Confederate Flag Controversy: What’s Your Worldview and Identity?

confed_flag SC_Statehouse getty miaden_antonovA few weeks ago, I had to apologize to someone in my church. This wasn’t an insignificant apology, like, “I’m sorry I forgot our appointment.” This was an issue when I deeply wounded someone in the body of Christ.

A whole bunch of thoughts were going through my head, as I walked into this mediated apology session:

  • Through my pride, I hurt someone who God cares about deeply.
  • I didn’t deserve forgiveness, but I needed to ask for it.
  • I sinned against this person, against others who were involved, and against God (Psalm 51:4)
  • God values peace, and I needed to do everything I could to make that happen.

But one thing I wasn’t thinking: I never thought that I could walk into this meeting and demand forgiveness. I wanted reconciliation, but I would have understood if this person wasn’t ready to give it to me. (Thankfully, they were a lot more gracious that I would have been, and I was forgiven immediately.)

Even though God commands us to forgive each other, just as we have been forgiven (Ephesians 4:32), I couldn’t insist on being forgiven. Forgiving is a choice of one who has been offended.

The Question at Hand

I am writing this blog post to my brothers and sisters in Christ, especially my white southern friends. Other people are invited to read this post, but I don’t think you’ll fully grasp where we are coming from. (Truth be told, I don’t fully understand these complex issues, but I’m working on it.)

Shortly after a recent racism-motivated massacre in Charleston, SC, many people were calling (once again) for the removal of the Confederate flag from the State House grounds in Columbia. Others said that people were using this tragedy for political reasons, and it was not the right time to bring this issue up. (But exactly when is a good time to discuss this? It’s been an issue for at least 20 years. Thankfully, Governor Nikki Haley has bravely called on the SC Legislature to remove the flag from the Capitol grounds.)

So, this is the issue: Should Christians support the removal of the Confederate Flag from our State House grounds? And if we want to take it further, we can ask: Should Christians freely display this flag?

A Little Background

I’m not going to go into the history of this flag issue. You can do your own research (and share your ideas or ask questions in the comments), about what the flag represents, and when it was introduced on the State House, and why that was done.

Twenty years ago, I would have echoed many of the comments (and Facebook statuses) I hear today: It’s not hurting anyone, and most people are in favor of it. Plus, taking it down is not going to change some bigger issues, so why change anything? They just need to get over it. (And remember, I am a born Yankee, so I never had any ingrained love for Southern heritage.)

But my views have changed. And I don’t attribute those changes to be due to simple maturing or growing more liberal. My perspective has changed because my heart, soul, and mind have been regenerated by the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

I don’t feel that I have the right to tell someone to just “get over it.” This is especially true when the person insisting on moving forward is from the group who has held the power for decades, and centuries.

Should the side that is hurt offer forgiveness? Absolutely. But we cannot demand anyone to move past their woundedness, any more than I can demand forgiveness from someone I have hurt.

And speaking of forgiveness, I don’t see many southerners admitting past mistakes in this discussion. While it won’t fix the issue, it would definitely be a helpful part of the conversation, to admit that:

  • Our system of slavery was a sin against man and God.
  • African-Americans were regularly dehumanized and denied justice in the south for at least a century past the Civil War.
  • South Carolina putting the Confederate flag (or whatever you want to call it) on the State House in the 1960’s was done for arrogant and hateful reasons.

While you may disagree that we should apologize for these past sins, we should at least feel deep remorse over them, mourning with those who mourn (Romans 12:15). And our remorse should be deep enough to propel us to action.

Biblical Worldview

For the friends that I have debated with on social media, here is the question I keep asking: How can you justify your position to keep this on the Capitol property, in view of Scripture? I have not seen one single attempt at an answer. Maybe you can help me out.

