A Coca-Cola Super Bowl commercial has caused something of a kerfuffle.
Due to the amount of commentary that has appeared on Twitter since last Sunday, I would like to state my two main points right up front.
First, I believe that all people living in the United States of America should learn to speak “American,” by which I mean, of course, our particular version(s) of English.
Second, I believe that America is truly beautiful when we gladly embrace our diversity.
I feel that people living in the U.S. should learn to speak English, the predominant language in our nation, and that they should want to learn to speak English.
If I moved to Lithuania tomorrow, I would start learning Lithuanian so that I could converse with my new friends and neighbors and conduct my business as smoothly as possible.
However, I would not abandon my southern dialect of American English because I appreciate my roots and my heritage.
Even if I became a citizen of Lithuania, I would likely continue to speak English at home because I would always be most fluent with English.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, around 20 percent of Americans – around 60 million of us – don’t speak English at home. About two-thirds of those speak Spanish.
The percentage of Americans who don’t speak English at home has been rising year after year.
Despite this trend, it seems to me that if someone lives in a country of mainly English-speakers, it is to their benefit to learn to speak the dominant language. There is national unity and strength to be found in a common language.
But there is also national unity and strength to be found in an open-minded and openhearted embrace of the many and diverse cultures that exists in the U.S. Indeed, all of the cultures in our midst should be celebrated.
In case you didn’t see it, the Coca-Cola ad featured images of Americans from many different national backgrounds while “America the Beautiful” was sung in eight different languages: English, Tagalog (a major language of the Philippines), Hindi, Sengalese, Hebrew, Mandarin, Keres (a Pueblo language) and Arabic.
I found it a very moving 60-seond film on the beauty of the American “melting pot,” offering a visual representation of our de facto pre-1956 national motto, “E Pluribus Unum” – out of many, one.
Some may have a different opinion than I do on this issue, which is fine. For example, a few commentators have opined that “America the Beautiful” should be sung only in English.
Hate is not fine, though, and some people’s comments that I have seen crossed that line – to their and our shame.
In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit falls upon the earliest followers of Jesus in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost.
They receive the ability to speak in foreign tongues, which enables everyone who had come to the festival from across the Mediterranean world to hear the good news of Jesus proclaimed in their own language.
I know that America is not the church and that the Holy Spirit is not inspiring those in our nation who speak different languages to speak those languages. Still, there is this parallel.
The early church included, and our contemporary churches include, people who come from many different cultures and who speak many different languages.
America, at her best, not only tolerates but also celebrates the many different languages and cultures present among us.
At the beginning of the Muppet Vision 3D show at Disney World, Sam the Eagle introduces the show as “a salute to all nations, but mostly America.”
In America, I believe we should speak all of our languages gladly and proudly, but mostly English.
Michael Ruffin is pastor of First Baptist Church in Fitzgerald, Ga. A version of this column first appeared on his blog, On the Jericho Road, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @ruffinmichael.
Michael Ruffin is curriculum editor with Smyth & Helwys Publishing in Macon, Georgia.