Let me begin by fully disclosing some information about myself.
I was a history nerd in High School. I have no shame in this. I voraciously read anything about history that I could get my hands on, and this continued through college and into my post-graduate studies. In college I was a social studies major who became licensed to teach High School students my very favorite things. Today, about 15 years later, I am still a history nerd.
During my studies I became infatuated with certain parts of history – I very much enjoyed American history and Russian history, to the point where I came close to pursuing a graduate degree in one or the other. That didn’t happen, but I still read as much about these subjects (and others) as I can. I became particularly interested in the Civil War during my college years, and can say that to this day, I have very serious pro-Confederacy leanings – except for the heinous evil of slavery and racism. I appreciate the Confederates stated beliefs in smaller government, federalism and states’ rights, as well as the rights of individuals (though the Confederates chose to exclude the rights of African-Americans). To this end, in times past, I was known to even defend the Confederate flag because of these other more noble aspects of Southern history.
I won’t defend the Confederate flag anymore. Not because I disagree with the arguments I made in its defense in the past, but because of an argument presented by Russell More of the Southern Baptist Convention. This past week, Mr. Moore wrote an article that shook me and reminded me of where my first allegiance should lie.
I don’t mean to offend defenders of the Confederate flag by reposting his piece. You are free to believe as you wish, but I believe that Moore’s argument is sound. I believe that I was wrong to so vocally defend the flag, and I won’t be doing it anymore.
This week the nation reels over the murder of praying Christians in an historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina. At the same time, one of the issues hurting many is the Confederate Battle Flag flying at full-mast from the South Carolina Capitol grounds even in the aftermath of this racist act of violence on innocent people. This raises the question of what we as Christians ought to think about the Confederate Battle Flag, given the fact that many of us are from the South.
White Christians ought to think about what that flag says to our African-American brothers and sisters in Christ, especially in the aftermath of yet another act of white supremacist terrorism against them. The gospel frees us from scrapping for our “heritage” at the expense of others. As those in Christ, this descendant of Confederate veterans has more in common with a Nigerian Christian than I do with a non-Christian white Mississippian who knows the right use of “y’all” and how to make sweet tea.
None of us is free from a sketchy background, and none of our backgrounds is wholly evil. The blood of Jesus has ransomed us all “from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers” (1 Pet. 1:18), whether your forefathers were Yankees, rebels, Vikings, or whatever. We can give gratitude for where we’ve come from, without perpetuating symbols of pretend superiority over others.
The Apostle Paul says that we should not prize our freedom to the point of destroying those for whom Christ died. We should instead “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Rom. 14:19). The Confederate Battle Flag may mean many things, but with those things it represents a defiance against abolition and against civil rights. The symbol was used to enslave the little brothers and sisters of Jesus, to bomb little girls in church buildings, to terrorize preachers of the gospel and their families with burning crosses on front lawns by night.
That sort of symbolism is out of step with the justice of Jesus Christ. The cross and the Confederate flag cannot co-exist without one setting the other on fire. White Christians, let’s listen to our African-American brothers and sisters. Let’s care not just about our own history, but also about our shared history with them. In Christ, we were slaves in Egypt — and as part of the Body of Christ we were all slaves too in Mississippi. Let’s watch our hearts, pray for wisdom, work for justice, love our neighbors. Let’s take down that flag.