Rightly so, one person threw the question back at me: How can I support removing the flag on the basis of God’s word? Here is a start:

  1. I need to seek peace and the well-being of my brothers (James 3:18). The flag is an affront and causes strife to many of my Christian brothers and sisters. And it’s not just about being politically correct. We have to remember that slavery was only a handful of generations ago to many who are alive today.
  2. The Bible teaches that God made everyone from the same blood (Acts 17:26). We’re Colored People. But the flag represents outright racism, or at least a group of people considering themselves superior and in power over another racial (or ethnic) group.
  3. “All things are lawful, but not everything is beneficial” (I Corinthians 6:12). There is not widespread benefit of having the flag on the State House property. If this is something that is not promoting societal unity and well-being, why have it?
  4. We are called to be ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18). Instead of worrying about what we are risking if we remove it, we should be asking, “What’s the most I can be doing to love my brothers and sisters in Christ?”

Do you wonder how much black people are hurt (not just offended) by this flag? Read Benjamin Watson’s story. And then ask many of your southern, black friends what they think.

Or as CJ Rhodes wrote to a Mississippi state legislator:

“I dare not claim to know all the reasons why some brothers and sisters cling to the Confederate flag the way we are to cling to the old rugged cross.”

Heritage or Identity?

Most pro-flag people talk about how the Confederate flag is an important part of their heritage. Now, if we put aside the question of what kind of heritage it was, I can acknowledge that heritage is important.

But more important than our heritage is our identity. The Bible does not remove the importance of heritage, legacy, and tradition. However, it elevates our faith and our identity to a much higher place (Galatians 3, Romans 9).

Recently a friend asked me if I identify with my Hispanic (my father’s side of the family) or my Jewish (my mother’s side of the family) heritage. I said that I am mostly just plain white middle class. But even for the little bit that I try to embrace my inner melting pot, I know there is one identity that matters more than anything – that I am in Christ.

Paul writes in Galatians 3:28:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Some have mistakenly understood this verse to mean that Christians should eliminate all distinctions (gender, culture, ethnicity, etc). However, I think it’s the opposite. Paul is showing that only in Jesus do we understand the full beauty of the gospel. The gospel is for the diversity of all nations.

But he also stresses that more important than all our individual characteristics, is who we are in Christ. And this is where I want to call out Christians who stake their claim on heritage or political party or social justice or any other category.

No identity matters as much as our unity in Jesus Christ. If Christians fail to put that first, the gospel is tarnished at the least. At worst, we are preaching a false-gospel.

Blood Relations

Years ago, when my wife and I were trying to make a decision that would affect our extended family, a mentor told me, “Blood is not always thicker than water.” Sometimes family and heritage is our most important consideration, and sometimes it’s not.

But in this case, when we consider the Confederate flag, blood is thicker than water. But it’s the blood of Jesus that matters the most, the blood that was shed to reconcile us to God and to each other.

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.  Romans 12:1-2

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10 thoughts on “Confederate Flag Controversy: What’s Your Worldview and Identity?

  1. I am aware of the wounds caused to America by the institution of slavery. Cultural tensions are a reality that many people live with. Black people afraid of white people who are afraid of black people who are afraid of Hispanic people who are afraid of … you get the idea. The best way to eliminate this fear is to build understanding and relationships. The best way to do this is to focus on things that unite, not things that divide. This whole flag issue is divisive simply because the common dialogue is around the accusation of white people seeking to dominate black people . Black and white pitted against each other over and over again. This controversy is shining a light on differences, not unity.

    The history is what it is. There are buildings named for Civil War figures. There are statues and monuments. Do we seek to erase it all?? The rainbow colored body of Christ is united through His blood and the fact that we are all made in the image of His Father. There are no cultural or physical benefits among those who are saved. The people who fought the Civil War are all dead. The people who put the Confederate flag on the state house are dead or soon to die. There is that verse in Exodus that says the sins of the fathers will visit the sons of the third and fourth generations. We are living that legacy. But the blood of Jesus covers all those sins. I do not need to pay restitution for the sins someone else committed years ago. Only the blood of Christ can help His people to unite. That flag represents many things to many people. It is salt in an old wound for some. As long as the dialogue surrounding it continues to emphasize skin color and cultural differences, racial tension will continue to thrive and the wounds will continue to ooze.

