (pictured here) for Father's Day sometime in the 1940s delivered as a sermon at the Saxon Baptist Church in Spartanburg, South Carolina, USA.

A Letter to Dad
by John B. Isom

Dear Dad,

Today is known as father's day.  A day set aside to remind all children to remember their father in some way.  A day to give expression and appreciation, for the love and care they have received and are receiving, from their fathers.  Knowing  you care little for a lot of sentimental or emotional praise, I will limit my words of praise by saying  I have, in my life time, meet and known many fine fathers, and have read about many great men , yet, I can truthfully say I am glad  I am your son.

There are several reasons why I am glad you are my father.  First, you made my years of childhood and youth a period of life delightful to live over in my memory.  A pleasure I engage in perhaps more than I would if I could see you more often.  You found time to go swimming with me, to carry me on fishing trips, and you let me go hunting with you long before I was large enough to carry a gun.   My memory of my fellowship with you during my childhood and youth are crammed with vivid recollections of delightful experiences we had together during those years.  You may not have had the money to give me everything I wanted, but I don't remember about that.  I do remember you giving me something of greater value, that man-to-man fellowship between father and son that money cannot buy at any price.

Second, you taught me more by example than words the principle of honesty which you defined as always telling the truth, never telling a lie about anything, paying your just and honest debts, fulfilling all of your promises to other people, and never taking anything that didn't belong to you.  The liar, thief, and undependable person you pictured to me as being unworthy of the name man. 

The third reason I am glad you are my father is because you taught me to appreciate the dignity of honest toil.  You made me feel there is nothing more honorable than manual labor. My work today consists of doing things that do not require me to get my hands dirty.  I am not yet able to think of my work as being quiet as honorable and as worthy of the rewards that should be given those who work with their hands.   Calloused hands, or a shirt wet with sweat, still seem to me to be symbols of high honor. 

Then you made me conscious of the reality of God.  That is, you made me believe there was a God.  This you did not by sermons or pious words, but rather by the calmness of your personality, which radiated daily that faith and assurance about life that makes others God conscious.  The God you taught me to seek after, and prayed I might come to know, was a God to be trusted and obeyed, rather than some kind of king in heaven to be worshiped by anthems and long prayers on Sunday, only to be ignored when dealing with one another.   You made me realize you worshiped, and fellowshipped, with a God who expected you to be true and faithful in all your transactions with your fellow man.  Long before I knew, in a personal way, that God expected as much from me, I knew that you expected it.   I do not remember ever hearing you say you had the faith and confidence in your sons, that they would behave themselves, and be honest and dependable.   But as far back as I can remember I felt you expected as much of me, and took it for granite that I would. Wherever I went, whatever I was doing or planning to do, the consciousness that you expected me to do the right thing was, and is, ever with me.

Were you to take an inspection tour through the communities where I have lived since I left home, for the purpose of checking up on my conduct, I am confident you would not find any unpaid bills or debts, and I feel you would find a good report as to my personal conduct and honesty.  Yet, I wonder if I am as honest in the impersonal things of life as I believe my record would prove when limited to personal things?

For example, this week, beginning tomorrow at 9:00 A.M., we will conduct a Vacation Bible School in our church for all the children between the ages of 4 and 17.  In the opening exercises of this school we will march in and have the students stand at attention, salute the United States flag, and give the pledge, which is:

"I pledge allegiance to the flag,
Of the United States of America,
And to the republic for which it stands;
One Nation, indivisible,
With liberty and justice for all."

Is it honest and right, to have the children repeat this pledge, intended to teach them they live in a country where there is equal liberty and justice for all, when the truth of the matter is that such is not the case?  We might justify ourselves by referring to the Constitution, which declares such liberty and justice shall be the inalienable right of every citizen.  Ample proof to justify the pledge can be found in what is written in our history books.  And when we search through the public speeches of all public leaders, from the president on down, especially in times of war, we find countless official statements assuring the men fighting and dying, that their sacrifices are for a nation, a way of life, wherein there is liberty and justice for everyone.  Yet when you examine court records, and when you observe political actions, you find actual practices belie the noble and official documents and propaganda speeches.

Just this week there came to me through the mail the record of a trial in the courts of another state, concerning a man by the name of Tee Davis.  Mr. Davis was sentenced to twelve years of hard labor in prison for doing something any twelve-year-old boy would recognize as being a miscarriage of justice.   If Tee Davis had had sense enough to be born with white skin, he would not have been arrested.  Certainly no court in the United States would have sent a white man to prison, for as much as one day, for doing, according to the evidence, what Tee Davis did.   Yet he was given a twelve years sentence.   

Hardly a week passes without my attention being called to a miscarriage of justice, either because of race prejudice, or because of the power money has to cover up sin.  Yet, according to what the children will be taught in our pledge to the United States Flag, justice is something that every citizen may be sure of receiving in our courts, regardless of his race, religion, or financial standing.  On paper in our country that is true.  In practice it is not!

Then there is the part of the pledge that teaches us that in our country there is equal liberty for all.  That is, one citizen cannot be denied any of the rights given any other citizen.  It tells us that every liberty provided for in the constitution, by law, and by edicts, shall be the inalienable right of every citizen regardless of race, religion, profession, or occupation.   In all of our official papers this is true in our country, but in actual practice it is not true!

