We can kill symbols or we can redeem them. We can kill a flag or we can redeem it. One is easy and one requires much more personal effort and responsibility. Lets not remove a flag lets remove it’s potency. Jesus did this with perhaps one of the most humiliating, offensive and oppressive images of his time the cross. He didn’t get rid of it he changed what it stood for. Now folks wear the horrible thing around their neck.
The shooting at a historic church building in Charleston, South Carolina, was a horrific tragedy. It was an act of hate and racism in one of its most violent forms. Unfortunately, it is probably not the worst atrocity of racism that the USA has seen in the last 200+ years. No, I think slavery and lynch mobs were probably worse. Still, this is the most recent display of violent racism and a hate crime. May God be with those who are heartbroken and grieving the loss of loved ones who were taken from them by such evil. It is amazing that they offer forgiveness. (Please follow the link and watch the powerful video)
In the days and now weeks following this current tragedy, the conversation shifted towards two things mainly: Gun Control and The Confederate Flag. I have friends and relatives and fellow church-goers who have a variety of opinions about those two issues. I came across one that was interesting partly because of the title, but mainly because of the idea of "redeeming" a symbol like The Confederate Flag, "Feral Cats and Confederate Flags." Here's a quote:
Personally, I have always chosen not to wear or display a confederate flag in any way. I have always assumed that it might not just be offensive, but an expression of hate towards my brothers and sisters of color. No one ever specifically told me not to display it. I just assumed from what I learned in history class that it was probably not the best or right thing to do. I think many people, when they saw the images of the shooter with Confederate flags, and the South Carolina State Capitol still flying a confederate flag at full mast while the rest of the flags were at half mast; many people made the connection (rightly so) to a history of severe slavery and oppression of African Americans, and thought "this is not right."
In my opinion, I don't think we should pressure people to take down a confederate flag. I am ok with official government bodies NOT flying it because I don't think government should be imposing values on folks in that way. But as for taking on a campaign on social media to ban it, or to convince my friends/family to stop displaying it, I think I'll pass. Why? Because a symbol is not the issue. Racism is.
I am afraid that if we get rid of the symbol, then racism will continue to pervade us silently. I live in Missouri. It was a border state. We have tons of nice people here. People will be really nice to each other. But I still hear and see racism. I see it among the teenagers of the youth groups I've worked with. I see it in our systems of oppression. It's not blatant, in-your-face racism. It's quiet and nice-to-your-face. It's hidden. Racism is far from eradicated.
This is where The Confederate Flag could serve a good purpose. It can continue to remind us that our country is still journeying toward reconciliation. It can remind us of the suffering, hurt, brokenness, and oppression of our past so we can say, "we will overcome some day."
Now, I don't think we should treat a confederate flag like Christians do the cross today, but perhaps we can think of it differently. I have heard some compare The Confederate Flag to the Nazi Swastika. So I asked myself, "What happens, or how do you feel when you see the swastika?" My answer, I pray. I have compassion and sorrow. I am reminded of death and destruction. My heart breaks, and I pray. I pray for our world to become a better place where something like that will never happen again, not because symbols and guns are banned, but because people's hearts choose love instead of hate and violence.
So, what should the Confederate Flag be? Emptied of its power. Whenever I see someone displaying a confederate flag, I'll read it as a call to prayer, a call to healing, a call to reconciliation, a call to love. That's what I think it could be. A person can keep flying it; I need to pray more and love more anyway.
I am a United Methodist Pastor, but I'm trying to re-define that as a Missionary sent to my corner of the USA. What would it look like for you to envision your life as a Christian more like a Missionary than a Church-goer?