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    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts. No, I don’t think we need to erase the history. And I completely disagree with the acts of vandalism against Confederate memorials and statues. But I do not believe this flag should be represented at our Capitol building.

      I almost didn’t put the part in there about forgiveness and remorse for the past sins. I don’t think physical / monetary restitution is the answer. But here’s what I think: we do need ACTION. For decades (and even over a century) the modus operandi has been “do nothing.” That seems to be what you are saying here. The point of me bringing up the past sins of our country and state is to say this: those were wrong, and shouldn’t have been done in the first place, and now let’s do something to make it right.

      In the same way that I (the offender) cannot demand forgiveness to tell the one I hurt, “Let’s move past this,” we cannot do the same with a group of people that have historically been oppressed in the South. We need more than “Remove the flag,” but we also need more than, “Let’s talk about it and seek Jesus.” We need faith AND action.

      The flag issue is divisive, as you say. But that goes whether we leave the flag up or take it down. I’m calling on my Christian brothers and sisters to consider what is the benefit for leaving it on the State House grounds.

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      • Joey – No, I did not mean to give the impression that we should do nothing. To me, “unite” is an action verb. The action will look different in the lives of different people in different stages of life. You have been called to work in the midst of a struggling people, but not everyone has that calling. Just because there are still problems, as there always will be, does not mean that God’s people are being idle. For example, in Allendale last week, Jennifer witnessed an awesome conversation at the nursing home the teens visited. One of the elderly ladies told another teen that she wasn’t going to sit at THAT table because THOSE people were bad. The 2 tables were people of different cultures. The teen girl replied something like, “I respect your opinion, but I feel differently. I believe that God made people in many different colors in His image and loves them all.” She then walked over to the other table and was just as friendly there as she had been at the first table. That is doing something huge. That communicated value and equality. Someone has taught her to move beyond the prejudices of the older generations. That brings unity and healing. That is one form of action. Before kids, I was heavily involved in a crisis pregnancy center in Atlanta. I worked in Hughes Spalding Children’s Hospital, associated with Grady Hospital. The patients there were Atlanta’s poorest. The waiting room bustled with young, single moms. I had many opportunities to love and teach those beautiful people for a season. Since kids, I have taken meals across cultural and socioeconomic divides on many occasions. I have tutored cross-culturally. I teach my kids that people come in as many flavors as the ice cream shop and they are all a delight to God. I don’t tell ethnic jokes. I am kind and respectful to everyone at work. The list of opportunities to act go on and on. Everyone doesn’t have to be an activist. Just in our everyday behavior, we show the love of God to others. One grain of salt at a time will melt an ice cube. It takes patience. You don’t always have to use the blowtorch.

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      • Denise —

        That’s a great story about what Jennifer witnessed in Allendale. And you’re right, healing takes time. Joe Mole and others in Allendale kept reminding me of that.

        For individual life change, I know that discipleship and maturity and change can often be a slow and deliberate process. That’s great. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t occasionally take big steps.

        Taking down the flag should be a no-brainer for Christians. The fact that we are dealing with this “mess” and confusion is a result of past sins, as you pointed out. But we shouldn’t let that be an excuse to not fix a mistake. After all, putting the flag on the State House 50 years ago was definitely a blowtorch move. So it should come as no surprise that it’ll take a blow torch to remove it.

        And again, the point of this post is to ask those who follow Christ to consider this singular issue from a Biblical perspective.

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      • Good grief, Joey. Christian unity is a Biblical concept and a call to action.

        Biblical support for public display of the flag, paraphrase of several OT passages: “Hey, this thing is over, put a pile of rocks over here as a marker of what I have done for you. When your children ask you about those rocks, tell them the story.” The flag is on a pile of rocks known as a Confederate monument. When people see that monument, they tell the stories. Stories of slavery, the end of slavery, battles, honor, belief in a cause, pain, reconciliation, racism, God, cotton, the Old South, the War of Northern Aggression, family, states rights, heroes, etc. Some of those stories bring us together, some of them tear us apart. The Christian seeks to tell the stories to God’s glory.

