Symbols Mean Things


The tragic shooting in an A.M.E. church in Charleston, South Carolina has broken the hearts of so many in our nation. I’m one of them. My heart breaks not only for the victims and their families, but also for the pathetic, broken, misguided individual who perpetrated the violence. I hate what he did. I hate why he did it. I hate what he has become. But I pray for him and I pray for all of us. I pray that from this horror some good may emerge. In fact, some good is now quite evident. It is evident in the renewed conversations on important topics, conversations that are difficult to have, yet conversations we must have.

Race relations will certainly be discussed. I’m encouraged by the efforts of so many, particularly in South Carolina to identify and connect through their common humanity and not let the color of their skin divide them.

The obscene degree of gun violence in this country will be a hot topic for a while. We will talk about it a lot in coming days. Maybe, one day, we will actually collect the national will to enact laws to protect people more than to protect guns. Hey, I know this is a complex and multifaceted debate. And lot’s of folks I know own guns. But isn’t there something better we can do than pass laws that allow people to carry guns into church, as was recently done in Georgia? Can’t we do better than that?

And finally there is the symbols that represent us. This has become for me something of a cause. As a son of the South I know something of my heritage. I also know that many of my fellow Southerners take an entirely different lesson from history. Truth matters. History matters. Symbols matter. And that brings me to the subject of the Battle Flag of the Confederacy.

Here is a symbol viewed by people, people who live in the South, in very different ways. It evokes great emotion and divides people. The question of who should be represented here was a subject of great turmoil in South Carolina, where a few years ago the Confederate flag was flown over the capitol dome in Columbia. Because of the controversy a political compromise was enacted. It pleased neither side, but it was the only way South Carolina could figure out how to deal with the official waving of the Confederate flag. So the flag was moved. It is still on the capitol grounds, but a statue remembering the evils of slavery was erected as well.

My ancestors on both sides of my family fought for the Southern Confederacy in the Civil War. One did not survive. He was killed as he was returning home after the war had ended. The Yankee sniper who shot him between the eyes had not gotten the word the war was over. So, yes, I’m kind of invested in this whole heritage thing.

And I also have many friends who are equally invested in the heritage of the South, but for them it was not a story of soldiering for “the cause” but the memory and legacy of slavery. Personally, my Christian conviction informed largely by the words of Paul to the Corinthians (1st Corinthians 8) prompted me many years ago to abstain from displaying the Confederate flag ever again. When I was a young man I purchased a Confederate flag beach towel. I took it to the public beach near my home. Now I regret what I unintentionally communicated to those who were the descendants of slaves. Yet I want you to know I did what I did because I was ignorant.

And that leads me to the photo of the T-shirt that reads: “If this shirt offends you, you need a history lesson.” Well I agree. A history lesson is indeed called for here! That’s what I got.when I went to college. Instead of the mythology surrounding the Civil War I read, for the first time, the actual history of causes and consequences of the most tragic war in American history. The facts changed my mind. Christ changed my heart. And ever since I’ve felt obliged to, from time to time, insert the truth into conversations that concern the meaning and legacy of the Confederacy. I’ll not attempt to do that in this article. But if you would like you can read an excellent treatment of the subject in a brief article by Sean CW Korsgaard.

My prayer is for all, even for those who do not agree with me. Let’s talk. Let’s listen to one another. Let’s think on solutions. Most of all let’s love one another.


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