Reading Time: 6 minutesProtesters hold signs during a rally to take down the Confederate flag at the South Carolina Statehouse, Saturday, June 20, 2015, in Columbia, S.C. Rep. Doug Brannon, R-Landrum, said it’s past time for the Confederate flag to be removed from South Carolina’s Statehouse grounds after nine people were killed at the Emanuel AME Church shooting. (Image credit: AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
Nine people are dead.
In cold blood.
Inside a historic Charleston, South Carolina church whose congregants were gathered together to study the Bible.
Nine people have been separated from their families, friends, co-workers and loved ones.
In such a time as this, what are we to do?
How are we to respond?
Let’s take down the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina state capitol building!
That’ll teach those racists a lesson!
And, may I ask, exactly what lesson would that be?
Is it the lesson that in having removed their beloved flag, racist white people will no longer be permitted to hate black people? Or that the mere removal of one piece of cloth and replacing it with another now renders it illegal for white people in South Carolina to own firearms? Or, perhaps it’s the lesson that removal of all objects and symbols of hate is the real solution to the millennia-old problem of mankind’s hatred of one another?
Is it these lessons you’re suggesting would be learned?
If so, well, good luck with that.
I will not pretend that the origins of the Confederate battle flag, a lasting symbol of the Confederate States of America, is not steeped in hatred, racism and white supremacy because it is. Anyone who would deny this need only consider the impassioned words of Alexander H. Stephens, Vice President of the Confederate States of America, who, in his “Corner Stone” speech from March 21, 1861, said:
“The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the storm came and the wind blew. Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”
So, yes, the genesis of the Confederate battle flag is rooted in unambiguous hatred of black people on the part of white supremacists.
It is an unarguable fact.
This is not to say that all white people of that era, or even now for that matter, were or are guilty of holding to such ungodly sentiments.
However, be that as it may, I will not belabor that point here. Nevertheless, suffice it to say that the mere existence of this long-standing symbol of racism is proof enough to many that the collective mindset of white Southerners of the 1860s is still prevalent in 2015. Hence, this latest round of protestations, in response to the recent shooting at Emmanuel AME Church, that the Confederate battle flag be removed entirely from public buildings and structures across the state of South Carolina.
From a truly historical perspective, such a pursuit is entirely understandable and is one that I fully support.
As far as I’m concerned there is nothing redeeming about the Confederate battle flag.
Nothing at all.
For the South Carolina legislature to amend its state law to remove the Confederate battle flag would not only be the right thing to do, but also the righteous thing to do given its history of being representative of a sinful mindset that degrades and demeans human beings of other races and ethnicities who are also created in the image of God.
That said, however, we must remember that to the extent the Confederate battle flag may or may not be a symbol that fondly and pridefully reminds many white people of their supremacist days-gone-by, it is not the flag itself that is the real problem. To merely remove that symbol apart from approaching the mindset that made – and makes – it so symbolically significant in the first place is to altogether miss the larger issue.
In other words, the question of the Confederate battle flag is not merely a matter of what but why.
To simply ban the Confederate battle flag from flying at the South Carolina State House is of no lasting benefit if it doesn’t also lead to a change of heart in those who still subscribe to it as a symbol of racial and ethnic superiority.
In and of itself, replacing the Confederate battle flag with a different flag does nothing to influence the hatred the supremacists and racists still hold in their heart toward blacks. Taking down the Confederate battle flag from a flagpole does nothing to ensure that someone won’t turn right around, in a defiant rage, and hang that flag up in every room of their house or or in their front yard or put a Confederate battle flag sticker on the bumper or rear window of their car or wear a trucker’s hat or a t-shirt emblazoned with its symbol out in public.
“If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.“ – 1 John 4:20 (NASB)
Our bigger ambition in advocating that South Carolina remove the Confederate battle flag should be the removal from people’s hearts the kind of hatred and prejudice that gave rise to its existence to begin with – an objective that only the Spirit of God can achieve:
“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” – Ezekiel 36:25 (NASB)
A symbol without an accompanying sentiment is only an object; a thing.
What makes us cherish the photos and videos of memories we have made with our families and friends, is the love we have in our heart for the individuals included in those photos and videos. Likewise, what gives a symbol significance – what gives it meaning – is the sentiment we choose to ascribe to it, and sentiment, for better or worse, is borne in the heart.
Sure, you can change a flag, but then what?
What about the hatred that remains in the heart of the person even as the Confederate battle flag is taken down? How do you change that (or is having the flag taken down the end of the matter for you?)
The truth is that to a sovereign, omniscient God there is absolutely no earthly event, regardless how tragic, that is not redemptive. There is no murder, rape or theft that occurs outside the boundaries of His divine control. God can – and does – take even our most abhorrent treatment of one another so that it ultimately works out for the good of those who love Him.
In fact, that nine people lost their lives to a hate-absorbed gunman is already bearing fruit for the glory of God and His kingdom. Nevertheless, if what God allowed to occur at Emmanuel AME Church is seen as merely an opportunity to achieve a political or social end, namely, the replacing of one piece of cloth with another, we are being narrow-minded indeed.
Our mission, brothers and sisters, should not be only to change a Rebel flag but rebellious hearts as well. To pursue one objective apart from the other is an affront to God, not to mention to the memories of the nine individuals who, because of the actions of a hardened, sin-filled heart, have now seen Him face-to-face.
The issue at hand isn’t the Confederate battle flag, my friend, for it is merely a representation of the sin that indwells each one of us.
Our problem is we simply don’t want to admit that that’s the real problem.
Humbly in Christ,
- Confederate Flag Deserves History’s Harsh Verdict (CNN.com)
- Why the Confederate Flag Still Flies in South Carolina (CNN.com)
- The Confederate Flag Isn’t Budging From South Carolina’s Capitol Because It’s Protected Under State Law (MSN.com)
- What It’s Like To Be Black And Live Under a White Neighbor’s Confederate Flag (Huffington Post)