        Biblical support for moving the conversation away from the flag: “As much as it depends on you, live at peace with all men.” Because of the diverse stories associated with the flag, it is a divisive topic. You have groups of God-fearing, Jesus-loving people choosing sides.You have people of diverse cultures, ethnic backgrounds, and skin color on both sides of the debate. Neither side is “wrong” if God is given the glory through the love displayed by His people for His people. The single most important thing is for us to individually build bridges in relationship to each other. We should build on the momentum of the Charleston brotherly love, forgiveness, grace, and praise. The introduction of the flag debate is a potentially destructive distraction. This idea of a collective consensus over the flag is not a Biblical issue.

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      • The flag as a memorial / testimony to what God has done? I think that’s an interesting Biblical perspective to take. I can respect that, and thinks that would be great. Honestly, if someone told the whole story like that (including the parts where people owned up to their sins of pride and arrogance), I think it would be great. Have never seen it, though. And I seriously doubt that most people who want the flag on the Capitol grounds see it that way.

        Either way you take it — calling for the flag to come down, or not calling for the flag to come down — can be divisive, and potentially hurtful to a certain group of people. However, since one side or another is going to be offended or hurt, I would usually choose to wound the side that has been the offender on this issue through history.

        And on a more personal level, I do not think a Christian should be actively displaying the Confederate Flag (at his home, on his car, etc). That is definitely a divisive action.

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  2. The Confederate flag was removed from the SC Capitol as part of a compromise in the year 2000 (a compromise that was voted for by the Charleston pastor who was killed last week, by the way). It now stands at a memorial for dead soldiers. That is appropriate. It’s not about heritage, racism, pride, slavery or any other such thing. It is there to honor people who died, no matter what one thinks of the war that claimed their lives. It is no different than a Vietnam War Memorial like the one in Washington and others in cities and towns across the country. The Vietnam War was divisive and controversial. It was vehemently protested. Those memorials exist not to glorify the Vietnam War, but to simply honor people who lost their lives fighting in it. You can try to hyper-spiritualize this issue all you want, but the fact is that the organized left in this country saw an opening and took advantage of the opportunity to exploit the Charleston tragedy. And it started an avalanche. Now everything from statues to Gone With the Wind to Dukes of Hazard toys are being tossed out in a ridiculous overreaction. Meanwhile the real world problems facing the Black community (abortion, fatherlessness, dependence, unemployment, etc.) continue to be ignored while we pat ourselves on the back for removing a piece of cloth from a flagpole.

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    • Scott — thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

      I don’t mean to come across as trying to hyper-spiritualize this issue, and my friends know that I’m not normally one to do that. But in this post, I am speaking primarily to those who profess faith in Christ. For the most part, I think Christians in this country (and especially in the south) make the opposite error — we tend to UNDER-spiritualize cultural issues. At the core, flying a flag is not a core issue. However, we (again, I’m speaking to and of Christians) must look at all issues through a Biblical worldview.

      I wouldn’t count myself as part of the “organized left”, and I have no ulterior motive for calling out my Christian brothers and sisters to think through whether or not the flag should be flying on the State House grounds. And if you check around the blog, you’ll see that I speak to those other issues that trouble our community, and I give reproof and encouragement into those issues, too.

      (For the record, I do think there is some overreaction. But that doesn’t mean that the flag should never have been there in the first place.)

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  3. I sometimes am accused of becoming more liberal as I grow older…and I don’t think that’s the case actually, but I can’t help but find the flag offensive. And I’m aware that we have huge Southern history buffs in our church. Granted I’m from the NE…so no ingrained Southern pride either. And while maybe I’m not applying the Scripture correctly, what comes to my mind on this issue is the verse about not being a stumbling block to others…not doing or saying things, that while I may personally be ok with God about something, I don’t want to doing or say anything that keeps people from knowing Jesus. And if I’m part of who God uses to bring someone to Him, then I don’t want to support something that hurts them, or have in my house or yard or on my car something that hurts them.

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