I’ve asked my good friend Jamie Greening to write a guest blog for me this week. Jamie is a writer, thinker, and a man who is walking a long obedience in the same direction—with Jesus. He wrote a very good book last year which I bought and gave away several copies called The Little Girl Waits. You can click here and learn more about it. He also writes a blog you can find here and I encourage you to check it out.
Is the flag of the Confederate States of America a racist symbol?
I bring this up, because racism is the headline that will not go away. It seemed like things might gently calm down again, but suddenly frat boys were filmed singing a hateful, violent, racist song with great glee and gusto. Then Ferguson erupted again, and another young black man was shot in Wisconsin. Then my friend sent me a screenshot of the Confederate flag offered at Amazon, along with some of the comments.
Jesus said the poor you will have with you always (Mark 14:7). I am beginning to wonder if there is some alternate reading of that text that says, ‘the racist you will have with you always.’
The question I ask is not whether or not racism is real, I think that is a given. The question I ask is whether or not the Confederate flag is an inherently racist, therefore evil, symbol?
It seems to me there are three different views of what the Confederate flag means. Let’s put them into groups A, B, and C.
For Group A the Confederate flag means Southern culture. It is a stand in for sweet tea, grits, college football and conservative politics. As such, it is a viewed as a beloved icon of all that is right in the world. People who see the Confederate flag in this way do not connect it at all to the past, but to the present. If they connect it to the past at all, it is to their own personal past, their own experiences of Southern living, of nostalgia. It is to the South what the Space Needle is to the Northwest or cactus is to the Southwest.
For Group B, which includes many black Americans, the Confederate flag means slavery. It is a stand in for that evil peculiar institution that eventually drove the grand experiment in democracy to the bloodiest of all political actions: Civil war. It is a reminder that once upon a time, not so long ago, in a very near land, their ancestors were denied life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. People of their ethnicity were bought, sold, abused, and murdered at the whims of white people. For these individuals, the Confederate flag is a racial epithet that is intended to remind people of color what their ‘place’ is.
For Group C the Confederate flag is a symbol of rebellion, foolishness, and backwardness. People who fly it or promote it are telling the world around them they are not serious people, that they are morons, and are the fringe of the fringe.
As a child of the west, and a native resident of a proud state that loves its own flag, I understand the sympathies of Group A. However, as a follower of Christ, and as a human being who believes that we are all created in the image of God, I firmly stand in solidarity with Group B. The Confederate flag does not represent Southern culture, it represents the devilish ideology of slavery and oppression. For that reason, I believe it has no place in modern American discourse. Civilized people, from Savannah to Sacramento should abolish it and urge others to do so.
I know that it feels a little odd to put so much attention on a symbol when we have such contentious issues as police shootings, inequality in the application of justice, rampant black poverty, and incredible numbers of black-on-black violence. I also realize that as a white male, I will never fully appreciate everything about this issue. However, we must start somewhere, and sometimes the easiest stuff is the best first step. Racism is a sin against God and man.
Celebrating a racist symbol is too.