I write a lot of posts about how the Church has to be involved in social issues. How we have to be a part of the world we’re in, and how we need to seek to make real change in the world, to bring hope to the hopeless, justice to the oppressed, and love to those that are unloved.
And this week, I have a specific issue. One that might be more polarizing than some of my other posts.
There’s a large debate raging on my Facebook Newsfeed and across the country on the place of the Confederate Flag in the South. Many of my friends have taken a position on either side. Most of the rhetoric from both sides has been inflammatory and unhelpful. This may just add to the noise, but I hope not. I hope that we can explore the question as Christians and seek to understand how Jesus might respond in this situation.
And I think the first thing Jesus would do would be loving and understanding. To those who support the Confederate Flag, it’s true that there are other things, things unconnected to slavery and racism, that can be symbolized by your flag. The South has a storied heritage, not all of it racist.
But I wonder if, as Christians, there’s a better way to handle that heritage than to cling to the Confederate Flag. Because sure, it stands for more than just racism, but it still stands for racism. It’s still a symbol of racial subjugation that has continued well past the abolition of slavery. It is still used as a symbol of hatred and division, and that should be enough to give pause to even sincere supporters of the flag.
If you want to respect the good parts of your heritage, the best way you can do that is to abandon the parts that celebrate oppression. The Confederate Flag was carried into battle by people who were fighting for the right to oppress people based solely on the color of their skin. People died to protect their right to oppress people, and it’s symbolized in the Confederate Flag. You can be proud of your heritage, but you shouldn’t be proud of that part of it.
And I get it. Not everyone who likes the Confederate Flag is going to go into a church and shoot people. Not everyone who flies the Confederate Flag does so as a symbol of how much they hate black people. Most people who fly the Confederate flag are decent people, who were born in the South, and for whom the flag serves as a cultural identity marker.
But an entire group of people were subjugated under that flag because of the color of their skin. People were stripped of their cultures, separated from their families, and forced to live a life of humiliating and degrading service in a foreign land, and all of that is symbolized by that flag. And, look, if your right to fly a flag is more important than an entire group of people who were oppressed underneath it, that might qualify as racism. The need to display your heritage should not be more important than the people who lost their own heritage under that banner.
As Christians, we hold no allegiance to a flag anyway. We’re members of a Kingdom that prizes denial of self for the service of others. It seems like the very least Christians could do to serve others would be to take down a piece of cloth that reminds others of oppression and subjugation. Taking down a flag is just about the easiest way you could put the needs of other people above yourself.
I’m not saying you can’t be a Christian and fly the Confederate flag, but I have a hard time believing that Jesus is glorified by the flying of a flag. I find it much easier to believe that Jesus is glorified when we surrender ourselves and submit ourselves to others, particularly those who have a history of being oppressed and trampled on. As followers of Jesus, we’re called to deny ourselves. That includes giving up a flag, even if it is a symbol of heritage. If we want to prove we’re serious about loving others, that can start with removing a banner that has symbolized hatred and oppression.
Let’s love others. Let’s glorify Christ by surrendering ourselves and serving our neighbors. Let us seek after unity, even if means denying ourselves in the process. Let’s be so committed to loving our neighbors, that we’re willing to give ourselves up in their service. Racism isn’t going to disappear because we get rid of a flag, but showing that we’re willing to surrender a piece of our heritage in order to move towards unity is an excellent first step.