Today I was honored to participate in what hopefully will prove to be a pivotal moment in Southern Baptist life. The following resolution was presented for approval:
The Confederate Flag has been a major source of controversy since last summer when a racist gunman suddenly stood up in a black church service and brutally took the lives of several church members, who had welcomed him kindly, according to eyewitnesses. We have all seen the debate since then, but in actuality it has never not been a source of controversy. We all have opinions, and those in the South have very passionate opinions. And I know that what I’m about to write will probably be counter to, and possibly even offensive to, the opinions of some people I know and love. For that reason, I’m writing very carefully. But I’m still writing, because I believe it’s important enough to risk public disagreement and even offense.
In the South, there seems to be a prevalent “good ol’ Southern boy” attitude that rallies under the Confederate flag. Southerners are proud to be Southern, and that’s all well and good. I love the South. But when the main symbol of the South is a symbol that is a constant reminder to a huge portion of the population of evils committed against their race, then we need a new logo.
The Confederacy was an entity in history, and as such should be remembered. Many of our ancestors fought for the Confederacy, and not all of them were bad guys. There are Confederate cemeteries all over the South, and a flag flying there would seem appropriate. Flags in museum displays showing the history of the Confederacy would also be appropriate. Statues of the statesmen and generals and soldiers of the Confederacy should remain where they are, as a testimony of the history that is indeed fact. However, flying the flag from car windows and in yards and using Confederate flag stickers as decorations 150 years after the end of the Confederacy seems ludicrous and blatantly disrespectful. Our black neighbors have been trying to tell us for years that it’s also hurtful, that it seems to communicate the message that we think the South should have won, which implies that we think slavery was ok. It’s bad enough when unbelievers contribute to this, but the church should have no part in such hurt.
Now, don’t start yelling things about freedom of expression and freedom of speech to me. You are free to fly whatever flag you want. But if you claim to be a Christian, Christ calls you to limit your freedom for the good of others. 1 Peter 2:16 says, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” We can talk about states’ rights all day long, and it’s true that was a major component of the Civil War. But let’s be real: what right were the Southern states demanding? The main one was the right to hold slaves. And slavery is morally wrong. There is no argument against that. You are free to fly that flag, but it connotes an evil, and we are not to use our freedom for evil. As Christians, we are free in Christ but we are called to live as servants. If we know that our actions are offensive and hurtful, we should stop. Even this resolution is not a binding edict, although it is being portrayed as such in the media. The Southern Baptist Convention has no authority to tell its members what to do. It’s merely a value statement to the culture and a plea to the denomination to denounce racism in any form, even the form of the Stars and Bars. Southern Baptist individuals are free to ignore it. But they cannot ignore the heart of this statement and love their neighbor at the same time.
I can hear arguments in my head about political correctness and tolerance, but this is not even on the same page. There is a big difference between being pressured to water down or completely disregard biblical truth in order to appease people who defiantly oppose the word of God, and being asked to stop using a symbol that undeniably communicates racism, which is itself in direct opposition to the word of God. It breaks my heart that so many Christians are stubbornly clinging to a relic of the past when they have been told over and over again that it hurts their black brothers and sisters. That hurt has been communicated but has too often been dismissed.
The same believers who are upset about talk of removing the Confederate flag hate every rainbow flag they see. They find these flags offensive. That seems a bit contradictory. After all, the LGBT community never enslaved Christians. They never tore families apart, whipped the backs of young men until there was no skin left, or raped young women and then sold their babies as soon as they were old enough. But they want the rainbow flags taken down while the Confederate flags fly high. Can you not see the tragic disconnect?
Here’s the thing: the mistreatment of blacks by whites under that flag is not something that ended 150 years ago, although the war that made that flag famous ended then. Some of the very people who are livid over this resolution refused to drink from the same water fountain as a black person just 50 years ago. Many of the generation who pulled their kids out of school rather than have them sit next to a black child are still alive and attending our churches today. Black people would not have been welcome in many white Southern Baptist churches as recently as my parents’ childhood years. So it’s not hard to imagine why they might have a hard time trusting anything those churches say. We are not talking only about ancient history. Our churches are full of white people who need to repent for either being part of Jim Crow or turning a blind eye during the atrocities of those years, and of doing nothing since then to attempt bridge-building.
And here’s the other thing: whether someone thinks it should bother black people to see a Confederate flag isn’t the issue. The issue is, it does indeed bother them. And it should be clear to anyone that it would, just like a swastika flag would bother a Jew. And they are telling us, have been telling us, that it does. That it looks like racism to them. That if we are telling them that Jesus loves them while there is a Confederate flag sticker on our window, they hear the sticker louder than our words. The Bible clearly says, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift,” (Matthew 5:23-24) and “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18) Scripture is clear. The one offended is the one who gets to decide if he is offended. You should do everything possible, obviously short of violating God’s word, to reconcile. Even if that means taking down a flag that was important to your ancestors.
I can’t think of one argument from Scripture that someone could use to oppose the resolution pictured above. There certainly weren’t any presented today. But there are many Scriptural arguments in favor of it. I was proud to vote for this resolution today, and I was overjoyed to the point of tears when it passed overwhelmingly with a standing ovation. I pray that it was the beginning of true racial reconciliation in the church and that it would have an impact on the watching world. I long for the day when our churches in the south are racially diverse. When crude jokes about minority races are a thing of the past. When people are not stereotyped and stamped with assumptions and never given a chance. Christian, if you disagree with me, please search your heart. Search the Scriptures. Dr. James Merritt, a former SBC president, speaking in favor of the resolution, said, “All the Confederate Flags in the world are not worth one soul of any race.” He is absolutely right.
The Confederacy ended 150 years ago. There is no reason at all its flags should still be flying today anywhere except dedicated cemetaries and historical monuments. Surely a flag does not matter more to you than an entire race of people, created in the image of God, tracing their ancestors back to the exact same men to whom yours are traced. Take the flags down. Let Christ rise again in the South and across the globe.
**To watch Dr. Merritt’s fantastic speech, visit http://youtu.be/2_tIxFJhR5k
**And my husband wrote an excellent piece here.