Here in South Carolina, for example, the dominating political party ignores the constitution and the rulings of the supreme court of the United States in their maneuvers to prevent Negro citizens from having any political influence through the ballot box.   This is obviously inconsistent with all I have been taught about democracy, making the pledge of allegiance to the flag a falsehood, and is inconsistent with the 14th amendment to the constitution of the United states, which states no one will be deprived of the right to vote because of race or religion.  Hooded cowards, called KKKs, are used to go around and breathe out threats and floggings to scare the Negro away from political activity.  Frankly, I cannot understand how such things could be in a nation where liberty is one of the idols of worship.  Maybe that is the trouble!  We worship liberty with words and patriotic hymns and speeches, like so many people who go to worship God on Sunday and forget him before Monday.   Liberty for all is not something we practice, but just an ideal to worship and use for propaganda purposes.  The principles of honesty and justice you taught me to respect and practice demand that liberty for all includes the liberty for the Negro to vote as well as the liberty for me to vote.  This attitude I express in my private conversations, from the pulpit, and in the papers.   And some people become offended at my doing so.  Yet, how can I do otherwise if I am going to be honest? How can I claim to believe in a God who said, "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you" if I fail to raise my voice in protest against a practice that violates that principle?  How can I have the children repeat the pledge of allegiance to the flag in our vacation bible school, which says this is a country where there is liberty and justice for all, and be honest if I fail to insist it be practiced in the political activities of this community?

There are many other practices in our community life that contradicts the phrase "liberty and justice for all" that makes me feel like a dishonest man if I try to ignore them.

We will have the children give the pledge to the flag each morning but if we are going to be strictly honest we must point out to them some of the practices that belie that pledge.

We will also repeat each morning the pledge to the Christian flag, which is,  "I pledge allegiance to the Christian flag, and to the Savior for whose kingdom it stands; one brotherhood uniting all mankind in service and love."  That pledge, in my judgment, is consistent with the teachings and spirit of Jesus, and is worthy of remembering, but I wonder if it is strictly honest to teach children such a concept of life without pointing out the fact that no where in the world is there a way of life that has the principles of the pledge as its moral foundation.  The one world idea and the unity principle, and the motive of service and love in that pledge stands in contradiction to the popular and traditional political philosophy of national division, as well as the competitive and profit motive principles that underlie our economic systems and practices.   Honesty will demand that the Christian Flag, and the pledge stands for a way of life that ought to be, rather than what is.

We will also have the children repeat the pledge to the Bible each morning, which is, "I pledge allegiance to the Bible, God's Holy Word, and will make it a lamp unto my feet, a light unto my path, and hide its words in my heart that I may not sin against God."  This pledge is a noble tribute to a noble book, yet it expresses a traditional and popular conception of the Bible and of God that is not consistent with the principles taught in the Bible nor with the living spirit of God that reveals divine wisdom to men who will listen to him in every generation.

Take the last phrase of that pledge, "that I may not sin against God."  Some people have the idea that you can avoid sinning against God, by going to church on Sunday, refraining from going to movies or ball games on Sunday, and by not making loud noises on the Lord's Day, and by avoiding the use of gully words.  Commendable perhaps, but Jesus taught us that we sin against God by mistreating our fellow man.   Said Jesus, "As you have done it unto the least of these you have done it unto me."  Does not honesty demand that if we are going to teach children this pledge that we should call their attention to the spirit and teachings of the Bible that defines sinning against God in terms of human relationships?

Take that phrase, "God's holy word."   A truth that has been made a lie by the traditional and accumulated meaning that has been attached to it.  A lot of superstition about the Bible has been accepted as truth about the bible.   There are those that think that it is a magic book, that it will stop bullets, and protect you from car wrecks and other dangers, if only you will carry it on your person.   Then there are those who seemingly think that constant reading or memorizing the words of the Bible will make a saint out of a person, without that painful process of understanding what the Bible teaches and then putting it into practice.

So much superstition about the Bible among many people makes it possible for any loud mouth, unprincipled person to take the letter of the Bible, ignoring the spirit of it's teachings, and make people his religious slaves. 

Certainly, honesty demands that if we are going to teach the children that the Bible is "God's holy word," we must define that idea with the facts about how we got our Bible and make known to them the part that finite men played in writing, and selecting the writings that make up the contents of the Bible.

I did not mean to write such a long letter, but felt that you ought to know that I appreciate the honest, clean example that you set for me to follow, and to let you know some of the difficulties I have when I attempt to practice those principles of honesty and justice that you planted in my heart and mind, when I try to apply them in the impersonal things of life.  It seems much easier to just accept as true that which is accepted as true and pass it on without comment, than it is to try to replace what is proven to be false with that which is proven to be true.   Yet the spirit of truth that you taught me to respect demands obedience if right is ever to triumph over wrong.   May all fathers, young and old, realize this day, that their children must know the truth, and act upon it, if they are to be free from the fears that rob us from the peace of heart, and a sense of security in this life and in the life to come.

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